News

Questions Raised About GOP Group Opposing Justices

Since the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) burst onto the national political stage, it has become one of the most influential players on the right, but the group’s swift ascent has not come without controversy or legal hazard, reports Politico. According to a memo prepared by the Washington law firm BakerHostetler in 2011 but just recently leaked, the group – which is now fighting for the ouster of three Tennessee Supreme Court justices – conspired improperly with the Alabama Republican Party to serve as a pass-through for Indian tribe donations. The memo warned that the arrangement could trigger “possible criminal penalties” and “ultimately threaten the organization’s continued existence.” RSLC leaders have denied there was anything inappropriate about their activities in Alabama. In the Tennessee judicial retention election, the group has reported spending almost $400,000, according to an AP report today.

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Cohen Denounces Signs From Group Supporting Wilkins

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, called “totally false and outrageous” campaign signs from an entity called the National Democratic Party of the U.S.A., which endorse Ricky Wilkins, his opponent in the congressional primary, and include a photo of Wilkins alongside a photo of President Barack Obama. Cohen called on Wilkins to ask the group to cease and desist — but Wilkins declined saying, "If there are issues and questions … they need to be directed to whoever’s put them out there. They were not put out by my campaign team." Wilkins also said he had no financial relationship with the group. Yesterday, Cohen's campaign obtained a restraining order directing the group to stop distributing campaign materials. The Commercial Appeal has more.

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Early Voting Sets Record for August Elections

Early voting wrapped up Saturday with more than 550,000 people casting ballots – the largest statewide turnout for an August election on record, according to state officials. Several counties in Middle Tennessee, including Davidson and Williamson counties, set early voting records. In Nashville, 30,875 people voted with 18,069 requesting Democratic ballots and 12,482 requesting Republican ballots. In Chattanooga, 21,404 people cast ballots during the early voting period with 15,473 requesting Republican ballots and 5,655 requesting Democratic ballots. Election officials said the total number greatly exceeded those in previous years.

In Shelby and Knox counties, however, turnout was lower than expected. Memphis saw more than 82,000 voters, or 15.3 percent of the voting public, cast ballots during the early voting period, but that was a 12 percent decrease from 2010. Of that group, 44,501 requested a Democratic ballot while 36,469 requested a Republican ballot. In Knox County, the turnout was lower than usual. A total of 36,486 voted early with 29,881 requesting Republican ballots and 6,299 requesting Democratic ballots. See vote totals from every county on the Secretary of State's website.

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Services Announced for Peter Halverstadt

A memorial service to celebrate the life of Nashville lawyer Peter Halverstadt will be held Aug. 9 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Second Presbyterian Church, 3511 Belmont Blvd., Nashville 37215. A wake will follow from noon to 2 p.m. at Maggiano's, 3106 West End Ave., Nashville, 37203. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to Guardianship and Trust Corp., a non-profit organization that provides financial management services for those unable to make informed decisions on their own behalf. The organization is located at 95 White Bridge Pike, Nashville 37205. Halverstadt died July 24 at the age of 46. Read more about his life from Marshall Donnelly Combs Funeral Home.

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Services Pending for Nashville Attorney

Nashville lawyer Peter Halverstadt, a member of the TBA’s Government Affairs Committee, has died. A graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, Halverstadt worked for both the Davidson County district attorney and public defender while in school. Following graduation, he opened a solo civil and criminal defense practice, which he maintained from 1994 to 1998. He later joined the Workers’ Compensation Division of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and most recently was serving as assistant administrator of the division and legislative representative for the office. Halverstadt is a past president of the Guardianship and Trusts Corporation, a non-profit organization that provides financial management services for those unable to make informed decisions on their own behalf. Funeral information is not yet available.

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DesJarlais to Begin Neck Cancer Treatment

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais announced Friday that he has neck cancer and will undergo extensive therapy beginning this week. The Jasper Republican said his doctors have told him there is a 90 percent cure rate, the Tennessean reports. DesJarlais, 50, said he will continue his campaign for a third term. He faces state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville in a heated primary on Aug. 7.

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Ramsey: Won't 'Sit on Sidelines' as Justices Seek Support

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Wednesday he has no intentions of “sitting on the sidelines” while members of the state Supreme Court try and earn yes votes in the August retention election, TriCities reports. Ramsey spoke out a day after Chief Justice Gary Wade told the Bristol Herald Courier that Ramsey’s campaign to oust him and fellow justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee is “disconcerting” and “disturbing.” Ramsey said the retention election flies under the radar of most voters because it takes place only every eight years but the fact that voters are involved makes the justices fair game in the political arena.

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GOP Forum Draws Candidates in Contested House Races

Three Tennessee House Republican candidates attended a forum Tuesday night in Murfreesboro, the Daily News Journal reports. State Rep. Mike Sparks, Eddie Smotherman and Dr. Bryan Terry expressed agreement on many conservative issues including limits on abortions, gun rights, repeal of the Hall income tax and ending the Common Core education standards. Not in attendance were state Rep. Dawn White, who is competing against Smotherman in the 37th District; state Rep. Rick Womick, who faces no competition; Rick Peppers and Rutherford County Commissioner Adam Coggin, who are running against Terry in the 48th District; and Rutherford County Commissioner Robert Stevens, who is running against Sparks in the 49th District.

