Ex-USTA tennis player Paula Skahan is ‘frontrunner’ for Criminal Court Judge Div. 1

Paula Skahan has a fond admiration for tennis.
So much, in fact, that she made her way to Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, Meadow, New York to witness the 1997 U. S. Open.
PROVEN TRACK RECORD --- Paula Skahan has presided over Criminal Court Division 1 since 2004. She is now seeking her second full term during a career that spans for than 30 years both as a trial attorney and judge. (Photos submitted by Friends of Paula Skahan)

PROVEN TRACK RECORD — Paula Skahan has presided over Criminal Court Division 1 since 2004. She is now seeking her second full term during a career that spans for than 30 years both as a trial attorney and judge. (Photos submitted by Friends of Paula Skahan)

There, she got a glimpse of Serena Williams, a then-newcomer to professional women’s tennis who is now the No. 1-ranked singles player in the world.

As Skahan recalls, watching Williams from a few rows away was a memorable encounter, given the thousands of spectators on hand sensed they were witnessing a player who would later become the face of the sport.
“That was awesome,” Skahan, recalling her late 1990s visit to the U.S. Open, told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I was a couple of feet away from (Williams). She would come over close to the crowd. You could see how she was able to become the champion she is. She’s one of the best of all time, if not the best.”
For Skahan, a veteran Mid-South judge who currently presides over Memphis’ Criminal Court Division 1, tennis has become an integral part of her life. Skahan, 53, spent years playing competitive tennis through a league sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
To credit, her tenure on the UTSA circuit eventually gave way to her advancing to the regional finals in a tournament held in Mobile, Ala. in 1996.
Now that she has witnessed her career progress to immense heights, most notably through the judicial ranks, Skahan’s responsibility as a judge doesn’t allow her to devote much time to the sport she has come to embrace. Still, even when suiting up in her signature black robe and assuming her seat on the bench in the courtroom, her competitive drive as one of the Mid-South’s most successful judges can be observed by those with whom she crosses paths regardless of how intense and complicated trials become.
“I’m competitive by nature,” Skahan said. I’ve been competitive on the tennis court, emotionally and physically. And I’ve got to play at a high level. I was captain for two years.”
As Skahan tells it, playing competitive tennis has benefited her mightily during what has been a prosperous law career. In some aspects, she acknowledges the sport is parallel to the experiences she often witnesses in her courtroom.
“As a former trial lawyer, you have to fight for your client and even as a judge you have to fight,” said Skahan, drawing a comparison between tennis and her career. “You’ve just got to be on top of everything.”
A career that spans more than three decades as both a trial attorney and judge, Skahan has established a well-publicized, respectable track record that suggests she has been on top of her game, even when she is away from the tennis court.
For starters, she has represented hundreds of clients in criminal courts and boasts a slew of experience in having been involved in a number of high-profile, complex, and capital murder cases. Add to the fact that she’s armed with an array of experience as a prosecutor, public defender, and private criminal defense attorney, and it’s no wonder Skahan is a heavy favorite to return to Division 1 and commence what would be a second full term.
A full term last eight years.
Early voting takes place from July 18 through August 2. The general election is August 7.
If elected, Skahan, who has presided over Division 1 since 2004, pledges to take on a more aggressive approach as judge, particularly when deliberating on the feat of individuals. 
“I have been an honest and fair judge,” Skahan said. “And I’ve made it my business to make sure attorneys appointed to represent defendants on serious felony trials in criminal court are honest and fair. I had been practicing (law) a long time before running to be judge. When I was practicing law, some of the judges did not appoint competent attorneys to represent defendants charged with serious felonies or capital murder charges.
BRING HER BACK --- A number of Mid-Southerns have teamed with "Judge Paula" as she lobbies for a second full term in Criminal Court Division 1.

BRING HER BACK — A number of Mid-Southerns have teamed with “Judge Paula” as she lobbies for a second full term in Criminal Court Division 1.

“When I was practicing, my brother (Gerald Skahan) and I represented many defendants where the state was seeking the death penalty,” Skahan continued. “We were also appointed to represent defendants who were taken off of death row. That is the reason I wanted to be judge…because I know how imporantant it is to appoint qualified and competent attorneys to handle imporant cases. So having that type of experience makes me qualified to be a criminal court judge.”

Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, Skahan — once a military child — and her family moved to New London, Conneticut then to Long Island, N. Y. until her she was five years old. Spending the next decade in the Northeast, Skahan moved in 1978 to the Mid-South, where she enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Consequently, she enrolled at Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1980 and, after declaring a double major in English and French, she enrolled at the Memphis State School of Law from 1982-85.
SEE VIDEO OF JUDGE SKAHAN CAPTURING DEMOCRATIC ENDORSEMENT: http://s644.photobucket.com/user/rale2001/library/Skahan?src=pb
After earning her law degree, she spent the next two decades as a trial attorney before taking over the bench as a criminal court judge in 2004.
Not only did Skahan and her brother — who now heads the Public Defendant Capital Defense team — earn the reputation as fair and honest attorneys, but they managed to discover a several discrepancies by state law officials.
“The state withheld information,” Paula Skahan said. “It happens. I think it’s reprehensible. That really bothered me. Nobody ever went to death row when we were involved in representing them. That’s the reason I wanted to become judge. I’m not necessarily for or against the death penalty. But if a state is going to give the death penalty, it needs to be handled the proper way. We’ve pretty much gotten to a point where we’re handling them properly.”

RISING STAR --- Judge Paula went to the U.S. open in 1997 to watch Serena Williams, long before the world's No. 1-ranked player won 17 Grand Slams.

RISING STAR — Judge Paula, a former USTA player, went to the U.S. Open in 1997 to watch Serena Williams, long before the world’s No. 1-ranked player won 17 Grand Slams.

Skahan’s viable presence as the face — and voice — of Criminal Court-Division 1, to her credit, has gone virtually unnoticed by Mid-Southerners, many of whom have entrusted her to preside over high-profile cases for the past ten years. And, because a solid resume that includes being named to the National Association of Women Judges, Skahan seems destined to retain her judicial seat once the votes are tabulated August 7.
“The judges say it has made a huge difference in the quality of representation,” said Skahan, when asked to assess her tenure on the bench. “You will still have people going to death, but it won’t be because ineffective assistance of counsel.”
With Election Day roughly two months away, Skahan doesn’t shy away from the notion that it is her race to lose.
“I hope so,” said Skahan, when asked is she is the frontrunner. “I am the incumbent. I’ve been working very hard campaigning. I have two opponents. But it will be up to the voters. I’m a person who likes to spend time with people. I want to have a hearing with them to find out what’s going on. What is the reason this person is sitting in front of me? So something’s got to give when we try all of these cases.”
Spoken like a veteran judge who has gained a reputation for boasting a competitive drive on the bench. 
Ten years and counting.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

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