Names in the hat

Five attorneys apply to fill

Five Blount County attorneys have applied to fill the Blount County Circuit Court seat vacated when Circuit Court Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., recently moved up to the state appellate court.

The Judicial Selection Commission will meet 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2007, at the Airport Hilton to begin the process of filling the vacancy in the Circuit Court of the 5th Judicial District.

The five applicants are Stacey Davis Nordquist of Maryville; Cathy Honaker Morton of Louisville; Michael H. Meares of Maryville; William Brownlow Marsh of Maryville and Craig Garrett of Maryville.

Craig Garrett

Maryville attorney Craig Garrett, 48, Darwick Circle, Maryville, has been married to Shari Garrett since 1985, and they have three children. One daughter attends the University of Tennessee, the other attends Maryville High School, and their son is a student at Maryville Intermediate School.

Garrett says he is ready for a change in his career. "It will give me an opportunity to stay involved in the jury trial system (but) it will be a career change," he says. "After doing this for 23 years, it will be a good change. A judgeship is something I’ve always wanted to do."

Garrett says he hopes qualifications weigh more in the governor’s decision than politics.
"I’m a Republican and a former Republican office holder, and obviously politics are a criteria. I thought it would be a long-shot. I feel my qualifications are such I might have a shot at it," he said. "I’m very qualified. I’ve spent 23 years practicing civil and criminal litigation and those are the things this court addresses -- the civilian and criminal jury system."

Garrett says he has seen a list of the other candidates. Some of them have criminal experience and some civil experience. None of the candidates had the experience he had, Garrett says.

"I hope qualifications will be a big role. I don’t think it will be necessarily as much politics as qualifications," Garrett says. The governor garnered strong support from Blount County in the most recent election, Garrett added. "He’s got to know this is primarily a Republican county," Garrett says. "Stranger things have happened."

W. Brownlow Marsh

W. Brownlow Marsh, 57, of Crest Road, Maryville, was born and raised in Blount County, graduated from Maryville High School, the University of Tennessee and UT Law School. He has been a lawyer for 30 years. He worked for the district attorney’s office six years, was in private practice 10 years and went to work with the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1999.

Marsh says he has always wanted to be a judge. "I don’t have any desire to go back into private practice and this is another way to do public service, which is what I’m doing now," he says.

Marsh says something that sets him apart from other applicants is his varied experience. "I’ve tried every kind of criminal case there is in both state and federal court," he says.

Marsh, who wouldn’t say whether he was a Republican or Democrat, said qualifications would hopefully be the governor’s deciding factor.

"I would like to think it didn’t matter, that the best person would be selected," he says.

Marsh didn’t know whether he would run for the seat in two years if not appointed to fill the vacancy now.
"I haven’t decided," he said. "That’s two years away."

Cathy Morton

Cathy Morton, 52, Wrights Ferry Road, Louisville, was born in Saigon, Vietnam, while her father was in the military. Her family moved to Germany, then to Oklahoma and finally to East Tennessee. She then graduated from ETSU with a social services degree with an emphasis on criminal justice. She also worked for the Tennessee State Department of Corrections during her undergraduate and graduate-level studies. In 1980, she moved to Blount County, started with UT Law School and clerked for Rom and Martha Meares. She stayed with the firm after law school, became a partner and stayed with Rom
Meares until he retired in 1993. In June of 2005, she joined an association of attorneys with Joe Nicholson.

Morton and her husband, Ben, have a son named Ben who is a student at UT and a daughter, Allison, who is a junior at Maryville High School.

Morton says she has a Masters’ degree in criminal justice and a more varied experience because she has had cases across the state in both state and federal courts. Morton says being in business for herself taught her to be organized and this helps in running an efficient courtroom.

"I believe strongly in strict adherence to rules of the court and ethical rules of the profession," she says.

Morton says she’s never been very involved in politics. While she didn’t answer specifically regarding whether she considered herself a Republican or Democrat, she says she has never been deeply involved in politics because of the time demands of family and work. Morton says she didn’t know how much politics would be involved in the appointment.

"I try to vote for whomever I think is the best person for the job," she says. "It’s whoever is the best fit for the job."

Morton says she is certified as a trial specialist by the National Board of Legal Speciality Certification and by the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization. Morton was undecided as to whether she would run in 2008 if the governor doesn’t appoint her.

Mike Meares

Mike Meares, 50, Lenore Lane, Maryville, has been married to Laura Webb for three years, and they have four children between them.

He grew up in Blount County, graduated from Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. After he graduated Vanderbilt Law School, Meares practiced law in Miami for three years before he returned to Blount County. In 1989, then Gov. Ned Ray McWhorter appointed him the fifth judicial public defender, and he served in that position two years.

Meares says he would like the opportunity to continue the drug court Judge D. Kelly Thomas had started. "I think somebody needs to do that, and I would be committed to doing that," he says.

Meares says he has 23 years of experience as an attorney and being circuit court judge would give him a different perspective on the challenges of the legal system.

"I’m totally committed to the fair administration of justice for all citizens of Blount County regardless of their background," he says.

Meares praised the other candidates, adding, "I’m not certain whether all those candidates have the same broad experience of criminal and civil practice I have," he said.

When asked his political persuasion and whether politics would matter in the appointment, Meares said he is a Democrat.

"In as far as the political process, I understand that the governor ordinarily appoints people from the same party that he is, but not exclusively, and I’ve heard from many people that this particular governor is very independent and does what he believes is the right thing," Meares says. "Regardless of the politic involved, the position is apolitical."

Meares says one of the most important requirements of the judgeship is acting without bias toward any person regardless of or based upon their political or religious or ethnic background or socioeconomic stature.

Meares says he’s undecided on whether he will run in two years if he isn’t appointed. "That’s a long way away," he said. "I would expect that who ever is appointed will run for the office and perhaps some of the other candidates will also run."

Stacey Davis Nordquist

Stacey Davis Nordquist, 42, Park Lane Court, Maryville, is married to John Nordquist. They have two daughters, Sarah, 14, and Katherine, 9.

Nordquist was born and raised in Blount County, graduated from Heritage High School, Maryville College and UT Law School. In November of 1992, she took a job with the Public Defender’s office after graduating UT Law and passing the bar exam.

Nordquist says she has always wanted to be a judge.

"I’ve thought about it a long, long time. I feel I have enough experience. This is something I wouldn’t have tried for five years ago," she says.

Nordquist says her courtroom experience with criminal cases gives her an edge compared to other candidates.

"The majority of cases heard by this judge are criminal, probably 95 percent, and criminal law is what I’ve been practicing continually for 14 years," she says.

Nordquist says she is a Democrat, but she says she doesn’t know what exactly the governor is looking for in the appointment. "As far as what exactly, I will be a Democrat. I don’t know that that will make a difference in the governor’s eyes. I would think he would want the person most qualified regardless."

Nordquist says several of the questions in the applicant survey had to do with diversity and preventing biasness. It also appeared from the questions that the governor is concerned about having a diverse judiciary.

"Because I’ve represented people who were poor or minorities, I could address the biasness issue," she says.

Nordquist was undecided on whether she would run for the seat in two years if the governor appointed someone else. "That’s something I won’t decide probably for another year," she said.

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