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April 17, 2014

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Election 2012: General Sessions Judge

Published: 2:53 PM, 02/15/2012 Last updated: 3:00 PM, 02/15/2012
 


Source: The Rogersville Review

By Bill Grubb
News Editor

    The General Sessions Court judge receives an annual salary of $148,330 and oversees a staff that consists of a secretary and an individual classified as a clerk.  The judge's office operates on $281,228, including all salaries, according to the Hawkins County budget for 2011-12.
    Tennessee law requires judges to be at least 30 years old, a Tennessee resident for at least five years, a resident of the county for at least one year and be licensed to practice law in Tennessee.
    The individual ultimately elected in August 2012 will serve a two-year term, with voters again selecting a judge in 2014 to serve the standard eight-year term of office.
    All candidates in the upcoming March primary were given a questionnaire and the opportunity to tell readers a little about themselves.  These are their responses.

Terry Risner  Democrat

    Terry Risner is the only Democrat seeking the post of Hawkins County General sessions Court judge.
    He does not have a spouse or any children.
    He graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry and an M.A. Ed. with emphasis in Chemistry, both from Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky. 
    He received a J.D. degree from Northern Kentucky University, Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Highland Heights, Kentucky.
    Risner has earned additional graduate hours at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.
    He taught high school chemistry before entering law school and pursuing his law degree.
    Risner has been an associate with law firms in Kentucky and Ohio,  He has been the sole practitioner at an office in Mount Carmel since 1997.

1.    What prompted you to seek office? Was it a personal initiative or did others encourage you?
    I had considered running for the office of General Sessions judge for some time.  With Judge Brand's untimely passing, I gave more thought to seeking the position.  As it turned out, a number of friends and casual acquaintances approached me  and urged me to run, so I decided to enter the race.

2.    What are the most important issues you face, and how do you plan address them?
This race is for one of the most important positions in the State of Tennessee's judicial structure.  I believe that it is crucial that the individual occupying this bench be someone who is attuned to the needs of ordinary citizens.  Those who appear in the General Sessions courtroom typically are people who are dealing with straightforward legal issues.  I will treat all with respect and will do my utmost to be fair ad consistent in dealing with their difficulties.

3.    What would you say to voters opposed to your running for office to convince them you are the most qualified?
My background includes service in courts in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.  Since 1998, I have served as municipal judge for Mount Carmel.  During my legal service, I have dealt with a broad range of difficult issues, both as an attorney and as a judge.  I believe that my experience gives me unique tools to serve in this position.  I see this election as a new and exciting opportunity to serve Hawkins County.

4.    What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?
I believe that my exposure to numerous and dramatically varied legal forums, legal thinking and legal processes have prepared me for this challenge.  In addition, I was a classroom teacher - I previously taught high school chemistry.  I think this diverse combination gives me significant insight and hands-on experience which will serve me well in dealing with individual issues confronting those who appear in my courtroom.

5.    How is your experience - or lack of experience - a plus or minus for the position you are seeking?
I think the experiences outlined above show that I can succeed in a variety of situations.  I hope that the voters of Hawkins County agree with me.  I bring few biases about my role in this situation.  This will be a strength.  I will be free to assume my duties with an open mind.  Furthermore, I have no intention of seeking any other office.  Therefore, I will be content to devotee my entire focus and energy to performing my duties to the best of my ability. 

6.    What is the role of the position you are seeking?
The role of the General Sessions judge is simple - to fairly and impartially render the best possible legal service to the citizens of Hawkins County.

7.    Think of our county 20 years from now.  Name three things that must be addressed now to make it better for the children of this county?
My top three issues for our children's future are:  1. Education - without a world-class educational experience, our children cannot excel.  2. Economic focus - if our nation fails to address economic weaknesses, we will lose the ability to protect the nation's role as the premier world economic power.  3. Healthcare - as a nation, we must seriously address the continuing crisis in healthcare, to insure that all are able to find quality, affordable care for themselves and their families.

