Three attorneys are running for the Republican nomination for the 15th Judicial District’s Division II circuit court judge.
The seat has been vacated by Judge John Wooten Jr., who retired at the end of the year. The court handles predominantly civil cases, although it also handles some criminal matters, mostly driving related criminal cases.
The winner of the March primary will face Smith County attorney Branden Bellar in the August general election. Bellar is running as an independent.
Longtime Lebanon attorney Shawn McBrien, 59, said his experience in civil law makes him the best fit for the position.
“This is how I supported by family, in civil practice,” McBrien said. “I have 15 or more years of experience before (my opponents) got out of law school. My experience is quite a bit more than either of them.”
The types of civil cases handled by the court, medical malpractice, personal injury, business litigation, consumer protection, among others, are all areas McBrien said he has extensive experience in his private practice.
Married for 36 years with four grown children, McBrien said he has appeared before “75 to 100” different state and federal judges, which allows him to understand what makes an effective civil court.
He also said that his experience over the past half-dozen years as a mediator has been good preparation for the bench.
“It’s very similar to a court trial,” he said. “Lawyers send over pleadings and something you might consider a brief, you meet with lawyers and parties and try to resolve the issue.”
McBrien got his undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and his law degree from Cumberland School of Law in Alabama. He has been in practice for 33 years, the last 28 in Lebanon.
The two other candidate for the nomination are both from Carthage in Smith County. Michael Collins, 47, is the General Sessions judge in the county, and Javin Cripps, 40, is an assistant district attorney.
Collins touts his experience on the General Sessions bench when talking about his qualifications for the circuit court.
“I’m the only candidate that an actual judge,” said Collins, who is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis law school.
He said he would have three goals if elected, to follow the law, to protect the community and to help people.
Married for 20 years and the father of two, Collins said “jail should be reserved for violent, repeat offenders.” He said he started a program in Smith County, called a misdemeanor recovery court that helps those arrested for minor drug offense get help beating addiction, rather than being jailed.
He said he also secured a $250,000 federal Department of Justice grant to target at-risk children before they get in trouble with the law.
Cripps said that his experience as a prosecutor makes hims the best person for the job.
“I’ve worked in every county prosecuting every type of crime,” he said. “I have prior public defender experience and civil court experience.”
Cripps also graduated from MTSU and the University of Memphis law school, and has been married to his current wife for two years and has joint custody of this two children.
“Going through a divorce taught me how to be a better parent,” he said and gave him insight into the kind of family issues he would face as a circuit court judge.
Having worked in all five counties in the district — Macon, Jackson and Trousdale in addition to Wilson and Smith — gives him an advantage, he said.
“I think knowing the counties and know the people in the counties is important,” he said. “They have different people with different issues.”
The winner of the August election will serve out the remainder of Wooten’s term, which expires in 2022. That year, all four circuit court judges will be up for election to eight year terms.