published Friday, August 8th, 2014

Three judicial incumbents ousted in Hamilton County

Election 2014 Results
Election 2014 Results

Three out of five incumbents in court offices lost their long-held seats Thursday night.

As a result, Hamilton County will get a new criminal court clerk and a new district public defender, and East Ridge will see a new city judge.

Republican state Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, unseated Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell for the spot she's held for two decades.

Out of more than 49,000 votes cast, he won by nearly 5,000, according to unofficial results.

Neither Dean nor Tidwell could be reached for comment late Thursday night.

Dean claimed during the campaign that Tidwell mismanaged funds for the office and should have collected more delinquent fees.

But Tidwell countered that she was the first clerk in the county's history to attempt to collect overdue court costs and her office has been fully funded for 15 years, saving taxpayers $6.3 million.

In the competition for Hamilton County district public defender, challenger Steve Smith pulled off a commanding upset, garnering nearly twice the vote total of incumbent Ardena Garth.

Garth has been the district's only public defender since the office's inception in 1989.

"I'm humbled," Smith said of his first political race. "I kind of learned by doing and had a lot of support and help."

A judicial race that doesn't stretch across the county but affects residents of Hamilton County's second-largest city was the East Ridge city judge race.

Incumbent Judge Arvin Reingold and challenger Ryan Hanzelik lost in a rare three-way race to local attorney Cris Helton.

Helton beat his opponents with a vote total that nearly equaled that of both opponents combined.

In the competition for sessions judge, incumbent Christie Mahn Sell overwhelmingly defeated challenger Rex Sparks with more than four times the votes.

Sparks said he chose to challenge Sell because he was friends with or saw too much competition from the other sitting judges.

Sell pointed to her work on and off the bench in supporting the community. She helped establish a domestic violence docket that has partnered with Hamilton County Circuit Court to ease the filing process for domestic violence victims.

She's also involved in work to establish a mental health court that would evaluate defendants in the court system with mental health needs and connect them to appropriate resources.

In the Juvenile Court judge's race, incumbent Rob Philyaw held onto the seat he was appointed to in April 2013.

Yolanda Echols Mitchell said she was better qualified than Philhaw. But Philyaw beat Mitchell with twice her vote total.

He has instituted a youth court, expanded mentoring opportunities for the public and assigned a truancy task force to work with Hamilton County Schools to address problems between the schools and courts in truancy enforcement.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

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 ...

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