Short-term incumbent faces challenger for Juvenile Court judgeship

Short-term incumbent faces challenger for Juvenile Court judgeship

June 21st, 2014 by Todd South in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Juvenile Court

Photo by Staff Photo by David Barry

Yolanda Mitchell

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Rob Philyaw

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories on contested races in area county and primary elections.

Two candidates for Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge have met before. That time neither won. This time one will.

When then-General Sessions Court Judge Ron Durby retired for health reasons on Oct. 2, 2012, both Rob Philyaw and Yolanda Mitchell sought the appointment to his position. Lila Statom won the appointment and is unopposed for election to a full eight-year term in August.

A year later, when Juvenile Court Judge Suzanne Bailey announced she would retire after 23 years on the bench, Philyaw again sought the Hamilton County Commission's nomination. That time he got it, and he has served as Juvenile Court judge since April 2013.

Mitchell, 53, is challenging the Republican incumbent on the Democratic ticket. She had no opposition in the primary, earning 5,122 votes in a low-turnout race. Philyaw, 48, took 12,332 votes in his primary.

Early voting runs from July 18 through Aug. 2. Election day is Aug. 7.

Both candidates have practiced civil and criminal law. Mitchell served as a prosecutor in the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office for a decade, four of those years as the child abuse prosecutor. She's also worked in the Juvenile Court as a private attorney and served as a Hamilton County magistrate for four years.

Since taking office last year, Philyaw has launched a juvenile drug court, expanded volunteer opportunities and started a peer court, which allows juveniles accused of minor crimes to be sentenced partly by their peers.

"I call it a responsibility and a blessing," Philyaw said of the judgeship. "We try to connect the right services with the right families."

While the Juvenile Court system deals with truancy and criminal complaints, it is considered a rehabilitative court and attempts to put youth in programs aimed at getting them out of the court system and back on a course of success.

Mitchell said her experience in various areas, from prosecution to defense to magistrate work and time in Juvenile Court, qualify her to see all aspects of a juvenile case and make good decisions for youth who come before the court.

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