published Friday, July 25th, 2014

Free Press picks for Hamilton County's General Sessions Court judge, Criminal Court clerk

Session judge: Sell is doing important work on, off bench

General Sessions Court Judge Christie Mahn Sell is so esteemed by her colleagues and the judicial community that the worst overall grade her opponent in the upcoming Aug. 7 Hamilton County general election could give her is "a solid 'B'."

We heartily endorse her bid for a second term over challenger Rex Sparks and the yeoman's job she is doing -- off the clock -- to create a family justice center and a mental health court. Already during her tenure on the bench, she has created a long-needed domestic violence court.

Though Sell "never anticipated running for office," she says she loves what she does and the fact "I can help people."

Although she is in her first term, a March Chattanooga Bar Association poll for sitting General Sessions judges gave her the highest mark, a 99.15 percent retention rating, among the five jurists.

Sell was the first woman elected a General Sessions Court judge in Hamilton County.

Even more impressive, though, is the work she has put in to create, first, the domestic violence court and, currently, the family justice center and mental health court.

Before becoming judge, Sell, as a partner with the law firm of Shumaker, Witt Gaither & Whitaker, had been involved in domestic violence cases and was a Tennessee Supreme Court-approved mediator in family cases.

Today, domestic violence cases are grouped together on Monday, and domestic violence victims are provided "a wealth of resources," she said.

A family justice center, in addition, would house a team of professionals who work together, under one roof, to provide coordinated services to victims of family violence. The city already has been awarded a three-year federal grant for a site coordinator, who would help pull together and coordinate the pieces that would make the center a reality.

Sell is hoping to create a mental health court that would be similar to the domestic violence court and is examining "different models" in determining how to best fashion it. Such a court, she said, would help identify mentally ill defendants and move them into the court more quickly.

Currently, she said, it costs jails seven times more to house a mentally ill prisoner than one who is not mentally ill, and such a court "could reduce costs."

Sparks, who termed himself "more than qualified" with the experience of "everything you can do" in civil and criminal law, including more than nine years in the Hamilton County District Attorney's office, says he'd be a judge "for the people because I'm of the people" and that he'd be a judge "for all of the people all of the time."

He faults Sell for "skating out" -- being off the bench more than most judges -- but it turns out the times she's been off the bench, where special judges sit in, she's been educating the public, speaking about the court or working to create the needed new court services for the public.

We strongly endorse her re-election.

Criminal Court clerk: Tidwell should be retained for her hard work

For all intents and purposes, Gwen Tidwell crafted and is continuing to create the modern, Internet-era Hamilton County Criminal Court clerk's office.

For that innovation and for her sincere desire to continue that modernization for the good of the courts and the public, we endorse her election over state Rep. Vince Dean, who is by all rights a well-thought-of legislator, former East Ridge mayor and former policeman.

Under Tidwell's 20-year tenure, she worked with county personnel to create the computer program that contains the criminal records of all those charged with traffic or criminal offenses in criminal courts, supervised the implementation of a system that would allow the office to accept payments by credit and debit cards, had computers placed where the general public could access the court's criminal history data, made the electronic images of arrest reports available online, is working to have all imaged documents available online, and is working to have records available through Smartphones and iPads.

Further, she created a branch office that's open 24 hours in the jail that allows police to complete paperwork on detainees there instead of having to take them to the clerk's office in the courthouse to complete the paperwork and then back to the jail for booking. That jail office makes the work safer for all and more expedient.

Tidwell also established a collections division in 1995 to increase the payment of fines and court costs, something that oddly had never been done in the office. Those fees now pay for the salaries of the office's personnel and allow the office to return additional money -- hundreds of thousands of dollars some years -- to the county.

Since early 2013, the office also has used two collection agencies in an attempt to get even more of what's owed, but she says some of the monies are ultimately not collectible from prisoners, prisoner families and people who have moved out of state.

"We're never, ever going to collect 100 percent," Tidwell says.

Although Dean says the office did not attempt to collect the funds -- which total at least $50 million -- until he announced he would run for Criminal Court clerk in November 2013, she says the office actually was discussing it at least a year earlier.

Tidwell admits she "dragged her feet" on using collecting agencies, but she says she didn't want the county to lose the nearly 20 percent of each person's fine that goes to the collection agency.

Dean said in a news release Thursday that local attorneys want to have affidavits of complaints (arrest reports), indictments and motions from the office available electronically.

However, Tidwell says those files are already available electronically to public court officials and that private attorneys can obtain through email what is available from the clerk's office. She says her office is working to have all that can be public made available electronically but is a slave to county programmers' schedules.

Dean has suggested other problems with the office -- a dearth of meth cases listed on a drug registry, "inequities" in the staff pay scale, the clerk's absences, the attentiveness of personnel and "boxes of files" laying around -- but all appear to have little or no basis in fact or have legitimate explanations.

The challenger, a Republican who says he doesn't wear his partisanship on his sleeve, says he's familiar with the clerk's office from his years in law enforcement and would bring to it administrative experience from his years as East Ridge councilman, mayor and four-plus terms in the legislature, including his chairmanship of the $1.8 billion House Transportation Committee.

The incumbent, a Democrat and an attorney, says the office should be nonpartisan. Yet, she says "you can't just walk into the office and know what you're doing. You can't put a dollar sign on experience."

Despite Dean's sound background and intentions, we believe Tidwell is the best bet for moving this important office forward.

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timbo said...