8.    Do you think there is a need for additional staffing in the office/department you are running for?  If so, how would you propose funding for the addition?
My experiences with all of  the staff serving the General Sessions court indicate that staffing is likely sufficient.  I would take time to interact with the staff to get input regarding any additional needs, whether it is personnel, equipment or materials for properly dealing with the court's requirements.

9.    What one question are you glad we didn't ask?  Are there any skeletons in your closet?
Actually, I had no preconceived ideas as to what questions would be appropriate, so I have no particular questions which I would prefer to avoid. As for skeletons in my closet, I really have nothing unusual to concern me, so I cannot identify any. 

10.    Is there anything you would like to add?
I look forward to having the opportunity to meet many of the county's citizenry with whom I've never interacted.  I also look forward to reconnecting with people with whom I've had no recent contact.  This promises to be a rewarding experience for me,  regardless of its outcome.  I appreciate the opportunity that this election and The Rogersville Review have given me to express myself.

James "Jay" Taylor  Republican

    Judge James "Jay" Taylor was appointed Hawkins County's General Sessions Court judge in July 2011, after being elected by voters and serving nearly five years as the county's Juvenile Court judge.
    He is married to Julia, and has two children, Cross and Luke.
    He is a graduate of with East Tennessee State University, Bachelor of Science, and graduated from Mercer University School of Law with a Juris Doctor.
 
1.    What prompted you to seek office? Was it a personal initiative or did others encourage you?
After much thought and prayer, I sought election to the Judiciary so that I could use my experience, education, and training to make a positive difference in the community.  I had the support and encouragement of my family, friends, and people in the community.
 
2.    What are the most important issues you face, and how do you plan address them?
The single biggest issue facing our court is the effect of drug abuse on our society.  Our community must band together to create a comprehensive response to the drug abuse epidemic that we are facing.  This response must include a coordinated medical, counseling, law enforcement, judicial, and spiritual effort.  The court would be well served with a broad-ranged Drug Treatment and Mental Health program.
 
3.    What would you say to voters opposed to your running for office to convince them you are the most qualified?
I am an honest and hard-working man.  I have been practicing law here in Hawkins County since 1997.  I was appointed as the Judge of the General Sessions Court in 2011, after having been elected as the Judge of the Juvenile Court in 2006.  My experience and training, both as an attorney and member of the state judiciary, well qualify me for this position.
 
4.    What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?
I have been a member of the state judiciary for over five years.  I have completed the Tennessee Judicial Academy training for judges.  I have six months experience as the current Judge of the General Sessions Court, and five years experience as the Judge of the Juvenile Court.  This judicial experience, combined with fourteen years experience as an attorney, well qualify me for this position.
 
5.    How is your experience - or lack of experience - a plus or minus for the position you are seeking?
In addition to being a member of the state judiciary and an attorney, I have had experience working in many other areas.  My first job was at age 12 mowing lawns during the summer. I also worked in the cornfields, bagged groceries, worked at a tire store and in a hardware store. Throughout college, I worked at a restaurant waiting tables, at a manufacturing plant as an engineers assistant, and at an emergency child shelter for neglected children.  I am a family man with a wife and children.   My entire life experience helps me make the decisions required in this court.
 

6.    What is the role of the position you are seeking?
The General Sessions Court is an important part of our county's daily operations, and the Judge is responsible for the management of all judicial and administrative duties of the court.
 
7.    Think of our county 20 years from now.  Name three things that must be addressed now to make it better for the children of this county? All the major issues facing our court are related to the effect of drug abuse on our society.  This one single issue impacts the court in a way that cannot be measured.  A meaningful and coordinated effort must be made by all courts and our community to face this issue.
 
8.    Do you think there is a need for additional staffing in the office/department you are running for?  If so, how would you propose funding for the addition?
The office is well staffed and very capable of managing the current operations.
 
