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

Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern made her retirement plans official Monday.

Stern, 57, filed her retirement paperwork more than a week ago but notified Gov. Bill Haslam of her intent to retire in a formal letter yesterday.

"It's something we've been planning on for years, and just kind of waiting for the right time," Stern said Monday.

Stern has been a judge for 18 years and previously worked as an assistant district attorney general in Hamilton County. The decision comes less than six months after Stern was re-elected to another eight-year term presiding over Division II.

Stern said when she decided to run for re-election last year around this time, she was still tied to Chattanooga. Her father-in-law was very sick, and she and her husband were his primary caretakers, she said.

But after her father-in-law died in October, the judge said she was considering a retirement to Puerto Rico, where she and husband, attorney Doug Curtis, have owned a vacation home for years. Her last day on the bench will be June 1.

Stern also presides over the county's drug court program, one she said would have floundered years ago if she wasn't passionate about the project. She hopes the governor will consider appointing someone who wants to take on that project, she said.

Stern's replacement could be one of the first appointed under a new system recently announced by Haslam.

Haslam will appoint an 11-member panel, which will hold a public hearing and send the names of three qualified replacement candidates to the governor. Then Haslam will appoint her replacement, and that person will serve until the next judicial election in August 2016.

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

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