It is one thing for judicial candidates to know the law. It is another for them to know how to interpret and apply it properly and do so with compassion.
Hamilton County is fortunate to have a number of candidates running for open and contested judicial posts in the May 3 primary election who seem to offer the ability to do both.
In those races, the Chattanooga Free Press opinion page recommends:
In Circuit Court, Mike Dumitru
We believe both contenders for the seat being vacated by Judge Jeff Hollingsworth would make fine judges, but we side with Mike Dumitru for the post.
Hamilton County Circuit Court, according to the county website, hears cases such as appeals from lower courts, contract disputes, civil torts, condemnations, worker's compensation claims, joint petition minor settlements, name changes, adoptions and domestic matters like divorce.
Dumitru, currently a commercial litigator with the Miller & Martin law firm who represents clients from large corporations to small businesses and individuals, told a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga judicial forum audience he had been a paralegal for four years and has been a litigator for 11.
Both he and fellow contender Jim Exum say they have conservative judicial philosophies in desiring to rule based on the facts and the law and not to create it or impose their personal views. Both are active in their communities and can attest to awards they have been presented and endorsements that have been made in their name.
We lean to Dumitru because, as a first generation American, he has been imbued with the understanding of what it's like to live in a country without a strong judiciary and so has developed a deep respect for the law and its role in society. With the country rapidly filling with immigrants, it will be important to have a judge with that understanding in Circuit Court.
With no disrespect to Exum, we endorse Dumitru.
In Criminal Court, Boyd Patterson
Boyd Patterson was an excellent candidate for a Criminal Court judgeship when he ran for the post in Division II in 2016, but Judge Tom Greenholtz had been appointed to the position the year before, and no reason existed to remove him.
Now, with the retirement of Judge Don Poole in Division III, we are privileged to endorse Patterson for the open seat.
We cannot imagine a candidate with such a wealth of experience, from four years in the public defender's office to 15 years as a prosecutor, including specific time as a prosecutor of gang crimes and crimes against children. Before that, he was a delinquent youth counselor.
Thus, Patterson, as he told a UTC judicial forum audience, understands there "are true predators who deserve to do time" but pledges that all those who come before him would be treated with compassion.
An innovator, he created an iPad jury selection app, helped update court technology, helped establish the local mental health court and helped craft legislation for anti-gang laws. He is endorsed by three local police unions.
Patterson's opponents are former Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern, who'd like to return to the bench in a different division, and nearly 20-year criminal defense attorney Amanda Dunn. Both women would be capable jurists, but we believe Patterson is the superior pick this time.
In City Court, Sherry Paty
Since the two divisions of Chattanooga City Court are about to be combined into one with the retirement of Judge Russell Bean, it is imperative the person presiding over the enlarged court be someone with a wealth of experience. Fortunately, that person is already there, and has been since 2004.
We can find no compelling reason Judge Sherry Paty should be replaced in May's nonpartisan election. She not only has the endorsement of Bean, but in 2021 her peers across the state gave her the Sharon G. Lee Award of Excellence by the Tennessee Municipal Judges Conference.
During her tenure, she has implemented a payment plan that allows individuals who must pay a fine to pay over time while maintaining their employment.
Paty told a UTC judicial forum audience she has heard thousands of cases during her tenure and has attempted to preside over them with "fairness and integrity."
A ruling "does not have to be punitive." Everyone does not deserve the same punishment, she said.
Her opponent, Brian Bush, a former prosecutor with the district attorney's officer and a former naval officer, says he will not preside over "assembly-line justice."
In this case, experience matters. We urge voters to keep Paty on the bench.