In August, veteran prosecutor Amy Weirich (‘87) made history when she was appointed Shelby County’s first female deputy district attorney.
But Weirich, who has worked as an assistant district attorney for nearly two decades, said she’s never felt she was treated any differently from her male colleagues during her career.
“I don’t dwell, and never really have, on being a woman,” she said. “The female prosecutors I’ve worked with here, we just don’t generally think about it. It’s more about being the best prosecutor you can be.”
As for her new role as second in command, Weirich said she’s “honored and humbled that (District Attorney) General (Bill) Gibbons felt that confident in my ability to do the job. I guess I don’t really think of it in terms of being the first female; I just think in terms of doing the best job for the office and for the people of the state of Tennessee.”
Weirich replaces James J. Challen III, who retired after 32 years in the D.A.’s office, 12 of which he served as deputy district attorney.
“As long as I’ve worked in this office, the person who held this job has always been an individual who was looked up to not only by those within the office, but by the community, by the defense, by the judges, and by law enforcement,” Weirich said. “I hope to continue that tradition.”
Born in Minnesota, Weirich spent time in Fargo and Kansas City before moving with her family to Memphis in 1977 – “The week Elvis died,” she said.
As a girl, her interests varied, but she was always captivated by the idea of the courtroom.
“For a while I dreamt of being a veterinarian, until I realized all the organic chemistry that I’d have to take to make that happen,” she said. “But my other dream job was a prosecutor. Growing up, it just always seemed like an interesting, exciting career choice.”
After graduating from Germantown High School and earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin, Weirich enrolled in the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.
“Law school is grueling and horrific and all the things that you hear about that are all true,” she said. “But at the same time, that’s where I met my husband, and we still have great friends from our law school years. So, in between the misery, there was much fun and friendship forming and relationship building.”
After receiving her law degree, Weirich knew exactly how she wanted to use it.
“I enjoyed courtroom experience and I knew that being in the D.A.’s office would be a good way to make that happen,” she said, adding that she worked in civil practice “for just a minute, while waiting for my job in the D.A.’s office to open.”
And shortly thereafter, it did. In 1991, Weirich joined the office as an assistant district attorney. Over the last 19 years, she has served as a division leader for the Special Prosecution Unit in criminal court and most recently as chief prosecutor the D.A.’s Gang and Narcotics Prosecution Unit.
She’s a frequent lecturer at training seminars for the National District Attorneys Association and the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference.
Her honors have included the Board of Directors’ Trial Award for Outstanding Advocacy in Capital Cases from the Association of Government Attorneys in Capital Litigation.
In hindsight, Weirich said her most memorable cases have generally been those that never made the front page of the paper or the 5 o’clock news.
“Really, the ones that mean the most to you individually are usually the ones that don’t get any media attention; the voice in the community that maybe nobody had ever listened to until you stood up and tried their case for them,” she said.
And while prosecuting criminal offenses can be an emotionally daunting task, Weirich remains just as passionate about her work as when she first joined the D.A.’s office.
“I think it would be impossible not to get emotionally attached,” she said. “You think about victims and you think about how their children are today and how their spouses are today. It is difficult, but at the end of the day it’s about making this community a better place for myself, for my family, for the families whose names I don’t know, and for the families who’ve yet to come.”
Weirich describes her own family, which includes her husband, an attorney in private practice, and their four children ages 4 to 17 as “pretty amazing.”
Outside the courtroom, Weirich can be found watching school plays and cheering from the sidelines at sporting events.
“We are constantly in motion,” she said. “From the minute their feet hit the ground in the morning until they get into bed at night, it’s going and going and going.
“I don’t know how we do it. If someone had told me years ago ‘you’re going to have four kids and be the deputy D.A.,” I would’ve said they were crazy. It’s my life and I just make it work.”