wo years after completing a six-month suspension for unethical conduct, attorney Alicia Howard wants to be a Criminal Court judge. She's endorsed by the Shelby County Democratic Party despite evidence she forged a client's signature, notarized it, and billed the government for legal services she didn't perform.

Matthew Russell, a candidate for a Circuit Court judgeship, has three drunken-driving convictions and was ordered to pay $500 to a women's organization after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor connected to a domestic violence charge.

The investigative arm of the Tennessee Supreme Court censured Venita Martin Andrews, another candidate in Circuit Court, for failing to follow a judge's order to supervise a 7-year-old's visits with his mother, whom the judge later deemed violent, dishonest and in need of "intense counseling."

These are among the findings of an investigation by The Commercial Appeal into the backgrounds of 81 candidates vying for 40 countywide judgeships in next month's general election.

Early voting for the Aug. 7 election starts Friday at the Downtown polling site, 157 Poplar, and opens in earnest the following Monday at 21 locations across the county.

Winners will serve eight-year terms, receive $167,700 a year in pay and rule on legal matters ranging from sentencing criminals to overseeing divorces, awarding monetary damages in civil disputes, evicting tenants, committing individuals to mental institutions against their will and deciding when local governments must release records to the public.

The newspaper reviewed arrest histories, court files, tax records, attorney disciplinary actions and other documents and found most candidates had clean records. But records revealed an assortment of problems for 11 candidates: disciplinary actions, multiple bankruptcies, arrests, unpaid taxes and other issues.

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