News

Ballot Language Vexes Voters

Hamilton County election officials say confusing ballot language has been the only hiccup during early voting for the Nov. 4 election. Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said while confusion about the four amendments on the ballot is "not pervasive," it has been "the most common concern vocalized this election." According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the amendments include arcane legal language and reference changing parts of the constitution without saying what is being replaced, and, in the case of Amendment 4, don't give voters any indication of what the amendment aims to accomplish.

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Judge: Partisan Politics Have No Place in Judicial Elections

Rutherford County General Sessions Judge Ben Hall McFarlin writes in a guest column about his experience running for office recently, urging that judicial races should not include partisan politics. "In a judge's deliberations and administration of state law, political party considerations simply have no role and should not," he writes in the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal.

Opinion: Amendment 2 Preserves Voters' Judicial Retention Rights

In an opinion piece in the Jackson Sun, attorney Bradford D. Box urges voters to support Amendment 2 in the Nov. 4 election and explains why the amendment is needed. "Our appellate judges must be accountable to the people they serve, and Amendment 2 gives Tennesseans a strong voice in every step of the process: we elect the governor, we elect the legislature and we vote for the judges in retention elections." Amendment 2, he writes, "strikes the proper balance between maintaining accountability to the people and continuing to ensure that we have the qualified, fair and impartial judiciary Tennesseans want and deserve."

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Votes in Governor's Race Will Affect Outcome of Amendments

Voters have differing opinions on who they should support in the upcoming gubernatorial race, and they realize that voting at all is important to the outcome of the proposed amendments to the state constituion. This is true since the bigger the turn-out in the governor's race, the more "yes" votes will be required for any amendment to pass. Two of the state's top Democrats disagree on who should get their votes. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis has urged fellow Shelby County Democrats to vote for John Jay Hooker, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1970 and 1998 who is running as an Independent this year. State Democratic Chairman Roy Herron said in an interview that he will personally vote for the official Democratic nominee, Charles V. “Charlie” Brown, 72, a retired construction worker from Morgan County. Read more about the politics of voting to raise the threshold needed for the Constitutional amendments in Knoxnews.com and in the Daily News Journal.

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Haslam, Bredesen Voice Support for Amendment 2

In an opinion piece in the Tennessean this past weekend, Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen write that "passing Amendment 2 will bring clarity and certainty to the way Tennesseans choose the 29 appellate court judges who serve statewide in Tennessee." Haslam, a Republican, and Bredesen, a Democrat, have come together with others to support it, "because there have been numerous legal challenges in recent years to the way we select appellate court judges in our state. Although the courts have repeatedly upheld Tennessee’s system as constitutional, these challenges, and the confusion and uncertainty they create, persist."

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TBA Survey on Court-Appointed Attorneys Closes Soon

Respond by Wednesday to take part in the TBA's survey on court-appointed work and the filing of related fee claims with the Administrative Office of the Courts. Your feedback will help shape policy, so please take a few minutes to fill out the SurveyMonkey questionnaire about your experience with court-appointed work. All responses will be kept anonymous. In addition, if you would like to be a part of the TBA’s efforts to change the rate of compensation for court-appointed attorneys or speak to your legislator about the issue contact TBA Public Policy Coordinator Josie Beets, (615) 383-7421.

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Grand Jury Recommends Criminal Charges for Ramsey, Harwell

A grand jury in Nashville has recommended criminal charges be filed against Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, for failing to appoint enough women and minorities to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, the Associated Press reports. The grand jury found that the pair “willfully and arrogantly ignored the law requiring these appointments be made in proportion to the population of the state,” but did not specify which laws were violated. Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk is reviewing the grand jury report and will make the final decision on whether to file charges according to his office. The Johnson City Press has the story.

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Alexander, Ball Agree to Candidate Forum

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic challenger Gordon Ball will both attend a candidate forum hosted by the Tennessee Farm Bureau Oct. 16, Nooga.com reports. The forum will be held at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville on the same day early voting begins.

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Sen. Summerville Arrested for Public Intoxication

Outgoing state Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, was arrested on one count of public intoxication last Friday, the Tennessean reports. Officers responded after witnesses said an intoxicated male was walking down the street with a lawn chair. Summerville was booked at the Dickson County jail and released on $2,000 bond. He also was cited for carrying an open container. Summerville was first elected to the state legislature as a Republican in 2010 and lost his primary re-election bid in August. His term is scheduled to end in January.

