Ellen Fite refers to her quest for judgeship in General Sessions Court as an “Aretha Franklin tour. I believe in respect,” says the lawyer who has practiced for 35 years. “I believe that we are servants of the public and that judges should earn their salary. You should get to court on time and be accessible.”
Fite, who has already sat as a special judge in the court in which she is running, says she “had so many people come to me and ask me to run this year. I thought about running 16 years ago and even 8 years ago.” There have been complaints about the judge who runs the court currently and that spurred her to seek the post.
“Both lawyers and litigants feel abused in there. People complain about her judicial demeanor and that she is often late. The judge has an absentee rate of 27%. She is abusive and yells at people.” Fite tells of one lawyer who had prostate problems. He asked to be excused to go to the bathroom. The judge refused. When he left to go, she sent a bailiff after him. “That’s not civil,” Fite noted.
Fite thinks judges should “get it right on the first go-round. There are way more cases filed here (General Sessions court) than other courts. It’s sort of a small claims court with a $25,000 limit in general. We handle collections, auto accidents, property issues, contracts. I don’t want to see cases appealed because that means you will have to repay an attorney and then you’re in circuit court.”
Fite brings a solid background to the job. She has a teaching degree from the University of Cincinnati. “I taught for a year, but there was something missing.” She decided to go to law school and applied at Memphis State. She clerked through law school and after obtaining her degree went with a local firm. As of 1982 she’s been on her own and in 1985 bought two buildings downtown.
Her husband, Mike Bachmann, shares in her line of work. He works for the Justice Network and teaches alcohol, traffic safety, drugs and anger management.
As of now, she has no primary opponent in her Division 5 race. She advises all voters to check the Memphis Bar Association website after April 10. Then they will publish the result of a survey of 2,000 members who vote on who is qualified. “It’s very objective,” Fite says.
Then in August Fite hopes Memphians will pull the lever for her. She reiterated how important it is to have qualified judges on the bench. Issues that effect everyone are made by decisions in the voting booth.