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Staff File Photo / Former Judge Rebecca Stern is seeking a return to the bench.

Former Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern announced Tuesday her effort to return to the bench.

Stern, an Ooltewah native who presided over criminal court cases from 1997 until her retirement in 2015, hopes to fill the seat soon to be vacated by Judge Don Poole.

When she announced her retirement in 2015, Stern said she had been planning to retire "for years" but had been waiting for the right time. She said at the time she was considering retiring to Puerto Rico, where she and her husband, attorney Doug Curtis, have owned a vacation home for years.

On Tuesday she revealed she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and spent most of that year undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She continued to work throughout her treatment and retired five years later so she could focus on her health.

"I needed time to focus on my health and the things that are really important in my life," Stern said in a statement Tuesday. "Throughout my journey with cancer, I concentrated on my work. I never took time to focus on myself and my health the way I should have, and I needed to do so."

Stern said she and her husband spent a majority of the 15 months following her retirement in Puerto Rico as they had planned. During that time, Curtis worked remotely for a Chattanooga law firm and Stern traveled to Chattanooga to see doctors and spend time with friends and family.

"After a year, I was ready to return to work," she said, explaining that in October 2016 she opened a law practice in Chattanooga specializing in criminal defense work. She continues to practice law in the city.

"I've been a prosecutor, a judge and now a defense attorney," Stern said. "The role I most enjoy is that of judge because I can take a neutral position and look at a case from both sides. I love interacting with jurors, particularly, and I like to be able to apply creative, solution-oriented approaches to sentencing by using drug court and mental health court."

Before becoming a judge, Stern left high school after her junior year and earned a GED certificate. She later graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the University of Tennessee College of Law.

Her law career began at the law firm of Strang, Fletcher, Carriger, Walker, Hodge & Smith, and then she worked as a prosecutor at the Hamilton County District Attorney General's Office, where she focused on child abuse and domestic violence cases.

Under her leadership, the Inter-Agency Domestic Violence Task Force was initiated. During her 17 years as a criminal court judge, Stern also developed and presided over the Hamilton County Recovery Court, often called "drug court," and served in multiple leadership roles within the Chattanooga Bar Association, including president and board member.

"I was blessed to be appointed to the bench and to have been elected three times, and I would like to return to public service as a judge where I feel I can do the most good," she said Tuesday. "If I'm elected to the bench again, I plan to continue the good work and high standards set by Judge Poole."

(READ MORE: Who replaces Judge Rebecca Stern? The governor just made the decision)

Poole announced he would retire at the end of his term in August. Since then, Boyd Patterson of the Public Defender's Office has also announced his candidacy for the open Division III Criminal Court judge seat.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.

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