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Panel Begins Discussion of Criminal Justice Reforms

Legislators and law enforcement officials are talking about criminal justice reform this week, WRCB reports. The Senate Judiciary Study Committee met today at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville to start the work. Presenters were to include Tennessee Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, as well as city and police officials, district attorneys and criminal justice advocates. 

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Slatery Named New Tennessee AG

Herbert Slatery has been unanimously selected the new Tennessee Attorney General by the state Supreme Court. Slatery is currently chief legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam. Prior to that appointment, he was in private practice in Knoxville with Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis PC for 30 years. A Knoxville native, Slatery earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and law degree from the University of Tennessee. The Nashville Post reports Slatery said he was humbled and "profoundly grateful" for the apppointment and promised "no quick wholesale changes" to the office. Soon after the announcement current Attorney General Robert Cooper released a statement congratulating his successor and expressing his gratitude to those who served with him.

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Ramsey Cites Favorites for AG, Comments on Election

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he is monitoring the attorney general selection process and has talked to three of the candidates – Republicans Doug Overbey, Herbert Slatery and Bill Young. “Between those three … I don’t have a favorite. I hope [the justices] just choose the most qualified one.” Speaking to The Nashville Scene and other reporters for the first time since his unsuccessful campaign to unseat three of the state’s Supreme Court justices, Ramsey praised the court for holding an open hearing of the candidates, but was critical that the final decision is going to be made “behind closed doors.” Ramsey also talked about the judicial selection vote, saying, “The people spoke. That’s what it’s all about. Their message that we don’t want partisan politics in the judiciary won out, even though I do think that’s almost comical because I do believe there’s partisan politics in the judiciary.”

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Appeals Court Reinstates Defamation Suit Against Campfield

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reinstated a defamation lawsuit against Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield yesterday, finding that the lower court erred in throwing out the $750,000 lawsuit filed by former Roger Byrge, a Democratic candidate for the state House in 2008. The appellate panel also found that the facts of the case might justify a finding of “actual malice” by Campfield, the Johnson City Press reports. The case stems from a blog post Campfield wrote claiming that Byrge had multiple drug arrests and that the mug shots were “gold.” It was later determined the arrest record belonged to Byrge’s son. Campfield was defeated in the Republican primary last month but his term does not end until after the general election in November.

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Howell Takes Oath as New State Representative

Republican Dan Howell of Cleveland was sworn in early as the new state representative for House District 22 in a ceremony yesterday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee administered the oath of office in the House chamber. Howell will fill the two months remaining in the term of former Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who was elected Bradley County sheriff and took office earlier this month. Howell won the GOP primary and faces no opposition in the Nov. 4 general election.

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Kyle Gets Democratic Nod, Will Face GOP's Flinn

Shelby County Democratic Party leaders yesterday selected Sara Kyle as the party's nominee in the special election for state Senate District 30. Kyle is the wife of Jim Kyle, who resigned the seat when he was elected to the Shelby County Chancery Court in August. She also is a former member of the Shelby County Public Service Commission and the Tennessee Regulatory Authority Commission. Kyle beat former Democratic state Sen. Beverly Marrero by two votes. Former Memphis City Council member and state Rep. Carol Chumney had applied for the nomination but withdrew just before balloting began. Kyle will face former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn, who was selected by Republican Party leadership. Local party members were tasked with choosing nominees because there was not time for a primary election under state law. The Memphis Daily News has more.

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Sen. Norris: Attack on Supremes Leaves ‘Bad Taste’ for Amendment 2

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says that last month’s heated fight to unseat three Supreme Court justices has likely shot Amendment 2 in the foot, the Nashville Post reports. Aggressive advertising aimed at unseating the justices in the August primary election hurt both those who wanted to push out the justices and those urging voters to constitutionalize much of the state’s method of selecting them, he said. “If you get an ad that says, ‘Oh, we don’t want this in Tennessee,’ when that’s exactly a plateful of what we were just served, that can backfire,” Norris stated.

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Rep. Howell to be Sworn in Monday

Dan Howell will be sworn in during an official ceremony on Monday as the new state representative for House District 22, filling the remaining term of Republican Rep. Eric Watson, the Chattanoogan reports. The ceremony will be at 1 p.m. in the House chamber in Nashville. Howell won the Republican primary for the seat in May and will not face a Democrat challenger in November.

