published Friday, March 2nd, 2012

David Norton named judge as race to August vote begins

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Hamilton County Commissioners will appoint a replacement for District 3 Board of Education member Everett Fairchild, who is stepping down on March 15. Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he wants to interview candidates in private, the same as commissioners did with General Sessions judge candidates.

Newly appointed interim General Sessions Judge David Norton will be sworn in Tuesday, and the campaign for his seat on the bench already has begun.

Before the appointment process began, Norton was seen by some Hamilton County commissioners as the front-runner. Then commissioners voted Thursday morning -- 7-1, without any discussion -- to replace late General Sessions Judge Bob Moon.

Norton, an assistant county attorney who has served for 28 years as the Soddy-Daisy city judge, will serve until an Aug. 2 nonpartisan special election is held.

Attorney Bryan Hoss, who submitted his application for the judgeship and pledged to be a caretaker, meaning he wouldn't run in the August election, said he wasn't surprised by the vote or lack of debate.

"I think it was expected," he said. "Judge Norton is very qualified. He will serve the public well. It's not like they picked an unqualified candidate at all."

Commissioner Chester Bankston nominated and voted for Norton, who also received the votes of Commissioners Greg Beck, Tim Boyd, Joe Graham, Larry Henry, Mitch McClure and Fred Skillern. Commissioner Warren Mackey was absent.

Commissioner Jim Fields nominated and voted for one of the other 10 candidates, attorney Rob Philyaw.

The candidate pool "was the best group we've ever had presented to this commission," Skillern said.

General Sessions Judge Clarence Shattuck told commissioners that Norton would be sworn in Tuesday at 11 a.m.

"Exactly five weeks ago, we had the shocking news that Judge Moon had passed away the previous night," Shattuck said. "At this time, I want to commend the commission for the sensitivity you have expressed and shown in electing his successor, not only the sensitivity, but the dispatch with which you did it."

By the end of the day Thursday, candidates Ron Powers and Philyaw had qualified for the August election to fill the judge position.

Powers announced in the afternoon he'd be kicking off his campaign at a March 15 event.

"David Norton was a fine choice as an interim judge, and I look forward to the opportunity to share with the people of Hamilton County why I believe I am the right choice for General Sessions judge long term," he said in a statement.

Philyaw publicly announced his candidacy last week.

"There are 22 weeks, or 154 days, between now and the election on Aug. 2," Philyaw said Thursday. "Over those days, the public process will take place, the citizens of Hamilton County will decide who fills Judge Bob Moon's seat. ... It is important for the public to speak."

Patricia Vital said she filed both her completed petition and conflicts-of-interest disclosures to the state Thursday.

"I'm here at the Election Commission, and I just turned in my qualifying papers," she said by telephone.

The commission will verify the signatures on her petition and determine whether she qualifies.

Attorneys Valerie Epstein and Gary Starnes also have picked up petitions for the August election. The qualifying deadline is April 5.

General Sessions Court judges make about $156,000 a year.

Though Norton hasn't yet picked up his petition, he said his campaign structure is in place but declined to announce who would be serving as his campaign manager and treasurer.

"It's a step up and something I've looked forward to, continuing the tradition Judge Moon set," Norton said. "I'm very excited about getting started. I've got to work to get support and votes."

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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