Judge Ben McFarlin and candidate Kevin Hodges
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the third of an ongoing series focusing on judge elections on Aug. 7.
Incumbent Ben Hall McFarlin and challenger Kevin Hodges of Smyrna are squared off in the race for General Sessions Judge, Part I, which will be decided in the Aug. 7 election. Both candidates recently answered these questions from The Post.
Personal: Three children, son Christopher, 28, serves in Army and is Iraq/Afghanistan veteran; daughter Jennifer, 25, an MTSU alumnus, works for Disney Orlando; 11-year-old daughter attends school in Rutherford County. Members of Believers Chapel in Murfreesboro for 16 years.
Background: Worked at Smyrna Police Department as a detective from 1996-2009. U.S. Navy submarine service work center supervisor from 1985-1994. Graduate of Nashville School of Law and a practicing attorney in Smyrna.
Why are you running for election?: In one word, complacency. There is always a way to save taxpayer money, streamline processes and look for ways to improve the courts and that is not taking place at this time.
What is the most important characteristic a judge should have?: Fairness and equality. Judges should apply the laws with fairness and equality to all that are brought before the court.
What will be the foundation of your decision-making process on the bench?: The Constitution, the Tennessee Constitution, Tennessee statutes and case law. Judges’ decisions must be within the purview of these documents.
Why are you running as a Republican?: That is what I am. It gives people an insight as to my beliefs about government.
Judge Ben Hall McFarlin
Personal: Wife, Brenda Mack McFarlin, retired teacher from Rutherford County Schools; son Ben Hall “Trey” McFarlin III, local trial attorney for 13 years, in practice with Ken Burger; daughter Dr. Elizabeth McFarlin Coe, pediatrician in Brentwood; grandson, Benjamin Neal Coe, 14 months old. Parents, the late Ben Hall McFarlin Sr. and Gene Marie Black McFarlin. Lifelong member of North Boulevard Church of Christ.
Background: Mitchell-Neilson and Crichlow Elementary School, Murfreesboro Central High School, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee School of Law. Military Education: Graduate – Officer Basic Course Military Intelligence first time course was taught. Graduate Advance Officer Course, various other military schools. Retired as a major in Military Intelligence USAR.
Practiced law as a trial lawyer 25 years. Tried numerous high-profile jury trials including double murder, double rape, triple vehicular homicide and many others.
Elected General Sessions Judge 1998, served as president of General Sessions Judges Conference (all General Sessions judges in Tennessee) 2012.
Public service: former board member of Stones River Manor and MTCS; campaign chair of United Way 1996, chairman of United Way 1998, past chairman American Heart Association, Jerry Lewis MD Drive, Mid Cumberland Community Actions Agency, past president Murfreesboro Kiwanis Club, Andrew Jackson Inn of Court. Currently charter board member of Special Kids where I did legal work for organization’s Tennessee Charter.
Why are you running for election?: I have a passion for my work and serving the public. I am running for election to continue serving the public based on my 16-year record as a judge. In 2009 I started a Domestic Violence Court to protect victims of domestic assault. This is not just a docket of Domestic Violence cases handled the same old way as other Tennessee courts, this is a court of innovative ideas finding unique ways to change lives of victims of domestic assault.
Our most effective change by a huge degree was using the power of subpoena to empower and protect domestic violence victims. Some have misinterpreted this as putting a burden on victims when just the opposite results. Victims have the subpoena to shield them against perpetrators who have historically been able to thwart court appearances and testimony by those abused. Abusers can’t coerce victims from appearing in court due to the subpoena. Most who work in the domestic violence legal system will tell you using subpoenas with victims has produced dramatic improvements in our ability to address this major societal problem.
This docket handles approximately 1,500 cases per year, meaning I have handled over 5,000 cases on this docket in the last five years. This Domestic Violence Court is in addition to the other full-time duties as judge. In the past 16 years I have handled tens of thousands of cases.
I also want to continue running a court that saves the taxpayers money by being very efficient. According to the population of Rutherford County, we should have one or two more General Sessions judges. Because we are so efficient in handling our dockets, we are saving the taxpayers between $200,000 and $400,000 per year.
What is the most important characteristic a judge should have?: A judge should be patient while listening to the proof, giving participants a fair opportunity to present their side and their concerns. Then the judge should apply the law to the facts of the case remembering no two cases are exactly the same.
The demeanor of a judge is critical to a courtroom atmosphere that allows all participants to have their day in court. The judge must handle large case loads each day while giving each participant the feeling they were treated fairly by our judicial system.
What will be the foundation of your decision-making process on the bench?: This was partly answered in characteristics of a judge. In addition, it is critical for a judge to make decisions in a manner that upholds the integrity of the judicial system. Decisions should be made in a manner where the public has confidence they know the reasons for the outcome of cases, regardless of if they agree with the outcome.
Why are you running as an Independent?: I am running as an Independent because the judicial system and all judges should be independent. Under our Constitution there are various checks and balances. The executive and legislative branches are partisan and a check on them is an independent judiciary. When you lose an independent court system, you have no rule of law. With no rule of law you have what is a total breakdown of society such as in countries as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.