Three Republican attorneys running for a Hamilton County Criminal Court judgeship spoke before the Pachyderm Club on Monday, with each touting his various experiences and abilities.
Tom Greenholtz, the incumbent appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to replace Judge Rebecca Stern in September, first addressed the crowd at The Mill on 1601 Gulf St. He was followed by Assistant Public Defender Mike Little and prosecutor Boyd Patterson.
The judge said his father, a worker's compensation lawyer in Georgia, succumbed to a two-year battle with cancer when he was 15, sparking fights between Greenholtz and his mother. After graduating from Riverside Military Academy, Greenholtz returned to Chattanooga and planned to attend Furman University. Instead, he was kicked out and spent the night in a treehouse until a different family took him in.
"I know what it's like to be homeless," Greenholtz told the crowd. "I know what it's like to live in poverty. I know what it's like to have a hand reach out and say, 'Come walk with me.'
"Your No. 1 priority is to give back to the community," he said. "I was the beneficiary of many gifts, and it is my obligation to give it back."
Greenholtz also focused on his community involvement with philanthropy groups such as Orange Grove Center, which works with people with developmental disabilities. He also highlighted his experience litigating white-collar crime in federal court. The judge said he's used skills from these positions to run an efficient courtroom where everyone is treated with respect.
During his 10-minute speech, Little critiqued newcomer Greenholtz, saying he lacks substantial experience as a criminal trial lawyer.
"With all due respect," Little said, "I believe the governor made a mistake."
In response to Little's comment, Greenholtz's campaign manager, Robin Smith said, "We encourage the governor to speak for himself."
Jennifer Donnals, a press secretary for Gov. Bill Haslam, said he appointed Greenholtz "based on his background, experience and involvement in the community and believes the 11th Judicial District will benefit from his service on the bench."
Little emphasized his journey through Hamilton County Criminal Court, which began soon after he graduated from law school and got a job as bailiff in Division II — the same courtroom where he's now running for judge.
"Division II has a special place in my heart," he said.
Little then spent 17 years in private practice before taking over the second-in-command position for the Public Defender's Office 15 months ago. There, Little implemented a vertical representation system, he said, meaning one defender represents an indigent client's path through the justice system from start to finish, through conviction or appeal.
Little said he's tried 50 jury trials in state and federal, six homicide cases in state court, practiced in 11 counties, and appeared before about 30 judges — "enough to know the value of a good judge."
"I have your experience to be Criminal Court judge," he said, adding that he was one of three candidates brought before Haslam during the initial judicial appointment. That short list also included Patterson and Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Leslie Longshore. Haslam later asked for a different batch of candidates, which included Greenholtz.
Patterson, who announced his candidacy Monday, spoke last and detailed his academic approach to the motivation behind crime.
After becoming a prosecutor in 2002, Patterson said, he delved into juvenile crime and gang-related violence, which sparked his involvement in the Gang Task Force that dissolved when Mayor Andy Berke launched his Violence Reduction Initiative in spring 2014. That initiative has produced mixed results, "but it is something that does work if implemented with fidelity," Patterson said in response to a question.
Patterson, who recently wrote a book on how to reduce ignorance about Islamic terrorism, said he has published papers on topics such as trial presentation and gang and victim psychology.
"You should know that I have a long-standing interest in criminal motive," he added.
"What causes criminals to cause crimes?" Patterson asked. "As a judge I would try to understand what people before the court are committing crimes for."
The primary election for the seat is March 1 and early voting begins Feb. 10.
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Updated Jan. 4 at 11 p.m.