5 Questions with Johnson City's new staff attorney

Zach Vance • Updated May 6, 2019 at 5:41 PM

For the last six months, the city of Johnson City had been without an in-house city attorney following the sudden retirement of Jim Epps IV in October. 

That vacancy ended last week when City Manager Pete Peterson selected Sunny Sandos to serve as the city’s staff attorney. 

Sandos most recently served as executive director of planned giving at East Tennessee State University, where she was responsible for planned gift arrangements through the drafting of proposals for trusts, gift annuities, wills, life insurance policies and life estates. 

A native of Greeneville, Sandos earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications at ETSU, where she graduated summa cum laude. While in college, Sandos worked as a legislative intern for a session during 104th Tennessee General Assembly. She has also served as a congressional intern to former U.S. Rep. William “Bill” Jenkins. 

Sandos earned her doctorate of jurisprudence from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. 

Sandos in Short: 

Ultimate travel destination?  I would love to travel to Scotland. Playing golf on some of the courses there would be an amazing experience. In addition to the golf, I am also fascinated by the castles. It is a truly a storybook location.
Favorite book? ”The Birth of Venus” by Sarah Dunant. I’m also a big fan of everything Dan Brown writes. My favorite genre is historical fiction. If I can be entertained and learn something at the same time then I deem that time well spent.
Dogs or cats? 

Cats. Our family actually just adopted a kitten on May 1. Growing up, we always had at least one cat and that has remained true for me through adulthood.

Favorite restaurant? 

The Label. I absolutely love sushi and they have wonderful sushi options, plus the atmosphere is great.

Five questions: 

• Briefly explain what you will be doing as staff attorney for the city?  

“A large part of my position will include contract review, interpretation of state laws as they apply to municipalities, review/drafting of ordinances, and assistance with all other legal needs of the city. In the future there is likely to be more litigation added to my position.”

• What made you want to become an attorney?

“In third grade I played the prosecuting attorney in a school play called “The Case of the Missing Nephew.” The entire play was set in a courtroom and I fell in love with the idea of being an attorney. I participated in Mock Trial through the gifted program in eighth grade and reaffirmed my passion for pursuing a career in the law. As I matriculated through high school and started college, I did not choose a law related field of study. I didn’t know any attorneys and wasn’t sure what that path would/should look like. By my sophomore year, though, I couldn’t ignore that going to law school was my passion. I changed my minor to Political Science, took an internship with the state legislature and studied for the LSAT while in Nashville. Many of our legislators are lawyers and I was reassured that this was an honorable and impactful career. I have been fortunate in my career opportunities that I have been able to do a lot of good for many people with my degree.”

• Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

“Ron Jenkins (1950-2016) without a doubt had the biggest impact on my career. Lawyers experience many ups and downs through their career. There are hard days, hard cases, and just plain unpleasant situations. Ron was instrumental in building my confidence and moving me through some of the those difficult times early in my career. I first worked as co-counsel with Ron for a few years and then had the privilege of working in the same firm with him for a few more years. He was truly the most brilliant lawyer I have ever met and also one of the most kind and humble people I have ever met. Every young lawyer needs a mentor, and Ron was the best mentor anyone could ever hope for. If the occasion ever arises, I hope to do for a young attorney what he once did for me.”

• What are some of your hobbies?

“My three young children occupy the majority of my time, but I also play tennis, play golf, do yoga, and paint. I enjoy poetry and have two children’s books that I am working on having published, with a third book in the works. I also love do-it-yourself home projects; all the power tools in our house belong to me!”

• What is the best advice you've ever been given?

“My parents have instilled in me to stay true to my morals and character. While I am an analytical person when it comes to documents or issues, I try not to analyze people. How you treat others speaks volumes of your character. My parents made sure that I always showed the same respect to everyone, from the person who swept the floor to the person who owned the business.”

Sandos also owns Sandos Law, PLLC, which serves Tennessee through a web-based practice focused on estate planning. Her experience also includes seven years in private practice, with an emphasis on civil litigation and municipal law.

Sandos is a faculty member of the National Business Institute in estate planning and previously served as an adjunct professor at ETSU. In 2018, she was recognized as a Fellow in Charitable Estate Planning. The designation acknowledges her commitment to a nationally recognized standard of ethics.

“Having previously served on the Johnson City Planning Commission as well as the Historic Zoning Commission, Sunny is extremely knowledgeable about city affairs and has a strong desire to serve,” Peterson said. “We are fortunate to have an attorney with that background in addition to her professional experience.”

Sandos serves as chairwoman of the Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church Planned Giving and Endowment Council. She also serves as treasurer for the Washington County Bar Association. Sandos is a member of 100+ Tri-Cities Women Who Care and the Washington County Women’s Leadership Society. She resides in Johnson City with her husband and their three children.

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