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Kyle Seeks AG Opinion on Succession

State Sen. Jim Kyle is asking the Tennessee Attorney General for a legal opinion on how the process will work for putting his Senate seat on the November ballot and how party nominees should be chosen. Kyle is leaving the legislature two years into a four-year term after he was elected this month to the Chancery Court. In seeking the opinion, Kyle cites “the confusion and the ambiguity of the statute” that governs the process. In related news, the Shelby County Democratic Party executive committee had been set to select a nominee for the Senate seat tomorrow but have put off that meeting until more guidance is available. The Memphis Daily News has both stories.

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Witnesses Announced for Criminal Justice Hearing

State Sen. Brian Kelsey today released the names of 26 witnesses scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 15-16 regarding proposed state criminal justice reforms. The witnesses include Attorney General Robert Cooper, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams, TBI Director Mark Gwyn, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Parole Board Chair Richard Montgomery, and several academics, mayors, district attorneys, public defenders, attorneys and law enforcement officers. See the full list on Chattanoogan.com.

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Tracy Concedes Primary to DesJarlais

State Sen. Jim Tracy today conceded the Fourth Congressional District Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, giving up on a nearly two-year campaign that he lost by just 38 votes. While he said he saw evidence that the race was even closer, Tracy said he did not want to hurt the party by prolonging the election any further. The Tennessean reports that while Tracy did not explicitly endorse DesJarlais, he made his loyalty to the party clear. DesJarlais will face Democrat Lenda Sherrell in the November general election.

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GOP Lawyers ‘Eyeing Possibility’ of AG Appointment

A recent article in the Tennessee Journal suggests that a number of Republican lawyers are “eyeing the possibility of becoming the first Tennessee attorney general to carry the party’s label since Reconstruction.” Among those being mentioned as challengers to AG Robert Cooper are Bill Young, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts; Herbert Slatery, counsel to the governor; state Sen. Doug Overbey; Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris; Tom Lawless, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments; and Safety Commissioner and former Memphis district attorney Bill Gibbons. Of the group, only Overbey has said he plans to apply, according to the journal. Knoxnews reporter Tom Humphrey also looks at the topic, suggesting that the justices likely will have to evaluate attorney general candidates through a political lens and select the applicant in their best political interest.

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Process to Fill Kyle Senate Seat Begins

Local Democratic leaders began taking applications Monday for the state Senate seat that will become vacant when Jim Kyle begins an eight-year term as chancellor on Sept. 1. Those interested in seeking the Democratic nomination should submit their name by noon Friday. The party will hold its caucus on Aug. 28 to choose a candidate. Republicans said they also would hold a caucus but did not release details. The winner of the special election will serve to the end of 2016, the Memphis Daily News reports. Among those rumored to be interested on the Democratic side are Beverly Marrero, who held the seat for six years until Kyle defeated her in the 2012 primary; Sara Kyle, a former Tennessee Regulatory Authority member and wife of Kyle; District 98 Rep. Antonio Parkinson; and District 93 Rep. G.A. Hardaway, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Story on Lawyers' Primary Wins Omitted Beck

A story in Friday’s issue of TBA Today, which provided a summary of lawyers who prevailed in state House and Senate party primaries, did not include the election of Nashville real estate attorney Bill Beck as the Democratic nominee to fill the seat of retiring House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner. Beck defeated former Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Director Jennifer Buck Wallace and Stephen Fotopulos, a Navy veteran and former executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Beck will face Republican Brian Mason in the general election for House District 51. The Tennessean has more on the race.

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Lawyers Enter 4th District GOP Primary Fight

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Jim Tracy are now talking with lawyers as the two 4th Congressional District GOP primary foes prepare for a potential legal fight over DesJarlais razor-thin victory last week, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. According to WATE News 2, the DesJarlais camp is consulting with "top election lawyers," including at least one lawyer who worked on the Bush v. Gore election. The move comes after a tumultuous election in which just 35 votes separate the two, though the results have not yet been certified and a number of provisional ballots remain outstanding.

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Kelsey Sets Hearings on Criminal Justice System

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, says he will hold three hearings on criminal justice issues during its study session Sept. 15-16 in Nashville. The hearings will look at the current state of criminal justice in Tennessee, what other states are doing to reform their systems, and suggested changes to Tennessee law. Issues to be addressed include truth in sentencing, pretrial release, reentry programs, probation and parole reform, community-based corrections and reduction in recidivism rates, Chattanoogan.com reports. In announcing the hearings, Kelsey noted that Tennessee has not comprehensively evaluated its criminal justice system in over 20 years and could “learn from other states that have successfully used data to reduce costs and increase safety.”

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