Wednesday, January 25, 2006
- by John B. Carpenter, Rhea County Herald-News
Gary Fritts served as general sessions judge from 1995 until 1998, but lost to Democrat Jimmy McKenzie that year. Now Fritts, a Republican, hopes to win back the seat he lost eight years ago.
Fritts and McKenzie are currently unopposed for their respective party’s nomination in the May 2 primaries and will likely face off in the Aug. 3 general election for the eight-year term.
Fritts has served as Rhea County attorney and maintained a private practice in Dayton since 1998 and has practiced law in Rhea County for more than 31 years. During that time he has also served as attorney or judge for Spring City and Graysville and served as an assistant district attorney.
“I liked being judge,” Fritts said when asked why he is running again. “It’s a job that I like. I like meeting a lot of people, trying to help them with their problems, doing some civil and some criminal work.”
If elected, Fritts said he would change the way the dockets are handled in general sessions, family and juvenile courts. He said he would like to accommodate both officers and citizens by having a flexible schedule and separating types of cases to eliminate crowding. He said he would work to set special times for third-shift police officers, Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers. He also would like to offer a night court session once a month so people could take care of minor citations without missing a day of work. The juvenile court schedule would also undergo an overhaul.
“It seems sort of strange to me that we require students to miss school so they can come to court for truancy,” Fritts said. “These kinds of changes will take a lot of planning,” he said. “I enjoy trying to develop systems that are more efficient, more effective. I see a lot of room for improvement.”
Even with the new facilities on the first floor of the Rhea County Courthouse, Fritts said the general sessions court space is still too small.
“You have officers, victims, defendants and witnesses all crowded in together. Sometimes it’s difficult to even get in and out,” he said.
As Rhea County continues to grow and the general sessions court workload grows along with it, Fritts believes the county will soon need to hire a magistrate to handle arraignments, warrant hearings and probable cause hearings.
“Everyone is entitled to equal justice under the law, and I want to be in a position to apply that,” Fritts said. “I believe a judge should be judicially fair, firm and courteous and should exercise judicial temperance at all times. If elected, I pledge to treat everyone the same and to be responsive to the needs of the people.”
Fritts has lived in Rhea County since 1958, when he moved here from Kentucky. He received his law degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law and completed his legal internship with Appalachian Research and Defense Fund. He served as a deputy court clerk for the Municipal Court for Lexington, Ky., while attending law school.
Fritts received forestry training at the University of Florida’s Forest Ranger School and his Bachelor’s Degree from Washington State University.
Fritts was assistant district attorney general in 1976-1977 for Rhea, Meigs, Bledsoe, Sequatchie, Marion, Grundy and Franklin counties. He attended the National District Attorneys College where he received training in trial techniques and court procedures. In all, Fritts has practiced law in Dayton for over 23 years.
Fritts has served two terms as president of the Rhea County Bar Association. He also served five years as city attorney for the Town of Spring City, 13 years as city attorney for the Town of Graysville and also served as Graysville’s Municipal Judge.
Prior to entering the practice of law, Fritts worked in farming, logging, forestry, and at the Meigs County Farmer’s Co-op and La-Z-Boy Tennessee in Dayton.
Fritts is a U.S. Army veteran with three years of active service and is a member of the American Legion, Brady-Williams, Post 100 in Dayton.
Fritts lives with his wife, Roxanne, in the Frazier community. He has two sons and two stepsons.
John Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.