It was an appropriate day to hear from candidates who want to be in the position of rendering judgment over fellow citizens.
Thursday was National Law Day and it was the backdrop to a day where the nation’s laws met the democratic system of citizens choosing their leaders through the system of voting.
The Bradley County Bar Association, Cleveland Lions Club and Rotary Club of Cleveland co-sponsored a Judicial Forum where candidates for three contested races were asked questions about the law and how they view the issues.
Two words could easily summarize the comments of all nine candidates who participated: tough and fair.
In the race for General Sessions Court judge, the three candidates told why they are running.
Barrett Painter said he has been an attorney for 22 years and he believes “there should be changes in the criminal justice system, and I want to be the one that makes those changes.”
He said he has seen the effects of drugs during his practice and wants to implement programs to help people “instead of running them through the system” and get them back to being productive citizens.
Painter said he would work with the other judges to make the judicial system more efficient.
Incumbent Judge Sheridan Randolph says he has proven his capabilities while in office.
“I’ve held court nearly 12,000 times. I handled over 11,000 cases last year,” Randolph said.
He said one of his achievements has been the collection of fines.
“I collected millions of dollars which helped people throughout the county because their taxes are lower than they would have been,” Randolph said.
He added he is seen as “a fair and consistent” judge.
Shari Tayloe said she has practiced law for 21 years, most of it as a prosecutor within the district.
She said she also handled criminal matters while in private practice and has sat as a special judge in the 10th District court.
“I went back as a prosecutor because I have a love for public service,” Tayloe said.
She said she was running “because there is a difference that can be made.”
“The issues among these candidates is integrity and experience and I have both of those,” Tayloe said. “I understand what it takes when you go into a criminal sessions court and the rights that have to be preserved for those offenders that come in and also for the victims, witnesses and law enforcement that participate.”
Tenth District Criminal Court judge candidates Sandra N.C. Donaghy, Van Irion and Amy Armstrong Reedy also had the opportunity to speak about their qualifications and ideas for the position they seek.
Donaghy said she has been an attorney for 30 years, with the last 20 being devoted to criminal law.
“I have trained police officers at the police academy for the last 15 years,” she added.
“Cleveland is where I live, go to church and the community that I serve,” Donaghy said.
Irion said he was an Air Force veteran and a constitutionalist.
He said four years ago when the state’s attorney general refused to challenge Obamacare on constitutional grounds “I stepped up and voluntarily, free of charge, represented thousands of individual Tennesseans challenging Obamacare on constitutional grounds.”
He said he had been invited to participate in nationally syndicated talk shows and had appeared on Fox News several times.
“Most if not all of the rules that are applied in criminal court are derived from the United States federal Constitution and the state of Tennessee Constitution,” Irion said.
He said he wanted to serve because he believes the community wants a judge that will “enforce the law consistently.”
Irion said while practicing law he had seen an “appalling amount of inconsistency in the judicial branch enforcing the laws differently, depending on who’s in front of the court and who the powers are behind the parties.”
Reedy, who is the Democratic incumbent in the race, said she was asked when she ran in 2006 what she would do if elected.
“I said I would work hard to bring the court docket under control, which was causing a significant backlog at that time, and I would strive for fair treatment of all people,” she said.
Reedy said she had worked with all the parties involved in the court process to reduce the number of defendants in court by 30 percent.
“In striving for the fair treatment of all people, in the over 12,000 criminal matters I have handled, less than 1 percent have had an appeal filed, which is evidence from counsel of both sides feeling they have been treated fairly,” Reedy said.
She said her experience goes throughout the ranks of the judicial system from clerk to judge.
The three candidates for Circuit Court Judge, Part 3 ended the evening with their vision of the office and their qualifications.
William J. “Bill” Brown said he has been a part of this community most all of his life and it is “part of my DNA.”
He said he has had his law office in town for 25 years and has raised his family here.
“I’m 61 years old and I feel I can do something else,” Brown said. “I want to do that as Circuit Judge, Part 3.”
“I think this gives our criminal justice system the opportunity to have a fresh set of eyes looking at how our system is operating and bring some suggestions to improve that system,” Brown said.
He said he would use all of his ability and experience to make the community a better place.
“I will use my military experience of organization. I will use my political experience with the school board. I will use my business experience and I will use my 37 years of legal experience to make our system better and more productive, and our community safer,” Brown said.
Andrew Mark Freiberg began by honoring the current judge Caroll Ross and his long tenure on the bench.
“I only chose to run when he decided to retire,” Freiberg said.
He said he was a Christian, a conservative, a father and husband.
“I’m the only candidate for this position that has done nothing but criminal law locally for the last decade — first as a prosecutor, then in private practice,” Freiberg said.
He said he had argued the most cases and handled the most criminal appeals locally during the last 10 years.
“Most importantly, I’ve had the most criminal jury trials locally over the last 10 years,” he said. “If you combine the totals of my opponents, the numbers aren’t even close.”
He said there needs to be more accountability and that too often the wrong people are in jail, noting the mentally ill, poor and nonviolent offenders.
“We need to stop criminalizing our neighbors and start focusing and prioritizing and punishing those our community are afraid of,” he said.”
Chal Thompson said he has been an assistant district attorney since 1986.
He said he has handled every type of case from DUI to first-degree murders.
“I’ve seen quite a few judges on the bench. I’ve seen them make good decisions and I’ve seen them make bad decisions. I’ve learned from all of that,” Thompson said.
He said he wanted to bring his legal experience to the bench to make good decisions for the district.
“That’s the only way our citizens are going to have confidence in the fairness, justice and integrity of our judicial system,” Thompson said.