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Three seek judge's seat Franklin attorneys bring supporters, shake hands before March 6 primary

Lecil Smith, 71, stood in a biting wind outside the Williamson County Administrative Complex putting strong hands to work once again on behalf of his son.

"I got here at eight o'clock," said Smith late Friday afternoon as he shook as many hands as possible among the trickle of early voters and others who came along, asking for votes for his son Derek Smith, 45, who has briefly held the 21st Judicial District Circuit Court judgeship vacated by Judge Jeff Bivins in September when Bivins was appointed to the Appellate Court.

Early voting ends today for the March 6 primary which will include the judicial contest, a Williamson County Assessor of Property race featuring lone candidate Brad Coleman and the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

Candidates in the judge's race have been planting signs, waving endorsements, buying ads and shaking hands seeking to finish out Bivins' term to 2014, when they'd face another election but with an incumbent's natural advantage.

In addition to Smith, Mike Binkley, 60, and Judy Oxford, 52, all of Franklin, seek the judge's seat which pays about $160,000 a year and involves criminal and civil court decisions for Williamson, Lewis, Hickman and Perry counties.

All three were on hand with friends and supporters outside the Administrative Complex Friday, each with a long list of credentials and accomplishments to discuss with likely voters.

"I'm very optimistic," said Oxford, who grew up in Fairview and graduated from Fairview High School. "I don't know the outcome, but I'm optimistic."

Bundled up in winter coats and hats and carrying campaign signs by her side were her husband Grant Benedict and father-in-law Clyde Benedict.

Oxford believes she knows what it takes to be a good judge.

"You really need to know the law. That's really important," she said.

"A judge is supposed to be fair," added Oxford. "You're supposed to be a good listener but you're also supposed to be businesslike, to make sure all your cases get through. You've got to draw that balance and that can be hard."

She said a judge must encourage those who fear speaking out in court to do so, and discourage those who are confident from trying to exert undue influence.

"The important thing is to be fair and impartial," said Oxford.

Her resume includes 24 years of experience as a trial lawyer in civil and criminal cases, a stint in corporate law, and work for the Tennessee Attorney General's Office. Her campaign materials note she's "the daughter of an assembly line worker in Williamson County," and an only child who "began supporting herself at 19." She once worked for the Christian rock group Petra, according to her website.

"I feel like I have a lot to offer, because of the well-balanced life experiences that I have," said Oxford.

"I feel like I understand business from the inside," she added.

What's more, said Oxford, "I'll be the only female Circuit Court judge we have in this district. And we need some diversity, here."

Nearby, Mike Binkley also shook hands with potential voters and said he'd been doing so since 8:30 a.m., and he was finding plenty of interest in the judicial race.

"There are people asking a lot of good questions, which I am happy to answer," said Binkley, a 26-year Franklin resident.

His credentials, he said, include work for 33 years in many areas of the law: criminal defense, medical malpractice, auto collisions, worker's compensation, wills and trusts, divorce and custody, business disputes, contract law, and even maritime law.

It's a long list, he said.

"That's why I'm running," said Binkley, whose supporters include racing champion and local businessman Darrell Waltrip. "I've got a lot more experience than my nearest competitor."

Binkley's campaign materials cite his small business roots as founding partner of the Schell, Binkley & Davies, LLC, law firm in Franklin. He also notes his mention in The Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers; his listing as one of Woodward/White's Best Lawyers in America in divorce law; and cites membership in the peer-selected list of Super Lawyer of the Mid-South.

Binkley addressed rumors about his lack of participation in recent elections. Binkley said he missed voting in two elections and that any number indicating he had not voted in more than that was incorrect. He offered no excuses.

Binkley said he missed two elections, that a false number had been circulating, and offered no excuses.

"There's no excuse," he said. "I can only offer an explanation, and it's personal."

He declined to discuss the matter further.

But perhaps an explanation can be found in the comments of Binkley supporter Michael Spriggs, 63, of Franklin and also on hand to woo voters.

"There is no partisan politics with Mike at all," said Spriggs. "I'm a Democrat and I'm voting for this guy."

"Do you think that partisan politics belongs on the bench? Well, that's what attracted me to him," said Spriggs.

As the politicking continued, Linda Chambers happened upon the scene and was surprised to find her former high school English student, Oxford, campaigning.

Chambers was at the Administrative Complex to file her paperwork to retire after 43 years teaching in Fairview.

She described Oxford as a "super, excellent" student.

"I'm so happy to run into her. How fun. It makes me smile," said Chambers.

Lecil Smith also recalled his son's days as a student - where he did his homework and made straight A's before graduating from Beech High School in 1985.

"He was a fantastic boy," said Smith, who is retired after working 46 years selling steel in the Nashville area.

The elder Smith was born in Overton County in East Tennessee.

"My mom and dad were very poor people," he said. "Good family, but never made a lot of money. I came to Nashville and basically got into the steel business."

He said growing up in Goodlettsville Derek Smith scooped popcorn and cleaned kennels before he got his education and went to work for former District Attorney General Joe Baugh as a deputy prosecutor. Smith stayed 19 years in various capacities.

"He's been a public servant for 20 years," said the elder Smith.

Gov. Bill Haslam chose Derek Smith to replace Bivins in December, after appointing Bivins to the state Court of Criminal Appeals in August.

Smith pointed out that the short list of names that went to the governor included his, and Binkley's.

"And the governor selected me as the most qualified," said Smith.

He said recording artist Michael W. Smith had just endorsed his campaign.

In addition, "I had the endorsement of the Judicial Selection Commission, I had the endorsement of the governor, and I had the endorsement of the Williamson County Bar Association," said smith.

He said during his career as prosecutor, he tried hundreds of cases including those involving rape, murder, child molestation and complex white collar crimes.

"I'm the most qualified," said Smith. "Not just as evidenced by what I’m saying but as evidenced by what the Judicial Selection Commission said, and what the governor deemed, and what the Bar deemed."

Posted on: 2/28/2012


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