9.    What one question are you glad we didn't ask?  Are there any skeletons in your closet?
That is indeed an interesting question for a man going through what I have been through.  Since my election in 2006, I have done my best as a Judge to address the issues presenting themselves in court.  I made great strides in the court's response to drug abuse, truancy, and the court's oversight of the foster care system.  I have learned that doing the right thing does not always make you popular with certain people.  For instance, in Juvenile Court when I wanted to drug screen parents in addition to the children, I was met with extreme resistance.  Since the time I suggested that we place a Foundations Display in the courthouse, which would include the Ten Commandments among other items, I have been met with attacks and false accusations from several fronts.  Since my appointment as the Judge of the General Sessions Court, my life has been the subject of an unwarranted scrutiny.  While as a man of faith I realize that we are all imperfect people living in an imperfect world, I admittedly never expected to receive such opposition for simply trying to do the right thing.
 
10.    Is there anything you would like to add?
I want to thank everyone for their continued support, and ask that you please consider voting for me as Judge of the General Sessions Court.

Renfro "Buddy" Baird  Republican

    Renfro "Buddy" Blackburn Baird, III is one of three Republicans seeking the party's nomination for the position of Hawkins County General sessions Court judge in the March 6 primary.
    He was raised in Hawkins County and is the son of the late Dr. and Mrs. R. B. Baird, Jr.   He is married to Bridget Ryan Baird and they have one son, Ryan Baird, who is a junior at Cherokee High School.  An avid outdoorsman, he is currently serving on the board of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.   While in school at Rogersville High School and college, I played varsity football.  I am a member of the Rogersville Heritage Association and Rogersville First United Methodist Church.
    Baird received a Degree of Juris Doctor    Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law          Macon, Georgia.  A Bachelor of Arts degree from      Centre College, Danville, Kentucky. He was a graduate of Rogersville High School.
    He has had a law office in Rogersville since 1990 and was with the Third District Public Defender's office as well as a serving as a clerk for for Attorneys William L. Jenkins and Charles Terry.
    Baird was appointed by Governor Ned McWherter to the Tennessee Human Rights Commission and was appointed by Governor Don Sundquist to Tennessee Wildlife Resource Commission (TWRC), where he served as chairman. He is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association and Rogersville/Hawkins County Chamber of Commerce

1.    What prompted you to seek office?  Was it a personal initiative or did others encourage you?
Some of both.  My personal goal was to run for this office in 2014, but circumstances changed.   I was encouraged by colleagues to enter the race at this time.

2.    What are the most important issues in your race, and how do you plan to address them?
The spread of illegal drugs and domestic violence are two huge issues that need to be address by swift justice.  Those placed on probation should be given a chance; but if probation is violated, they should be sent to jail.   I would like to be the judge who decides orders of protection and domestic issues.   I have been involved with that in my law practice and have the experience to make the proper decisions in those cases.

3.    What would you say to voters opposed to your running for office to convince them you are the most qualified?
With my law experience of over 24 years in Federal, Criminal and Civil Courts in several states.  I will be a fair and impartial judge.  As you may know my father, Dr. R. B. Baird and my father-in-law, Frederick "Rip" Ryan served Hawkins County honorably for may years in medicine and education.   I would like to do the same in the judicial system for Hawkins County.   I will bring experience and maturity to the bench.

4.    What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?
I have experience in trying cases in all state courts - Chancery, Circuit, General Sessions, Juvenile, and Criminal.   Additionally, I have argued both civil and criminal cases in Federal Court including a case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal in Cincinnati, Ohio.   Since 1989 when asked, I have acted as the Interim Judge Pro Tem in both General Sessions and Juvenile Court.

5.    How is your experience - or lack of experience - a plus or minus for the position you are seeking?
My experience is a plus because I have an in-depth view of problems facing the courts today.   I bring knowledge of criminal and civil procedure having taught the criminal justice class to the Hawkins County Sheriff Department for several years in the past.

6.    What is the role of the position you are seeking?
The General Sessions Judge is an extremely important judgeship because it is in this court that the first judicial review is heard and the decision is made whether or not to proceed to a higher court.  Also, the General Sessions Judge makes the final ruling on cases valued at $25,000 or less.  So, one can see that the role of the General Sessions Judge is crucial to the judicial system.

