The Chattanooga Bar Association released its 2011 Biennial Judicial Poll, in which responding bar members rate local judges in five categories. Below are the judges listed by name and court in the poll with the range of superior to unsatisfactory percentage rankings among the number of respondents.
U.S. District Court, Eastern Division
Curtis L. Collier: 52 to 76 percent superior, 1 to 15 percent unsatisfactory among more than 70 respondents
Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice: 63 to 82 percent superior, 2 to 18 percent unsatisfactory among 65 or more respondents
U.S. Bankruptcy Court
John C. Cook: 80 to 85 percent superior, 2 percent unsatisfactory among more than 40 respondents
Shelley D. Rucker: 84 percent superior, 3 to 16 percent unsatisfactory among more than 30 respondents
Hamilton County Chancery Court
Jeffrey M. Atherton: 34 to 60 percent superior, 7 to 16 percent unsatisfactory among more than 75 respondents
W. Frank Brown III: 67 to 86 percent superior, 1 to 7 percent unsatisfactory among at least 95 respondents
Hamilton County Circuit Court
Jacqueline E. Bolton: 23 to 43 percent superior, 4 to 24 percent unsatisfactory among more than 80 respondents
W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth: 78 to 92 percent superior, 1 to 11 percent unsatisfactory among nearly 90 respondents
W. Neil Thomas III: 74 to 87 percent superior, 2 to 13 percent unsatisfactory among more than 90 respondents
L. Marie Williams: 48 to 72 percent superior, 2 to 19 percent unsatisfactory among at least 90 respondents
Hamilton County Criminal Court
Don W. Poole: 83-92 percent superior, zero unsatisfactory ratings among more than 60 respondents
Barry A. Steelman: 74-82 percent superior, 2 percent unsatisfactory among more than 50 respondents
Rebecca J. Stern: 55-70 percent superior, 2-9 percent unsatisfactory among more than 45 respondents
Hamilton County Juvenile Court
Suzanne Bailey: 65 to 82 percent superior, 3 to 8 percent unsatisfactory among more than 35 respondents
Hamilton County General Sessions Court
David E. Bales: 11-20 percent superior, 22-52 percent unsatisfactory among 65 or more respondents
Ronald W. Durby: 26-55 percent superior, 4-15 percent unsatisfactory among more than 70 respondents
Christie M. Sell: 47-67 percent superior, 1-6 percent unsatisfactory among more than 65 respondents
Clarence Shattuck: 75-84 percent superior, 3-6 percent unsatisfactory among 80 respondents
Local lawyers gave Criminal Court Judge Don Poole the highest marks in almost all categories on a recent bar association poll, while Sessions Court Judge David Bales received the lowest in both legal ability and objectivity and bias.
"I'm honored to receive that vote," Poole said Tuesday. "I think [attorneys] go into that poll and take it very seriously."
Bales seemed dismissive in a telephone message Tuesday.
"I will not be swayed by a small percentage of disgruntled lawyers who do not get the desired outcome for their clients," Bales said. "The ultimate decision makers on my performance are the voters of Hamilton County."
The Chattanooga Bar Association mailed 747 questionnaires to its members in November and 128, or 17 percent, responded. Of those who responded, only 113 were valid for consideration in the poll, or 15 percent of the bar's membership.
The poll asks respondents to rate each judge with jurisdiction in Chattanooga in five categories: objective and unbiased, legal ability, good moral character, diligence and judicial temperament. Attorneys had four responses to choose from in each category: superior, satisfactory, unsatisfactory or no opinion.
Some categories, such as judges in the Social Security Administration, which holds local hearings, had respondent numbers as low as four, skewing percentages. Most local judge categories had a few dozen respondents.
Poole received between 82 and 92 percent superior ratings from more than 60 respondents in the five categories and no unsatisfactory ratings in any category.
The Criminal Court judge said he believes attorneys who took part in the poll rated judges objectively.
"I think most lawyers can remove themselves from being mad at a judge for a particular ruling," he said. "They look at whether people are there and respectful and courteous."
Bales received the lowest rating among his Sessions Court colleagues in the "objective and unbiased" category, with 33 out of 66 respondents, or half, ranking him "unsatisfactory," 26 as "satisfactory" and seven as "superior." Fifty-two percent of respondents also rated Bales' "legal ability" as unsatisfactory.
Previous surveys were conducted in 2005 and 2007. Poole and Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck received high marks in the 2007 poll. Bales had a 28 percent unsatisfactory rating in 2007, according to Times Free Press archives.
Responses for General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon were not included in the 2011 poll. Moon died in January while he was still a sitting judge.
Bar Executive Director Lynda Minks Hood said the bar's board decided not to release Moon's figures out of respect for his family. The bar would not release such results whether the results were positive or negative, she said.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...