General Sessions Court judge hopefuls differ on impact of The Chattanooga Bar Association poll

General Sessions Court judge hopefuls differ on impact of The Chattanooga Bar Association poll

May 12th, 2012 by Todd South in News

David Norton

David Norton

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.


General Sessions Court Judge candidates in the Aug. 2 county general election:

• Valerie Epstein

• Joe DeGaetano

• Yolanda Mitchell

• David Norton

• Ron Powers

• Gary Starnes

• Patricia Best Vital

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

While some candidates for the General Sessions Court judge election in August say voters should take cues from a recent poll conducted by the local bar association, others don't give the results much weight.

The Chattanooga Bar Association this week released numbers from a "preferential poll" of members. The poll asked who they support among the seven candidates for the seat formerly held by Judge Bob Moon, who died in January.

Of the 252 bar members who voted in the poll, 53 percent voted for David Norton; 25 percent for Ron Powers; 8 percent for Joe DeGaetano and 7.5 percent for Gary Starnes. The remaining candidates received between 1 and 3 percent.

"I think the poll speaks for itself," said Norton, who was appointed by the Hamilton County Commission to fill the judgeship until the election.

Powers said Friday that his second-place finish showed he has the respect of fellow attorneys. That's something "the public should take into consideration when deciding who to support," he said.

Starnes saw the numbers differently. He noted there are an estimated 1,200 attorneys in the Chattanooga area and nearly 700 members of the local bar. Fewer than half voted, he noted.

"What you have is the largest firms casting their votes for their candidate," Starnes said. "I also point out that the Chattanooga Bar Association has consistently over the years issued dissatisfaction ratings from attorneys on both Judge Bob Moon and [Sessions Judge] David Bales with high unsatisfactory ratings, but both won re-election with the voters very handily."

The Chattanooga Bar Association did not respond to a request for its membership figures.

Local magistrate Yolanda Mitchell also took issue with the poll.

"I have not let that particular poll concern me too much," she said. "The majority of my constituents are not members of the Chattanooga Bar."

DeGaetano said the poll results encouraged him in his campaign efforts.

"I'm not an insider in the Chattanooga Bar Association. I don't work for a big firm," he said. "So to come in third when I'm the newest member of the bar on the ballot is exciting."

Other candidates did not respond to calls for comment Friday.