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It took nearly five hours of public interviews for the Governor's Council for Judicial Appointments to select three finalists to fill the seat Judge Rebecca Stern will vacate when she retires to Puerto Rico on June 1.

Eleven council members from across the state and a variety of legal backgrounds chose Deputy Public Defender Mike Little, Assistant District Attorney Leslie Longshore and Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson. Gov. Bill Haslam will now have the final word.

It's one of the earliest instances of a judicial appointment made by the new process instituted by Haslam.

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Judge Rebecca Stern speaks speaks from the bench in this file photograph from 2013.

Seven candidates were vying for the open position when interviews began at the Read House on Thursday morning.

Red Bank City Judge Johnny Houston, Soddy-Daisy City Judge Marty Lasley and private defense attorneys Samuel Robinson III and John McDougall joined Longshore, Patterson and Little for public interviews. Each had already completed a lengthy application and been interviewed individually by a panelist.

The candidates were asked to briefly introduce themselves, then faced questions. Finalists' answers revealed how they'd take on the position if appointed.

During questioning, Patterson reflected on his years as a juvenile prosecutor, as well as his education in psychology. Understanding crime, he said, often means understanding the root cause and knowing when a heavy sentence might actually help. In a small percentage of cases, Patterson said, he's found that incarceration is the only option. But other resources can sometimes elicit a change as well, he said.

Patterson also worked as a coordinator with former mayor Ron Littlefield's Gang Task Force, which has since been disbanded. He said in combating gang violence, a judge should focus on both suppression and outreach.

Longshore, a child crimes prosecutor, said she works to protect the county's "smallest citizens." She said she's become adept at seeing a case's true merits. Longshore said she'd carry on the drug court program that Stern started and still runs from her courtroom.

Longshore also said she wants to see more young people come into criminal courtrooms early to learn "that prosecutors aren't all evil people with long teeth who eat children, and defense attorneys aren't all Matlock."

Little spoke about his years as a criminal defense attorney, first in private practice and most recently as deputy public defender. He said he would be fair and impartial if he moved to a position as judge. He'd want to improve efficiency as well, he said, something he's done in his role with the public defender's office.

Patterson and Longshore were the only prosecutors in the pool. The selection doesn't seem unusual -- all three sitting justices have experience with the District Attorney General's Office. Stern held the same position as Longshore before ascending to the judgeship.

After finalists were announced, Patterson, Longshore and Little said they were honored and ready for the next step.

Haslam's appointee will have just 14 months of guaranteed time on the bench. After that, he or she will have to campaign for re-election.

Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at cwiseman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.

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