For the first time in the 1st Judicial District’s history, a woman will take the bench as a Criminal Court judge with Lisa Nidiffer Rice’s win over Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks in Tuesday’s Republican primary.
Rice will join Circuit Court Judge Jean Stanley as the only other female serving as an elected judge for the district. The 1st Judicial District includes Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Johnson counties. Johnson County did not participate in the primary process.
Rice carried Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties for the win with a total of 14,479 votes to Brooks’ 9,617.
“I’m just really humbled by the turnout and the margins we were able to obtain. My family has worked so hard and my campaign manager Mel Miller. I just have so many people who put faith in me and worked so hard for me,” Rice said.
She played down her gender as a pull for votes.
“I always felt my gender should not be considered for a vote,” she said. “I hope female professionals everywhere see this as a victory for all of us.”
Rice said she has other female judges — the late Shirley Underwood, Johnson City Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Green and Stanley — who all established a woman’s place on their individual benches.
“I really don’t think gender is the issue it used to be. I think people looked at qualifications,” she said. “I focused on what we needed to run in our campaign.”
Rice, an attorney for 27 years, has served both as a prosecutor in the 1st District as well as a defense attorney. While she touted her two-plus decades of law experience during the campaign, Brooks tried to use that against her by pointing out the past 15 years, which he said he served exclusively in Criminal Court. He said Rice has spent the last 15 years handling mostly family law cases.
Brooks, contacted after the results were posted, didn’t want to comment.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “I wish the system well.”
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