Of nine county judgeships and one city judgeship on the May 3 primary ballot, only three are contested, and both of the county races offer candidates only on the Republican ballot. The city judge race is nonpartisan.
In each race, the winners for these eight-year terms will be decided in the primary. The good news is that there is a wealth of experience to choose from if you choose to request a Republican ballot. We have suggestions.
Circuit Court, Division 2 — Mike Dumitru
Simply put, we were blown away with thoughtful speech Mike Dumitru made in a meet-and-greet judicial forum in early August held by the Chattanooga Bar Association and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Dumitru, a partner at Miller & Martin, and Jim Exum, an attorney with Chambliss Bahner & Stophel, are competing to become the Hamilton County Circuit Court judge for Division 2 — a court that decides cases such as appeals from the lower courts, contract disputes, civil lawsuits, condemnations, worker compensation claims, adoptions and other domestic matters.
As a paralegal for years and a litigator for the last 11 years, Dumitru says he has worked every kind of those cases and more all the way up to the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
"What I have found in this campaign is that people understand your experience ... But they are less interested in who you have been as a lawyer and more interested in who you will be as a judge," Dumitru told the group about why he seeks the seat of retiring Judge Jeff Hollingsworth.
With that he told a story about a conversation he had several years ago with his 4-year-old daughter in a hospital hallway waiting for a bathroom to open as her grandfather — his father-in-law — was dying.
"She begins asking me questions more profound than any 4-year-old has any business asking anybody. Questions about cancer and whether you catch it like a cold. Questions about whether it will take the life of her grandfather. Questions about whether he'll go to Heaven, and if when he gets there he'll recognize anybody or whether he'll be lonely. And in the middle of this emotional conversation, she stops, and she looks me dead in the eyes, and says 'Daddy, your ears are so huge.
"I told her back then, and I tell her today: Sweetheart, that's because I feel like God put me here to listen. Everyone in this room, whether you're a lawyer, whether you're a student, whatever you do for a living, no matter how old or young you are, I challenge you just for a second to be honest with yourself and point out one thing in your life you've ever learned by talking ... We learn by listening, and listening is what any good judge is going to spend the vast majority of his or her time doing. It is something that I will do as a judge."
Dumitru is the first person in his family born in America. His parents emigrated from a communist country "for the freedoms that our system of law is designed to protect," he said. He carries with him everyday — literally on a wristband — reminders of the characteristics his grandfather taught him: love, kindness, respect, patience.
Vote for Mike Dumitru for Circuit Judge, Division 2.
Criminal Court Judge, Division 3 — Boyd Patterson
Little explanation is needed for what a criminal court judge does. The judge hears felony and misdemeanor criminal cases after a grand jury has brought the charges against a suspect. It sounds simple. It's not.
That's why we think Boyd Patterson, 52, and something of a jack of all trades in our county's justice system, is the right choice.
With a master's degree in psychology as well as a law degree, he has been a psychiatric hospital counselor, a youth counselor, a 15-year assistant district attorney, a four-year assistant public defender and a gang task force coordinator for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield's administration.
He's also a court innovator who developed a iPad jury selection app for lawyers, and computer programs that identify gang members in court, as well as an online network of specialized prosecutors.
He's not all just about law enforcement. In the introduction of his Comprehensive Gang Assessment prepared during the Littlefield years, he wrote that one action people could take to reduce gang violence was simply to teach a child to read. It is well known that children who can read are less likely to grow up to be criminals, he noted.
His work on that gang task force focused both on crime suppression and community collaboration to design services aimed at keeping at-risk youth and adults out of the court system. It was a well-designed plan that was never implemented because of city regime change.
This seat he now seeks is open after Judge Don W. Poole announced his retirement in July, and Patterson is one of three Republican candidates vying for Poole's gavel. The other two are Amanda Dunn, a 20-year criminal defense attorney, and Rebecca Stern, a former criminal court judge who retired but now wants to return to the bench.
Each is capable, but we hope you'll vote for Patterson.
Chattanooga Judge, Division 1 — Sherry Paty
With 17 years' experience as a city judge, 58-year-old Sherry Paty believes she has the experience to take on the additional workload of retiring city court division 2 Judge Russell Bean after the Chattanooga Council voted last summer to slim the court down to one non-partisan judgeship.
City Court deals with traffic violations, animal cases and environmental cases, and Paty has one challenger, Brian Bush, 31, who touts his experience as a prosecutor, a defense attorney and an alternative sentencing advocate.
We agree with Paty: Now is not the time to lose experience in city court. She's the best candidate.