The Rutherford County Commission will have five people to interview in filling a vacant General Sessions Court judgeship.
Candidates filed applications with the county mayor’s office before a Dec. 29 deadline, including former Rutherford County School Board member Gary Patton and a finalist for a Circuit Court post, local attorney Ben Bennett. Others seeking the post are attorneys Kris Oliver and Derek Howard and Matthew Wright, an attorney with Department of Children’s Services.
Commissioners are set to interview the candidates during their Thursday meeting at the Rutherford County Courthouse and could pick one that night. The position came open after Gov. Bill Haslam appointed now-former General Sessions Judge Barry Tidwell to take a Circuit Court judgeship left open by the death of Judge Keith Siskin last summer.
Experience: Bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Tech, 1991. Aladdin Synergetics field service engineer, U.S. Postal Service mail carrier. Earned law degree at Nashville School of Law; worked with Roehrig and Associates, P.C., a firm handling bankruptcy law; solo practice until December 2007 representing parents and children in Juvenile Court; assistant general counsel with Tennessee Department of Children’s Services prosecuting cases of dependency and neglect.
Reason for applying: The General Sessions position that is vacant works directly with drug abuse and mental health issues and I have developed a good deal of experience with these issues over the past 16 years. I am of the firm belief that one of the main challenges and opportunities of the this position is identifying which individuals truly have mental health issues that are going untreated and then identifying if said individual is self-medicating either with prescription opiates or heroin or other types of illegal drugs because such then inevitably leads the individual to commit misdemeanor crimes to sustain their drug addiction, which then leads to their arrest and subsequent incarceration.
We need to attack the root of the problem, i.e. their mental health issue and/or their drug addiction that is not being treated, instead of just incarcerating the individual, because what happens is the defendant is released from incarceration and they once again have a need to self-medicate so they commit another crime to get the money they need to obtain the heroin or to buy prescription narcotics off the street.
Experience: Bachelor’s degree from MTSU and law degree from Nashville School of Law. Two-plus years as law clerk for General Sessions Judges David Loughry and Ben Hall McFarlin in criminal court and five years practicing criminal law in General Sessions and Circuit courts. Associate attorney to Howard Wilson, also his father-in-law, at the law office of Wilson and Bradley. Partner with Wilson, Howser and Oliver, PLLC, with practice consisting primarily of criminal defense in Rutherford and surrounding counties. Represented more than 500 defendants in criminal court during career, participating in three criminal jury trials, numerous bench trials and hearings.
Reason for applying: I believe I can have a bigger and more positive impact on our growing community serving as one of our General Sessions judges than in my current role as a private attorney.
Experience: Bachelor’s degree from University of North Alabama, law degree from Nashville School of Law; criminal law practice in General Sessions and Circuit courts in Rutherford County since 2004
Reason for applying: I am truly blessed in that I love what I do. The natural progression for me would be to move from representation of clients in General Sessions to administration of the court itself. I have represented hundreds of clients over the years charged with crimes ranging from public intoxication to murder. It is my opinion that the most important quality a judge can bring to the bench is his experience as a practicing attorney. This experience is essential and I have that experience. I am asking to be appointed judge because I believe that I can bring experience along with a fresh and inventive perspective to the bench.
Impartiality is imperative in a judge and the application of the law to any set of facts must be consistent and universal for our judicial system to operate. I believe my personal experiences and disposition make me an ideal candidate for the position.
Experience: Bachelor’s degree from MTSU, law degree from Memphis State School of Law. Retired as major with 29 years of services from Air Force Reserve and Tennessee Army National Guard. Attorney-advisor to administrative law judges dealing with Social Security Act; private practice in Smyrna; assistant general counsel for Textron Aerostructures in Nashville; private practice in Murfreesboro since 1993 focusing on civil litigation; former Rutherford County School Board member.
Reason for applying: I’m at that point in my life where Rutherford County’s been really good to me, and I want to serve again in a public capacity. When I notice Judge Tidwell’s position came open, people had been talking to me about possible running for judge for several years. But I wasn’t at that point. Now’s a good time. This would be a way to serve. Like it was on the school board, I’ve got a lot of experience in business as well as in law, and I wanted to see if I can help make improvements in the judicial system. We’ve got a great judiciary, and we’ve got a really great system. We’ve got a lot of people coming through that system. … There’s people lining the halls. They’ve got a tremendous docket, and it’s docket management more than anything else.
They came up with Part IV a couple of years ago, the jail docket, and that was a way to alleviate some of the overcrowding. But, like the schools, we’ve got to upgrade, hopefully we’ll get 21st century courtrooms when we get the new judicial building.
Experience: MTSU bachelor’s degree, University of Virginia FBI National Academy, Nashville School of Law. Began practicing law in 2008, Bennett & Scarlett Law Office with concentration in business and estate law; formerly detective with Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office.
Represented a young man in criminal court charged with attempted first-degree murder in which evidence overwhelmingly supported the charge. Significant review of the case and witness interviews revealed lifelong struggle with mental illness, and Circuit Court bench trial resulted in verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
A judge is, above all, a public servant held to the highest of standards in applying the law ethically and impartially. I have dedicated my entire professional life to the law and the legal profession using the identical standards as my foundation.
Sam Stockard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.