“It covers misdemeanors to felonies to capital murder and is the most serious court in Shelby County,” says Judge Paula Skahan of her Criminal Court, Division 1.
“We need competent people in these posts,” she told the Midtown Republican Club. Judge Skahan then went on to describe her career. She got her law degree from the U of M, practiced as a criminal defense attorney and was an assistant district attorney in the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office. She was appointed to her current job by Governor Bredesen in 2004, then was elected to this position in 2006 and is now running in 2014.
Her brother is Gerald Skahan, who is also an attorney.
“In 1996 I started handling capital murder cases. I have the experience needed to be a judge in this court. If you’ve never handled that you don’t deserve to be in that court. I’ve had to handle cases where judges didn’t do their jobs. We need competent people,” Skahan said.
Skahan is a Democrat.
Her opponents are Michael G. Floyd, who has previously run for judgeship, and attorney Nigel R. Lewis.
Skahan’s brother, Gerald, is also an attorney and also running for a judgeship. He is seeking General Sessions Criminal Court Division 9 currently held by Judge Melissa Boyd.
A very effective speaker, Skahan laid out his reasons for seeking this position in a manner that would have done any TV crime show proud. He described his path to his current position. Skahan got out of law school and began working with his sister, Paula. “It was mainly a criminal practice. The worst of the worst that no one else would take including first degree murder cases with the death penalty. I’ve had some luck with it.
“In 2010 I was asked to work for the city representing indigent people. I surprised myself and took the job which was a lot less money and a lot more work,” Skahan said. “I built a team that worked hard. I’ve tried 11 cases that were retried because a judge made egregious errors or lawyers hadn’t tried a case properly – didn’t interview witnesses, do a proper cross examination. When that happens it costs taxpayers millions.
“A couple of months ago I decided to take a different approach. Some of the courts need fixing. When I hear a judge say ‘I don’t have time because I’m leaving at 2’ that’s not good. I decided to run. I picked this court for a variety of reasons. Time’s up.”
He gave two illustrations of what’s wrong in court.
“Sometimes we lock people up too much. Our jails are full and we lock up another 18 year-old for smoking a joint. He goes in the front door and another one goes out the back door. The one leaving is often the hardened criminal who is a threat to your children. I want to work with people, beginning with 18-year-olds. They can be fixed. As a judge I will look at each case individually,” Skahan promised.
Secondly, Skahan said “we are overloaded at 201 with drivers license cases. There is no instruction on where to come or where to go. Then they are told to come back another day. My clients can’t get in.” Skahan said it also scares off witnesses who come forward, wait all day and then find they are held up by the backlog of drivers license people so they decide not to come back to court.
“It’s a simple problem that can be fixed,” he said. “We can bring someone from the Department of Safety to tell them where to go. We can reserve another part of the building. There are other ways to get them a license. That’s the type of thing I want to do.
“In the courtroom we’ve lost our way. Bailiffs, witnesses and people should be treated with respect. These things need to change. I’m running against in incumbent who hasn’t changed anything,” Skahan concluded.
His campaign motto is “Fairness and Accountability Over Politics.” Beside the incumbent, Judge Melissa Boyd, Skahan faces Joyce Broffitt. She has visited our club and her remarks can be googled on this website.
The ShelbyGOP has endorsed Broffitt.