published Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Recent Chattanooga Bar Association poll rates judge candidates

Judicial Poll results:

General Sessions Court Incumbent Poll

* Judge Christie Mahn Sell -- 99.15 percent

* Judge Clarence Shattuck -- 98.76 percent

* Judge Lila Statom -- 95.05 percent

* Judge Gary Starnes -- 90 percent

* Judge David Bales -- 84.26 percent

Hamilton County Chancery Court -- Part 1

* Pam McNutt Fleenor -- 74.58 percent

* Joe Manuel -- 25.42 percent

Hamilton County Circuit Court -- Division 1

* J.B. Bennett -- 85.34 percent

* Catherine Cate White -- 9.91 percent

Stuart James* -- 4.74 percent

Hamilton County Juvenile Court

* Rob Philyaw -- 92.44 percent

* Yolanda Mitchell -- 7.56 percent

* The poll was conducted before Stuart James withdrew from the race; however, his name still will appear on the ballot because he did not notify local elections officials by the withdrawal deadline.

Source: Chattanooga Bar Association

Recent Chattanooga Bar Association polls have shown overwhelming support for sitting General Sessions judges and clear approval of a candidate in each contested judicial race this year.

The polls were sent to most of the 800 Chattanooga Bar members. More than one-third, or 250, responded, according to the association.

Bar President Tim Mickel said polls are written into the association's bylaws and aim to give the public an understanding of the opinions of local attorneys of the respective candidates for judge seats.

The two polls differ slightly. The incumbent poll serves to give a retention rating. Basically, do attorneys think a judge seeking re-election is doing a good job? The poll for open seats is meant to show if bar members have a preference for one candidate over another.

The poll results are simply an account of what responding bar members think, Mickel said. Citizens voting in the coming elections must weigh all of the information available about the candidates.

The poll serves as an indicator for nonlawyers who are voting on a judgeship with which they may or may not be very familiar, Mickel said.

All of the incumbent judges received more than 75 percent approval from at least 25 percent of the bar. Since the incumbents met those bar bylaw thresholds, there will not be another poll during this election year, he said.

Each of the five sitting General Sessions Court judges received approval ratings of 84 to 99 percent. Judge David Bales received 84 percent; Judge Christie Mahn Sell received 99 percent.

Of the contested races for judge seats, sitting Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw received 92 percent of the respondents' votes. His opponent, Yolanda Mitchell, received nearly 8 percent.

J.B. Bennett, candidate for Circuit Court judge, received 85 percent of respondents' support as compared to his opponent Catherine Cate White, who received nearly 10 percent.

"If there's one thing I would take away from it, it's sort of a peer review process," Bennett said of the poll.

White said that since only 34 percent of local bar members responded to the poll she was neither surprised nor discouraged by the results.

"When you consider I am a solo practitioner and most of my supporters are solo practitioners and Mr. Bennett works in one of the largest insurance defense firms ... several hundred members of those firms were very easily able to give him the percentages he got," White said.

Chancery Court candidate Pam McNutt Fleenor received nearly 75 percent of respondents' votes. Her opponent, Joe Manuel, received 25 percent.

Fleenor called the results in her race as "humbling" and said the court-appointed conservatorship work she'd taken on likely helped show her commitment to the judgeship.

"I think this is the one time people rely on others to help them if they're not familiar with a candidate," Fleenor said.

She called the wide margin between her and her opponent a "resounding statement" to voters.

Manuel said he isn't focused on the bar poll.

"The only poll that's really going to matter is the general election," Manuel said.

The county general election is in August.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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