Editor’s Note: The following is a series of questions and answers taken verbatim from a Lebanon Democrat questionnaire recently filled out and returned by each candidate in the race for Division II circuit court judge. The Democrat will publish the responses from candidates in this and other races leading up to the Aug. 7 general election.
Aubrey Givens challenged incumbent Circuit Court Judge John Wootten Jr. for the 15th Judicial District Division II judge’s race in the Aug. 7 election.
Wootten is the first popularly elected Division II circuit judge in the 15th Judicial District – Jackson, Macon, Smith, Trousdale and Wilson counties – and currently presides over criminal and civil cases. He’s prosecuted thousands of cases as assistant district attorney general in the 15th District, handling and trying more criminal homicides than any other attorney in the Upper Cumberland area from 1984-98.
Wootten retired from the Tennessee Air National Guard as a colonel. His last duty assignment was senior judge advocate. He erved in the U.S. Air Force as a judge advocate with most of that time as the only defense counsel assigned to Pope Air Force Base. He a former private practitioner of the law, including criminal defense and civil litigation.
Wootten is married to Melissa Beasley Wootten.
Givens founded and owns Aubrey Givens and Associates Attorneys at Law with offices in Lebanon and Nashville and has been in private practice since 2001. He worked as a law clerk at a private practice while in law school at Nashville School of Law. He’s also part owner of his family’s farm.
Givens graduated from Lebanon High School in 1985 and received a bachelor of science degree from Middle Tennessee State University in aerospace administration. He worked in restaurants while working his way through college.
What prompted you to seek office? Was it a personal initiative or did others encourage you?
Wootten: I have always valued public service. That is why I joined the U.S. Air Force and later the Tennessee Air National Guard, from which I retired as a full colonel a few years ago. I worked as a public servant as an assistant district attorney for many years instead of private practice, and that is ultimately why I ran for judge.
Givens: For some time now, many colleagues and friends have indicated that they thought that I would do a good job as a judge. My even temperament and willingness to listen to both sides of the story before rushing to judgment are factors my friends believe are important for a judge. I, too, believe that I have a lot to offer our community and believe I can positively impact the lives of many of our citizens in the position of circuit court judge.
What are the most important issues in your race, and how do you plan to address them?
Wootten: The only issue in this race is qualifications and getting the job done. I fit the bill in both categories.
Givens: The issue in any judicial campaign is a search for the candidate that knows and is willing to follow the law. Additionally, a good judge should have even temperament and the ability to determine the difference between a good person that has made a bad decision and a bad person. A judge needs to be willing to dig deep in to the facts, evaluate all of the circumstances and apply them to our current legal standards. If elected to be your next circuit court judge, I pledge to do these things and allow everyone their fair day in court.
What would you say to voters opposed to your running for office to convince them you are the most qualified?
Wootten: I would ask them to look at what my career as a defense attorney, a top prosecutor of more homicides than any in the Upper Cumberland, a military officer, and a hard-working judge. My peers elected me president of the Tennessee Trial Judges Association because they feel I am qualified as a leader.
Givens: I am the most qualified candidate for this office because of my background and experience. My practice of law has involved a wide variety of cases. I have represented families in cases resulting from accidents, domestic issues and accusations of crimes. I have represented companies where contracts were breached. I write wills, and have even worked with the U.S. attorney general’s office to recoup taxpayers’ money from overbilling of Medicare. I am prepared to handle the type of cases that will come before this court.
What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?
Wootten: I have been privileged to spend almost my entire career as a public servant, whether in the U.S. Air Force and later the Tennessee Air National Guard in the role of judge advocate, during my 14 years serving with District Attorney General Tommy Thompson as a prosecutor and in more recent years as a judge. These years working in criminal defense, prosecution and presiding over criminal and civil cases have afforded me a rare experience as a jurist for which I am grateful.
Givens: My diverse background and the wide variety of cases I have dealt with provides me a distinct advantage. I currently have law offices in Nashville, as well as Lebanon. In the past I helped operate the family farm and worked my way through college mostly working at restaurants. My law practice has allowed me to meet many different people as we work through their legal issues together. I have come to know and understand what is important to the families in our community as they have confided in me some of the most important details of their lives.
How is your experience – or lack of experience – a plus or minus for the position you are seeking?
Wootten: Having worked as a defense attorney, civil litigator, prosecutor and a judge for more than 30 years and involving tens of thousands of cases gives me the experience required for the job.
Givens: My experience of handling many types of legal cases and my background of service to this community certainly are positive points in this campaign. My legal practice has not been limited to one area of law which not only provides me with a strong understanding of the issues but also an understanding of what families are going through emotionally in these situations.