published Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

General Sessions Court Judge Sell challenged by local attorney in Hamilton County election

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories on contested races in area county elections.

Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Christie Mahn Sell faced four opponents to win her first eight-year term back in 2006. This time around she faces one.

Local attorney Rex Sparks has challenged Sell, the only one of five General Sessions judges to face opposition in the Aug. 7 general election.

Sparks, 62, said in a recent interview that he chose to challenge Sell because senior Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck he's seen as a mentor, he's close friends with recently appointed Judge Lila Statom, Judge Gary Starnes won a short race in 2012 against interim Judge David Norton, and at the time he filed his qualifying papers Judge David Bales already had an opponent who later dropped out of the race.

A one-time probation and parole officer turned prosecutor then private attorney, Sparks said his variety of experience would bring perspective to the seat. He'd like to increase efficiency in the crowded Sessions docket by holding a weekly night court for certain misdemeanor offenses that might not require the arresting officer to be present.

"I will use those years of experience to make wise use of the time and resources," Sparks said.

He also would structure the daily docket call to reschedule all first appearances of defendants who had not yet hired attorneys at the start of the docket, clearing out many of the people often waiting hours to get a rescheduled hearing date.

Sell, 44, pointed to her work outside the normal judicial duties in helping to establish the county's first domestic violence docket, current work on a mental health court and pending work with the Family Justice Center, which is being created through a pass-through federal grant to Chattanooga.

"So much of the criminal activity [is] mental health related," Sell said. She said the mental health court should help gain better outcomes for the entire system.

The race is nonpartisan, so neither Sell nor Sparks faced primary opposition. This is Sell's first run for re-election in the post.

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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