John Campbell and Robert Weiss are judges on different sides of the civil-criminal divide in Shelby County jurisprudence.
Each is seeking a return to the bench this year, but so far there is an important distinction between the two.
The 2014 judicial elections in Shelby County may offer more chances for attorneys to claim open seats on the benches of the various state courts. Several of those contenders have petitions pulled for multiple races on the way to the April 3 filing deadline.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
Campbell, Shelby County Criminal Court judge Division 6, is unopposed so far in the three-week old filing period for candidates on the Aug. 7 county general election ballot. No one else has pulled a qualifying petition for Division 6 as of late last week.
“I hope nobody does,” Campbell told supporters at his Germantown campaign opening and fundraiser Thursday, Jan. 23. “But if somebody does I intend to come out and run hard.”
Weiss, Circuit Court judge Division 8, has opposition at this point from Venita Martin Andrews, who pulled her petition 10 days after Weiss pulled his.
As Weiss opened his campaign last Wednesday Downtown, he didn’t know Martin Andrews was a potential opponent but told supporters he was prepared.
“So far, we are going kind of lean and mean,” Weiss said. “Hopefully this will be the only time you have to hear from me.”
But Weiss wasn’t taking anything for granted, saying he too would campaign hard and be prepared for opposition if it surfaced.
In that regard judicial incumbents are much like other incumbents in local politics. The saying in Shelby County and just about every other local political scene is that there are two ways to run – unopposed or like you are 10 points behind in the polls.
There aren’t likely to be any polls in the judicial races, which are typically understated political affairs. But there could be more competition in this election cycle than past ones, particularly in Circuit Court.
Potential candidates are reacting to the possibility that the Tennessee legislature might abolish two of the nine divisions of the civil court – Divisions 1 and 5 – under terms of the bill sponsored by attorney and Germantown state Sen. Brian Kelsey, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kelsey’s legislation would take the two divisions off the August ballot, if approved by both chambers and signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
The two divisions are attractive to non-incumbents for the same reason Kelsey sees an opportunity to abolish them. Division 1 incumbent John McCarroll hasn’t pulled a petition for re-election and Division 5 incumbent Kay Robilio resigned effective this past September.
Martin-Andrews is among the judicial contenders with more than one petition out. The same day she picked up for Division 8, she also pulled petitions for Divisions 1 and 5.
Retired Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey picked up for Division 1 and then three days later pulled another petition for Division 3.
Candidates with multiple petitions out don’t have to make a decision on which one to file until the noon April 3 deadline.
All 10 incumbent Criminal Court judges, including Campbell, filed their qualifying petitions together on Jan. 17, walking a block from their courtrooms at the Criminal Justice Center to the Shelby County Election Commission’s Downtown offices.
Campbell was appointed Criminal Court judge in November 2012 by Haslam to replace John Fowlkes when Fowlkes became a federal judge. He came to the bench from being Shelby County deputy district attorney general.
“I’ve made a career – my whole life has been at 201 Poplar. … I’ve been there for 32 years,” Campbell told supporters last week in what is his first bid for elected office. “I’m there to let the parties have their day in court – let people put on their case and listen to them impartially.”
Weiss was elected to Circuit Court in a 2010 special election in what was one of three upsets of judicial incumbents who had been appointed to their positions to fill vacancies.
At his campaign opening, Weiss thanked supporters who “stood up” for his candidacy in what is perhaps one of the toughest set of races to challenge an incumbent.
“In 2010, my promise was to work hard, follow the law, be on time and be prepared and I have done my best to live up to those goals,” Weiss said. “I have loved every minute of what I have done.”