Two endorsements that are more proof that Clint Cooper is a liberal. How many times is he going to agree with Pam Sohn. Why doesn't the TFP just do away with the right side of the editorial page and sell ads.

Cooper is a power structure lap dog.

July 25, 2014 at 11:09 a.m.

Maybe you can write-in Rhonda Thurman's name instead.

Or just write-in Rhonda Thurman's name in every race, on every ballot.

If only Ayn Rand had written, "Who is Rhonda Thurman?" instead of John Galt.

Welcome to the world of Rhondaville.

July 25, 2014 at 11:19 a.m.
timbo said...

allahsyougerbrother.. no surprise, you like the one party system. That is just what the doctor ordered.

That post was about as dumb as it gets. Why can't I advocate for a candidate I like? You worship Obama. It is Obama all the time.

You damn right, until this election is over and we stuff Rhonda down your throat, I will promote, defend, and advocate for her election. You can go to hell.

Welcome to the United States.....

July 25, 2014 at 12:14 p.m.
timbo said...

By the way, I haven't seen one Tidwell picture where she looked sober.

July 25, 2014 at 12:16 p.m.

timbo said... "By the way, I haven't seen one Tidwell picture where she looked sober."

And I haven't seen a picture of you where you don't look like a pregnant elephant.

From the looks of it, you're not wasting away in RhondaThurmanville.

July 25, 2014 at 1:56 p.m.
GaussianInteger said...

He's still butt-hurt that Skillern lost. Rhonda is like Shooter McGavin trying to snatch away Happy's gold jacket that he won fair and square. Timbo, Thurman, and Skillern know what's best for District 1; voters made a mistake in the Republican primary according to those clowns. I honestly think Thurman getting away from the school board may be worth her being a County Commissioner, but I'm voting for Fairbanks regardless.

July 25, 2014 at 3:11 p.m.

Timbo (Tim Price) may be Randy Fairbanks' best asset. I hope when Fairbanks is elected Timbo doesn't eat Soddy-Daisy in retaliation.

July 26, 2014 at 4:56 p.m.
timbo said...

allahsyoungerbrother...My name is Tim Price..since you obviously know who I am, I think a brave person like you should say that kind of stuff direct. Why hide behind anonymity? I am sure we could have a lively discussion. You can contact me anytime..or listen today at 5 pm on 1240 am and you can call in and say it to me in person.

That is the tactic of the left...talking about my weight instead of the issues. Yea, I am overweight but you are not a super model yourself. Have you seen Randy Fairbanks and Gwen Tidwell...both overweight and also not supermodels. Just like a lib to have selective eyesight. We are all middle-aged and have seen our better days.

I know, go to Randy's facebook page and see Randy with all the democrat is not exactly a line-up at the bunny ranch. I love that picture because it makes me feel skinny.

I know who you are...I can loose weight, but you can't fix ugly. I am 58 years old..what is your excuse?

July 28, 2014 at 12:03 p.m.
timbo said... amount of insulting or making fun will stop the inevitable. That is Rhonda is going to win and you guys are panicking. Randy's election was part democrats, part luck, and part Fred not campaigning. That party is over. Go ahead, live in the past and we will take care of the future.

Go ahead, say I am overweight again if it makes you feel good.

Your right, about Fairbanks, he need as many assets as he can get.

July 28, 2014 at 12:18 p.m.
timbo said...

gaussianinterger....Well, get ready for the circus for four years. The "clown" is going to win.

July 28, 2014 at 12:25 p.m.
GaussianInteger said...

We shall see. I think enough Democrats may "cross the aisle" to ensure Fairbanks wins. If not, the teachers and students of Hamilton County schools score a victory. I have never met a guy like you that gets a boner when the Democratic process is pissed on. If the shoe was on the other foot and Skillern was victorious, you would be singing a different tune.

July 28, 2014 at 12:44 p.m.
GaussianInteger said...

Come to District One, where Timbo feels a hairdresser is a better candidate then a CPA.

July 28, 2014 at 12:45 p.m.

Tim Price wrote: "timbo said... By the way, I haven't seen one Tidwell picture where she looked sober."

July 25, 2014 at 12:16 p.m.

allashyoungerbrother wrote: "And I haven't seen a picture of you where you don't look like a pregnant elephant.

From the looks of it, you're not wasting away in RhondaThurmanville."

July 25, 2014 at 1:56 p.m.

Tim Price wrote: "That is the tactic of the left...talking about my weight instead of the issues."

You can whine all you want but you started it, Timbo.

July 28, 2014 at 1:16 p.m.
timbo said...

allah...your right I did, I shouldn't have said that about Tidwell. No excuse, it was wrong and I apologize to you and her.

She seems like a decent person. I still can't vote for her. I like Vince Dean a lot.

July 28, 2014 at 1:52 p.m.
timbo said...

Gaussianinterger.....I think a good hairdresser with her intelligence and experience versus a bad CPA with some questions about his past, who has promised everything to everybody, that will raise taxes, and be manipulated by the power stucture. Yea, I do prefer Rhonda Thurman.

By the way, "the democratic process pissed on" ...really...have you ever voted? If you have there is a place that says " Write-in" and a space to write Rhonda Thurman. THAT IS THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be there would it?

Yours is just sour grapes that the Machiavellian plan did not work.

July 28, 2014 at 1:57 p.m.

Fair enough, Timbo. That issue is now dead regarding appearances. While I disagree with you on several issues, I respect your ability to correct a momentary lapse in judgement.

July 28, 2014 at 2:19 p.m.
timbo said...


July 28, 2014 at 2:28 p.m.
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