7.    Think of our county 20 years from now.  Name three things that must be addressed now to make it better for the children of this county.
1.  Curtail the use of synthetic and other illegal drugs thru law enforcement and the county judicial system.     
2.  Minimize domestic violence thru education and class instruction concerning the family unit.  The General Sessions Judge must work with the community leaders and the general public to address a better quality of life. 
3.  The Juvenile and General Sessions Judges must work together to support our educators to strengthen the youth in our county.  We need to make an impact early in a child's life.

8.    Do you think there is a need for additional staffing in the office/department you are running for?  If so, how would you propose funding for the addition?
I do not believe we need additional funding at this time because the present staff is both adequate and professional.

9.    What one question are you glad we didn't ask?   Are there any skeletons in your closet?   
The scrutiny that was placed on me and the other candidates in the earlier appointment process was in-depth.  I am proud of my record and stand by it.

10.    Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I have practiced law in this county for may years and have earned the respect of my peers.   I am humbled by the support I have received.  To serve Hawkins County with honor and integrity is my goal.   Your support will make that possible.   I would greatly appreciate your vote.

J. Todd Ross  Republican

    J, Todd Ross is one of three Republicans seeking the party's nomination for the position of Hawkins County General sessions Court judge in the March 6 primary.
    He is married to Heather Ross and has three children, Sydney, Lauren and John  6.
    He earned a J.D. from the Appalachian School of Law, Grundy, Virginia.  He was Summa Cum Laude and was ranked first in his class, making the Dean's List each semester.                         
    He was  awarded a Masters of Education, Marriage & Family Therapy from East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, and Bachelor of Science, with a major in Psychology and a minor: Business Management, also from East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Ross is a graduate of
Volunteer High School,     Church Hill.
    He formed his own law firm, now known as Ross & Associates, Attorneys at Law, LLC, located in Kingsport, in 2004. He was an associate attorney with Hunter, Smith, & Davis, Kingsport, and served as a law clerk with the Street Law Firm
Grundy, Virginia.
    Ross was the director of the Adventure Program of Frontier Health, Inc. in Johnson City, a therapist and family case manager with Children & Youth Services and a psychiatric technician at Woodridge Hospital.

1.    What prompted you to seek office? Was it a personal initiative or did others encourage you.
Seeking the Office of the General Sessions Court Judge has been a goal of mine since I decided to attend law school.  My long range plans included a run for office in 2014.  However, due to the untimely death of Judge David Brand, that timeline was moved forward.  While working with children and families as a mental health counselor, I was able to see first hand how the actions of the parents and caretakers influenced the lives of the children of our community.  I worked hard to teach children tools and skills to help them cope with their struggles and to learn to be successful, only to return them to homes where their parents were beating one another, taking/selling drugs, stealing, etc.  I decided that affecting the source of their troubles may be more effective than treating the results of their abuse.

2.    What are the most important issues you face, and how do you plan address them?
The most immediate issue that will face whoever takes office in September will be restoring public confidence in the Office of the General Sessions Court Judge.  Throughout the last several months, the controversies and allegations related to this position seem to have taken a dramatic toll on public opinion as it relates to the Court.  The General Sessions Court has the potential to be a major influence on our community, but it needs the support of the community to be successful.  Not only do I plan to bring about change based upon my own experience, but I plan to encourage input and assistance from the other agencies, offices, citizens, and departments that are essential to running a successful General Sessions Court.

3.    What would you say to voters opposed to your running for office to convince them you are the most qualified?
I would simply ask them to talk to me.  Talk to those who know me.  Look at my education and work history, my accomplishments, and my contributions to the community.  They will learn that I did not grow up in a wealthy family and that I have worked hard all my life.  They will learn that I understand the value and importance of a hard days work and appreciate the sacrifices that are made everyday by the people of this community.  These values allowed me to graduate at the top of my law school class, to take and pass the Tennessee and Virginia Bar exams over a three day period, and to build a successful law practice that has served over five thousand clients in the past eight years.

