In Feb. 19 IssueBy John ThompsonNews-Register Reporter
Scarlett B. Latham was elected this past November to the position of District Judge for Division One, covering Russell, Wayne and Clinton counties.
Raised in Clinton County, Latham would earn her law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, a city she would then live in for the next decade practicing as a partner in a law firm there from 1991 until 2002 when she returned home to Clinton County.
Retaining her law license in Tennessee, Latham would also get her Kentucky law license, hanging out her shingle in Albany and began practicing in both states until the end of 2010, suspending her private practice to take on the mantle of district judge.
She has been married for nine years to her husband, Jerry, and has a 4-year old-daughter.
If you've talked with candidates to local offices as they were campaigning, you probably got a sense of the dedication to the effort it takes. Long days and evenings of trying to meet everyone possible and attending every social and business event they could, all the while maintaining their regular employ.
Candidates for the position of district judge would do the same, except in their case it is a three-county effort. Anyone who attended business, political or social events would often see Latham there. For her it was an effort that needed to be made.
"I did campaign a lot and I'm glad I did that. It allowed me an opportunity to get out in the communities and the people who live in those communities. I felt that was very important if I was going to be representing the people within those communities," said Latham.
She was her own campaign manager, but Latham was quick to point out that a lot of friends and her family were instrumental in keeping her informed of everything going on in the three counties. The effort at campaigning paid off in a big way, as Latham not only carried all three counties, but would carry every precinct in all three counties in the general election.
Latham took over the office from Robin Williams in District One. One of the two district judges, the other being District Two Judge James M. Lawson, the seat is held for a four year term.
When Williams announced that she would not be running for re-election it meant that a newcomer would not have an incumbent to go up against.
"I prayed about what is the right direction to go at this point in my life with my career and that led me to my decision to seek the job," Latham said.
The race for district judge is non-partisan, and the candidates do not run as members of a particular political party.
The duties of a District Court Judge are varied; ranging from probate matters, misdemeanor criminal cases, small claims, civil matters and controversies less than $4,000 and the conducting of arraignments and preliminary hearings in felony cases before indictments are handed down. District judges also deal with the issuance of search warrants and mental inquest warrants, requiring them to be on call often 24/7.
In Clinton County a district judge also deals with juvenile dependency, neglect and abuse cases but not in Russell or Wayne because a Family Court Judge deals with those type cases.
"But the bulk of the docket is the misdemeanor criminal cases that we deal with," Latham said. A misdemeanor is a case where one year imprisonment is the maximum sentence.
It's been reported that in her short time in office she has shown herself to not only be a fair judge but an unexcitable one. Anyone who has met her would likely say she's approachable, plainspoken and pleasant to converse with.
Asked to describe how she would characterize herself as a judge, and how the role differed from that as an attorney, Latham said, "As an attorney I always felt, obviously, that my obligation is to my client, and I took that very seriously and tried to be a zealous advocate on the behalf of my client," Latham said. "As a judge you're given the opportunity to be neutral, to try to do the right thing, rather than to take a position on behalf of a person, one side or the other. I feel like that at this stage in my life it's a good fit for me."
Latham has worked both in and out of the courtroom, having worked many cases as a trial attorney but also learning the art of mediation, "Nineteen years as a trial attorney gave me a lot of experience dealing with many types of people and situations," Latham said. "That has been very valuable, I believe, in preparing me for this role."
"First and foremost, as a judge, my obligation is to apply the law, and apply it impartially, and fairly. That's my oath, and I intend to do my very best to uphold that," Latham said. "I understand that each individual is unique and you have to look at the situations as they come before you. You can't have a predisposition, a mindset that is inalterable, because you need to be open to consider the circumstances of each case."
"I have a real commitment to the rule of law, to the idea of the rule of law, and that it's essential to an ordered society," Latham said. "On a personal level, I'm a Christian and I think that that is something I rely heavily on in my personal life, and assists me daily in whatever I undertake in life. I'm grateful for the opportunity I've had and the trust the people have put in me to be their district judge."
In her month and a half in office Latham says she is already seeing a trend as to the type cases that often come before her. "I can already see that a lot of what we deal with in district court is drug related. It stems from, a lot of times, a situation with a person who has an addiction. That leads into not having drivers licenses, bad check charges sometimes, assaults, thefts," Latham said. "A lot of times it can be traced back that the root cause is an addiction. I think it's just incredibly important as a community that we focus on prevention as well as the judicial perspective of punishment," she continued, "Our goal is to lessen the number of people that end up in my court. In order to do that we really need awareness at a young age at how important prevention is so that those children, who will one day be adults, don't ever make that decision to take that first illegal drug."
She would go on to recognize that it can happen to any family, "It knows no social barriers, or economic barriers," Latham said.
When asked to comment on the new judicial center, Latham said, "It's going to be a really nice facility. It's exciting to have a facility of that quality to work in. It's going to be state of the art and it will be an asset as far as the employees and those that work in the court system. It will definitely be a nice environment to work in and hopefully a more secure environment," Latham said. "You want to make sure the court personnel and the people that are in court are secure and protected. That's good for everyone that finds themselves in court; not only for court personnel but the other individuals that need to come into court."
This campaign was Latham's first attempt and election to public office.
"I hope that I carry out my duties as the job deserves," she said. "I want to represent the people in the best way that I can because that's what they deserve. I will definitely always try to do my best."