VOL. 124 | NO. 18 | Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Contenders Focus On Stotts Vacancy
By Bill Dries
It’s on to the Tennessee Judicial Commission for some of the contenders who failed to land this week’s appointment of a new judge for General Sessions Criminal Court.
Candidates for a vacant judgeship in Shelby County Circuit Court have until Tuesday to turn in their applications to the commission. The commission will send a list of three finalists to Gov. Phil Bredesen, who will fill the vacancy created by the death this month of Judge Rita Stotts. Stotts died Jan. 2 from complications of cancer.
This week, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners filled the other vacancy in the local judiciary when it appointed attorney Lee Wilson, of Wilson & Wright, to the opening created by the Jan. 2 death of General Sessions Criminal Court Judge Anthony Johnson.
Wilson was among 15 attorneys who applied for the General Sessions vacancy.
The nine divisions of General Sessions Criminal Court are the venues where preliminary hearings are held for felony, traffic and environmental cases. The courtrooms on the lower level of the Criminal Justice Center Downtown are the first point of contact for most criminal defendants whether they are out on bond or are arrested and held in the county jail. About 100,000 cases are heard in the divisions each year.
Johnson was administrative judge for the courts and had been Division 10 judge since the division was created in 1982.
In two rounds of voting Monday by the County Commission, the choice came down to a three-way contest among Wilson, attorney Coleman Garrett and county Equal Opportunity Compliance administrator Carolyn Watkins.
Wilson got nine votes and Watkins got four. The commission then moved to make Wilson’s selection unanimous.
“It’s certainly an honor for me,” Wilson told the commission. “I knew Judge Johnson. I practiced in his court for many years. I know I have some big shoes to fill. But I look forward to the challenge.”
Wilson will take the oath of office at a later date. In the interim, retired Criminal Court judges Bernie Weinman and Arthur Bennett have been hearing cases in Division 10.
Wilson, 50, has been an attorney for 25 years. Born in Millington, he began his legal career as an assistant district attorney who was prosecutor in more than 150 jury trials. He has been in private practice for the past 15 years with his partner, Glenn Wright.
In interviews with all 15 contenders last week, some commissioners pushed applicants to commit to making Division 10 a domestic violence court if they won the appointment.
“That has not been decided yet,” Wilson said after his appointment, responding to reporters’ questions. “I’m familiar with what needs to be done.”
For now, Wilson told The Daily News he will take the bench and hear the wide variety of cases that other General Sessions judges hear and become acclimated before deciding if he wants to focus on a docket of nothing but domestic violence cases.
Two other General Sessions judges, Ann Pugh and Mischelle Alexander Best, took on a domestic violence docket until state funding for the court ran out several years ago. Pugh last year told a county task force exploring the creation of a family court that the duties were overwhelming and there wasn’t enough support to ease the burden of the workload.