4.    What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?
I have always felt that my work experiences prior to practicing law have been one of my greatest assets.  While in undergraduate and graduate school, I worked for Frontier Health in several capacities.  I have worked with individuals and families in their homes, schools, group homes, hospitals and other environments.  This experience has taught me not to look only at the individuals as they stand before me today, but to try to discover how they came to be where they are.  Each case is different and the court cannot be handled like an assembly line.  The revolving door of justice isn't working.  We have to find an appropriate way to stop repeat offenders, whether with longer sentences or treatment. Neither will work for everyone, but we can't keep doing to same things and expecting different results.

5.    How is your experience - or lack of experience - a plus or minus for the position you are seeking?
My experience is a major plus for the position of General Sessions Court Judge.  I decided many years ago that I did not want to limit my practice to one area of law or to one jurisdiction.  Over the past ten years, I have consistently practiced in all Federal and State Courts throughout East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.  By doing so, I have been able to experience and observe many courts and many judges.  Each court is different with its own strengths and weaknesses.  I plan to approach my judgeship as a blank slate and implement policies and procedures based upon my experiences in the various courts and to bring the best of each with me to the bench.  If the voters do not want things to change, then they should vote for someone else.

6.    What is the role of the position you are seeking?
The General Sessions Court Judge should set the standard in the community for professionalism, leadership, fairness, integrity, and work ethic.  This is not a part-time job and it should not be treated like one.  The General Sessions Court Judge must protect the rights of victims of crime and ensure that the rights of each defendant are upheld.  In all matters, the Court must ensure that the law is enforced and that cases are decided upon the merits and not based upon the name of the party involved or which influential person they may know.  The concept that "Justice is Blind" needs to be restored to its initial meaning.  Justice should be blind to influence or connections of the party before it, but should never turn a blind eye to their illegal actions.

7.    Think of our county 20 years from now.  Name three things that must be addressed now to make it better for the children of this county?
The most pressing issue facing this county and many others today is drugs.  The three things that need to be addressed now are limiting access to illegal drugs in our community, apprehending those who are pushing drugs on our citizens, and treating those that want help.  I realize that drugs are not the only problem we face, but unless we stop the destruction drugs are causing, we will not be able to resolve the other issues.

8.    Do you think there is a need for additional staffing in the office/department you are running for?  If so, how would you propose funding for the addition?
 I do not believe that additional staffing is needed for the Office of the General Sessions Court.  Based upon my observations and conversations with those in the Clerk's Office and the Judge's Office, I believe that there are some changes that need to be made to allow the offices to work more efficiently.  I would like to make changes that would take some of the work load off of the General Sessions Court Clerk, especially in the early mornings before Court begins.  There are too many officers standing around the courthouse for hours waiting for their cases to be called.  These officers are either scheduled to be off on these days, or on the road.  Either way, the Court needs to work to minimize the amount of time the officers are spending in the Court and maximize the time they are on the road.

9.    What one question are you glad we didn't ask?  Are there any skeletons in your closet?
I guess I would have been happier if you had not asked this question.  I have no doubts that there is not one among us, either running for office, or reading these responses that have not made mistakes or bad decisions.  We have all sinned and fallen short.  I would never pretend that I am perfect, that I have never made a mistake, or that I will never make one again.  We all make mistakes everyday.  What separates us from one another, is our ability to recognize our mistakes, accept responsibility for them, attempt to correct any damage they may have caused, learn from them, and try our best not to let it happen again. 

10.    Is there anything you would like to add?
When I decided to run for office, I expected there would be difficult times and difficult people.  I knew there would be times when I wanted to give up and that I would question whether I had made the right decision.  What I didn't expect was the outpouring of support I have received from the community.  I have met so many wonderful people throughout this campaign and have made many new friends.  Because I am not from Rogersville, I knew that I had a huge hurdle to overcome to gain support from voters in the lower end of the county.  I have been amazed by the willingness of the people of this County to look past which candidate they have known the longest, attended the same Church, went to the same school, etc., and to look for the candidate that they believe will have the most positive impact on the people of Hawkins County.

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