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Chattanooga attorney Gary Starnes
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Lila Statom of Chattanooga

Interviews for Hamilton County General Sessions judge haven't even begun, but there's already an apparent front-runner: Assistant County Attorney David Norton.

County Commissioner Mitch McClure said Friday afternoon he'd spoken to Norton about the vacancy left by Judge Bob Moon's death on Jan. 26. The commission voted Wednesday to begin the interim appointment process, which it plans to finish March 1.

"I have spoken to him about it, as I have spoken to probably about a half dozen others in the past few days," McClure said. "Just in speaking to other candidates, they're indicating he's the front-runner."

Attorneys Gary Starnes, Rob Philyaw, Larry Ables and Lila Statom also have told commissioners they are interested in the position.

Norton, who is also the Soddy-Daisy municipal judge, could not be reached Friday.

McClure said he's urging all interested candidates to apply before the Feb. 10 deadline. The interview period is Feb. 13-29.

"I'm not discouraging any candidate," McClure said. "There might be other opportunities for judgeships in the future. I'm urging them to go through the process and not get discouraged."

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he has heard Norton's name circulated, though he's encouraging commissioners to consider all applicants. But Norton's name is familiar, he said.

"I would have to say that, among the commission, he's the most known," Henry said.

Commissioner Warren Mackey said Norton is "going to be looked at quite favorably."

Commissioner Chester Bankston said he hasn't heard anything.

"I want to hear from all of them before I actually make up my mind," he said.

Commissioner Joe Graham said he plans to give each candidate an "equal shake" and hasn't received an application or call from Norton.

"Until I see [an application], I'm not going to consider anybody a valid candidate," he said. "I don't know how we can have a front-runner when we open it for applications until Feb. 10.

"I don't know where these rumors get started," Graham said. "I think we owe it to all the applicants to be thorough."

Commissioner Greg Beck said he likes Norton but added, "This may already be a done deal with that Republican coalition up there."

Beck and Mackey are Democrats; the other seven commissioners are Republicans.

Henry said whatever happens with the appointment "doesn't necessarily mean anything."

The interim judge will serve until an Aug. 2 special election for the nonpartisan position and may seek election for the remainder of the term, which ends in 2014. The qualifying deadline for that race is April 5 at noon.

No candidates had picked up qualifying petitions from the election commission by midafternoon Friday.