Results of the Chattanooga Bar Association's polls rating the performance of trial court judges here do not appear to represent a large percentage of the bar, but that's a deceiving perception. Trial lawyers are a smaller proportion of the overall association, and a significant number of the lawyers who do participate in the polls do not necessarily practice before all courts, and hence do not rate all of the judges. Thus the results of the poll are especially revealing, and particularly useful in helping voters determine which elected judges are considered worthy of reelection.
The polls, reported by Todd South in the July 5 Times Free Press and available on our website include: Two appointed U.S. District Court judges, two U.S. Bankruptcy Court judges; nine local state judges --two in Chancery Court, three in Criminal Court and four in Circuit Court; four county General Sessions (the fifth seat formerly held by the deceased Bob Moon has not been permanently filled), and the county's lone Juvenile Court judge.
Participating lawyers in the latest biennial poll accorded Criminal Court Judge Don Poole the highest rating. Among the 60 respondents rating him, 83-to-92 percent gave him superior ratings in the five specified categories of judicial competence and conduct, and none gave him unsatisfactory ratings, making him the only judge to receive no unsatisfactory grades.
By contrast, Sessions Court Judge David Bales, a relatively controversial figure who assumed his post after intensive lobbying of the County Commission by Moon for his appointment to the bench, got the lowest ratings. Just 11-to-20 percent of the 65 or more respondents gave Bales superior marks, the lowest number in that category, while 22-to-52 percent rated him unsatisfactory in one or more of the categories, the highest number for unsatisfactory ratings.
Bales responded with the common refrain that "the ultimate decision makers of (his) performance are the voters of Hamilton County." The problem is, most voters never go to court; they simply vote on name recognition. The lawyers' poll is a far more insightful and instructive guide. It merits voters' attention.