On Monday, Aug. 5, news spread quickly throughout Guilford County and the state’s court system that a much-beloved judge, Guilford County Chief District Court Judge Tom Jarrell, had died suddenly the night before at the age of 56. The gregarious Jarrell, known for his sense of humor, his love of fast cars and his fairness on the bench, was extremely well liked by his coworkers and others he met.
Former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, who was friends with Jarrell and worked with him for years, said it was his understanding that Jarrell died of a heart attack on Sunday. Barnes said he got a phone call about 10 p.m. Sunday notifying him of Jarrell’s passing.
“I am proud to say he is a friend,” Barnes said, adding that Jarrell had a great love for life and a love of cars. Barnes pointed out that Jarrell was friends with NASCAR drivers Terry and Bobby Labonte and Jarrell always loved working on cars and talking about them.
The Republican Barnes said that, even though Jarrell was on the other side of the political aisle, he was easy to work with and the two worked well together for years.
Jarrell was first appointed to the Guilford County District Court bench in 1999 and, in 2016, he was appointed Chief District Court judge.
Before becoming a judge, Jarrell worked as an attorney in High Point and as an assistant district attorney for Guilford County.
Former Guilford County Pretrial Services Director Wheaton Casey said it was a joy working with Jarrell during her years with the county. Casey’s job involved helping judges determine which inmates should and should not be allowed to await trial out of jail.
She said family was a priority for Jarrell and said it’s so sad that he leaves behind a wife, Cindy, and three sons, Thomas, Robert and David, that he adored.
“I know a judge who worked with him who is just devastated,” she said, adding that there were no doubt a lot of devastated people at the courthouse today in light of Jarrell’s death.
According to Casey, she worked with him for years starting when he was an assistant district attorney.
She said he was a great addition to the court system.
“He was open to new ideas,” Casey said.
She also said that many judges in Guilford County are near the same age as Jarrell, and so, when the vivacious Jarrell passed away so suddenly, it really made them stop and think.
Jarrell has served as president of the North Carolina Association of District Court Judges, as a commissioner on the North Carolina Governors Crime Commission, a member of the Criminal Justice Information Network, a member of the NC Sentencing and Policy and Advisory Commission and a member of the NC Human Trafficking Commission.
The description of his service on the state court system’s website notes: “In addition to serving on numerous nonprofit boards, he was instrumental in creating Street Safe, a teen driving program involving law-enforcement officers who teach behind the wheel training for young drivers.”
Jarrell liked taking on challenges that were outside the realm of being a judge.
Recently, when the Rhino Times spoke with Jarrell for a story, he was on his way to Guilford Technical Community College to take an evening welding class. He explained at that time that he liked venturing out into new areas to keep himself sharp.
Jarrell received his undergraduate degree from Guilford College in 1985 and his law degree from Campbell University in 1991.
In Jarrell’s dealings with the Rhino Times, he was always very open and honest – even when speaking about problems in the court system that others didn’t want to discuss. Some judges are not very open with the media but Jarrell was a very welcome exception.
Jarrell will be greatly missed by many, many people.