Local prosecutor announces bid for Criminal Court judge

Becky Campbell • Oct 17, 2013 at 9:59 PM

A local prosecutor confirmed late Wednesday he intends to run for Criminal Court Judge to replace Judge Robert Cupp who is apparently retiring when his term ends next year.

Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks had originally planned to challenge Judge Lynn Brown in the 2014 election, but Brown retired earlier this year. A selection process, in which Brooks applied, to fill Brown's position resulted in Stacy Street being appointed to the bench. Street will have to run for his seat next year.

Now, Brooks will seek to fill the other judicial seat. While Cupp has not officially announced his retirement, many in the court system have said they've heard he will hang up his robe next year. And in Brooks' announcement Wednesday, he indicated Cupp will retire.

Brooks has served 15 years as a leading prosecutor in the First Judicial District which covers Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties. He said his record includes almost 100 jury trials, including five convictions this year for first-degree murder, the latest of which was against Marvin Potter in the Facebook defriending case from Johnson County. Other notable convictions for Brooks include the Howard Hawk Willis double murder in Washington County. Willis is now on death row. Brooks said he has tried jury trials in each of the District’s four counties.

“I have the background, experience and legal knowledge that will be needed in a new judge,” said Brooks. “I have dedicated my career to improving public safety in our region, and I intend to work hard as judge to ensure the laws are followed.”

Criminal Court is where criminal jury trials and hearings involving Constitutional rights against unreasonable government intrusions are held and decided.

“Judge Cupp has served our District with distinction for 15 years,” said Brooks. “His replacement will need to have the experience to tackle the job immediately, and I believe I am ready.

“In my 15 years as a prosecutor, I have tried more jury trials in this district than anyone. Convictions cannot withstand appeals unless the trial judge is experienced with jury instructions, and my experience will be invaluable to insure cases will not have to be retried.”

Brooks also serves as municipal judge for the town of Jonesborough.

He grew up in the Conklin community of Washington County, graduating from David Crockett High School before attending ETSU and law school at the University of Tennessee. He earned his law license in 1997.

“It’s been my honor to serve the community I grew up in as a prosecutor,” said Brooks. “Protecting the community where my family and friends live is important to me, and I would feel even stronger about that as judge.

“Drugs are changing our neighborhoods, and it seems like people respect the law less and less. I intend to do all I can to turn that around.”

Brooks has stated his desire to bring a Drug Court to the Criminal Court level for the District as an additional tool to fight the cycle of addiction. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has increased the amounts spent towards drug courts because they have been shown by studies to effectively reduce the rate of repeat offenders while being a cheaper alternative to costly incarceration terms.

“If it works somewhere else, then we need it here,” said Brooks. “A little-known fact is that thousands of dollars of court costs collected in Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties are sent back to Nashville every year because we do not have a Drug Court. We need to keep those dollars here and get a handle on the drug culture.

“Drug addiction leads to crime, from DUIs to thefts to violence. We have to use every available tool to fight drugs, from rehabilitation to prison time.”

Brooks said his website details his platform of ideas he says will improve the function of Criminal Court. They include getting restitution payments to victims sooner, making the terms of probation be respected and bringing more efficiency to the court dockets.

“We need to decrease the backlog of incarcerated defendants who are being held pre-sentence,” Brooks said. “If we do that, our county commissions will have more state reimbursements available to balance their budgets. The state only has to pay the counties for holding its state inmates after they have been sentenced. If a violator has to wait two months for his first court appearance, that’s two months the county has to feed him without the state paying. I intend to cut that time down.

“I want to be a judge who not only focuses on the laws being followed but also one who is mindful of the dire budgetary constraints of our counties as we do what is needed.”

Brooks and his wife, Sandra, live in Telford. He has one daughter, Cassandra Brooks, and is a son of Wade and Madelene Brooks.

Away from the courtroom, Brooks has worked 10 years as a high school football and baseball official in the area, including head referee.

“Officiating has made me a better judicial candidate,” said Brooks. “I think learning to maintain professionalism during difficult times on ballfields will be a great benefit to me conducting court in an orderly and respectful fashion.

“I believe that everyone who comes before the Court deserves respect, and they deserve a judge who is prepared each day of his or her tenure. I intend to be that type of judge.”

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