You have seen his name on campaign signs: “Mike Dumitru For Circuit Judge” and it is easier to pronounce than it is to spell. But you might as well get used to it, because the dynamic lawyer with a sterling reputation is the odds-on favorite to replace Jeff Hollingworth as a Circuit Court judge in the May 3rd primary. “Why? Service to others,” came his candid reply. “This is how I want to spend my life, serving others.”
Face it, “Mr. Do-Me-True” (that’s exactly how you pronounce it) has scrapped his way to being a Member with the prestigious Miller-Martin law and freely admits, “I love my job. I love my clients, I love everything about the law, and Miller-Martin is like a second family to me. But when Judge Hollingsworth announced he had decided not to run again, I was instantly intrigued,” he told me yesterday. “It’s like a calling, I think.”
Mike expected his closest confidants to try and talk him out of it … “I wouldn’t have run unless it was an open seat … that’s how much I dislike politics …” but in the State of Tennessee we elect our judges rather than appoint them. And open seats rarely come available (incumbent Circuit Court Judges Marie Williams, Kyle Headrick and J.B. Bennett are each unopposed in the upcoming election.)
“The more I talked to people, the more I was encouraged,” said the 39-year-old Republican. “You may think you know what judges do, and lawyers may think they know, but only judges really know … so I have listened and talked to many until I am tremendously excited about the opportunity.”
As a matter of fact, he is so eager he is probably the first political candidate in this community’s history – get this -- to include his mother-in-law’s picture in mail-outs. “Oh c’mon,” Mike laughed, “She wanted to be included and I was thrilled.” His wife’s mother is the well-known county historian Linda Mines whose late husband, Tony, was a favorite classmate of mine.
The son of refugees who escaped from then-Communist held Romania under the guise of going to Lebanon on “vacation,” Dumitru’s parents became naturalized citizens and Mike grew up in a neighborhood where a mix of immigrants placed family, kindness, and values in high order.
“I was born and raised in New York City,” he explained. “I earned a degree at Fordham (this during 9-1-1 attacks) and afterwards got a Master’s in International studies at NYU. One day I made a wrong turn going to class and locked eyes with the most beautiful, wonderful girl I had ever seen in my life. Jessica Mines, who a lot of her friends call ‘Raz,’ was from Chattanooga, Tn.”
It was as though he had been hit by a lightning bolt. “Within three months I realized she was it. Her parents were fabulous.” Tony passed away several years ago after a valiant stand against leukemia and now Raz runs the family business. “Seriously, her mom is a huge part of our family’s lives and maybe my biggest cheerleader.”
The young couple went to Texas where “Raz” got a law degree while Mike worked as a paralegal. His newly found interest in law sparked him to take law classes at night classes at SMU and, when his wife returned to Tennessee to practice law, he became one of the few transfers into Vanderbilt’s esteemed law program.
“How do I like Chattanooga?” again he laughed with delight. “We love it so much my parents moved here from New York …” he had explained while volunteering at St. Peter’s Episcopal School last weekend. He and Raz have two children and live in the Hixson area.
“America is profoundly blessed to have three branches of government instead of some dictator on a tree stump declaring, ‘My way or else.’ I know I can be a successful lawyer but my calling, I have found, is more about making myself available to make the right decisions to help people. Whether as an arbitrator for both sides in a case, or a jury trial with 12 of your peers, I am convinced I want to sit on the bench,” he said on Monday.
I believe him.