There were lots of judges on hand as Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich opened her re-election campaign Sunday, Nov. 10.
And then there were the chili cook-off judges at the event at the Pickering Center in Germantown.
The chili cook-off judged by military veterans the day before Veterans Day was Weirich’s way of opening what is her second campaign in as many years.
She ran in 2012 after being appointed the county’s chief prosecutor by Gov. Bill Haslam following the resignation of Bill Gibbons, who became state commissioner of safety and homeland security. The special election that Weirich, the Republican nominee, won easily over Democratic nominee Carol Chumney was for the remaining three years of Gibbons’ term of office.
This time she is running for a full eight-year term.
“I think (voters) can look and see what I’ve done since elected,” Weirich said, touting a record that includes the formation of the Multi-Agency Gang Unit that involves prosecutors from her office, federal prosecutors and local and federal law enforcement.
Since September, the unit has been enforcing its first gang nuisance injunction in the Riverside neighborhood, “which by all indications so far is working,” she said.
“It’s not the only answer to gang activity. But it’s a huge help in that neighborhood.”
A mentoring program for children that began under Gibbons continues to be a priority with Weirich.
She is a career prosecutor who joined the District Attorney General’s office in 1991.
“Just the transformation that I’ve seen in the last couple of years, I think the role of the district attorney in the community has changed. It has to,” she said. “Enforcement is a big, big part of what we do, but it’s not the answer to all of the problems. We have to play a role in prevention and intervention, cutting down on the number of people who are involved in criminal activity.”
That is likely to be a theme in several races on the 2014 county ballot, which will include nonpartisan races for judges.
Among those expected to seek re-election is General Sessions Criminal Court Judge Bill Anderson, who in June 2012 began presiding over a “veterans court” that focuses on not only criminal cases that involve veterans, but also treatment programs for them.
The first class of veterans from the court program graduated in August.
And Anderson told a veterans’ luncheon Monday that the court is about more than crime and punishment.
“These are ladies and gentlemen who have completed a yearlong intensive treatment program designed to help them get back to where they were before they got into criminal problems … and to put them back together,” he said. “When they succeed, their record is dismissed. Their charges are dismissed. Their records are expunged, and they get to continue their lives.”
The emphasis on reserving detention for only those offenders who need it, alternatives to incarceration for others, and prevention is likely to be an issue in the still-forming race for Juvenile Court judge. Chief Juvenile Court Magistrate Dan Michael is already making some campaign stops, and City Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon is weighing a bid for the office. Current Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person Jr. is not expected to seek re-election.
The court’s numbers of juvenile offenders who were being placed in detention had begun dropping dramatically by the time the U.S. Department of Justice criticized the court in a November 2012 settlement with findings of disproportionate detention and harsher treatment of African-American juveniles as well as due process issues.
The Justice Department report and what has happened since it became a settlement with the court and Shelby County government are expected to dominate the campaign in the nonpartisan race, which both local parties are nevertheless making a priority.
Weirich isn’t the only contender in the May primaries who was also on the ballot in 2012.
Shelby County Assessor of Property Cheyenne Johnson, a Democrat, opens her 2014 re-election campaign this month.
Johnson was re-elected in 2012, but it was to a one-time, two-year term of office. Under Shelby County charter amendments that voters approved in 2008, elections for assessor were moved to the same election cycle as most other countywide offices starting in 2014.
The only county office that remains in the election cycle that is up next in 2016 is Shelby County General Sessions Court clerk. Because the clerk’s office remains a state position, it could not be moved.