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Wamp Primary Campaign Gets Funding Windfall

Republican Weston Wamp’s effort to oust U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the 3rd Congressional District's GOP primary will get a big financial assist from an independent "super PAC," the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Allan Davis, a partner in the Lamp Post Group that employs the 27-year-old Wamp, says he has given $300,000 to the Character Counts PAC to support Wamp. The funding is almost half the $640,044 cash on hand Fleischmann reported as of March 31. The involvement of the group may raise issues for Wamp, though, as he has been openly critical of the role “super PACs” now play in the election process.

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Kelsey: Bebb Case Shows Need for Judicial Reform

Sen. Brian Kelsey writes in the Chattanooga Times Free Press this week that the case of Steve Bebb, former district attorney for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, “shows the need for judicial reform in Tennessee.” Bebb, who resigned yesterday, had faced allegations of misusing his office, though investigations by the TBI, Senate Judiciary Committee and Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) failed to lead to any charges. Kelsey, who filed the BPR complaint, nonetheless concluded that “the mechanisms we have in place for disciplining corruption and unethical behavior in Tennessee are not working.” He recommends two specific reforms: giving the attorney general the power to prosecute all cases of public corruption and changing how the attorney general is selected.

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Senate Panel Grills Board Over Handling of Ethics Complaint

A Senate panel grilled court officers for more than four hours Tuesday at a hearing focused on the Board of Judicial Conduct’s handling of a complaint against Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, the Tennessean reports. State Sen. Mike Bell, a critic of the judiciary, chaired the hearing of the Ad Hoc Committee on Judicial Accountability. Judge Chris Craft, chair of the Board of Judicial Conduct, and the board’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel Timothy R. Discenza were among the witnesses. Both testified that Wade did not appear to have done anything wrong and nothing was amiss in the board’s consideration of the complaint.

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Former State Rep. Killed in Hit-and-Run Incident

Former Tennessee state representative and Kingsport businessman Michael K. Locke was killed last night when he was struck by a vehicle while standing on the shoulder of the road. The driver of the vehicle allegedly fled the scene but was arrested a short time later, Knoxnews reports. Locke, 61, was chair of the Bud Hulsey campaign for the 2nd District seat he formerly held in the House of Representatives. He was placing a campaign sign when he was struck by the vehicle and knocked into a deep ravine.

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Civics Education Program Captures Emmy Award

The groundbreaking civics education campaign backed by the TBA has earned an Emmy Award for a public service film featuring former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The Informed Voters Project was developed by the National Association of Women Judges. It focuses on providing non-partisan education to increase public awareness about the judicial system, to inform voters that politics and special interest attacks have no place in the courts, and to give voters the tools they need to exercise an informed vote in favor of fair and impartial courts.

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Tennessean: 10 Primaries to Watch

The Tennessean looks at 10 state primary races for the General Assembly that are worth following. Among the candidates are Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville; Nashville attorney Jeff Yarbro, who is seeking to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Douglas Henry; Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet; and three who are seeking to fill the seat being left vacant by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

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Services Thursday for Former State Representative

J. William "Bill" Pope Jr. of Dayton died June 8 from cancer. He was 76. A native of Nashville, Pope attended the University of Tennessee and the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham. He worked as an attorney with the Tennessee Valley Authority and later in private practice before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives. After an unsuccessful Congressional race, he was appointed district attorney general of the 18th Judicial District (now the 12th), where he served until retiring in 1992. Services will be Thursday at 1 p.m. CDT. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to the Vanderbilt Gift Processing Office, Attn: Thorasic Cancer Research, Vanderbilt University, PMB 407727, 2301 Vanderbilt University Place, Nashville, TN 37240-7727. The Chattanoogan.com has more on this life.

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Senators Plan Hearing on Handling of Ethics Complaint

State Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, announced today that the Senate Government Operations Committee will hold a formal inquiry “sometime this month” into the Board of Judicial Conduct’s decision to dismiss a complaint against Chief Justice Gary Wade. That anonymous complaint questioned whether Wade broke ethics rules by commenting on judges subject to review by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. After the board dismissed the complaint, Bell came forward as the source of the complaint. Bell and McNally also said today they may also take up issues associated with the composition of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. A Davidson County judge ruled earlier this year that the commission’s makeup was illegal because it did not reflect the diversity of the state. The Tennessean has more.

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House Candidate Arrested for Bad Checks

Kristopher Gore, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives, has been charged with two felonies for writing one bad check over $10,000 and another over $1,000 to a sign company. Gore, two other Democrats and a Republican are running in the Aug. 7 primaries for the open House District 43 seat. The Tennessean has more.

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Editorial: State Should Keep a Nonpartisan Supreme Court

A Memphis Flyer editorial states three Democratic Supreme Court justices up for retention on Aug. 7 — Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee — deserve the endorsement of Shelby County voters, regardless of party affiliation. The publication denounces Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s plan to oust them from the state’s highest court, saying, “Interpreting the law is — or should be — non-political.” The editorial also says the justices have been "forced into a barnstorming tour of sorts to raise enough support and money to counter the well-funded purge efforts of Ramsey and his out-of-state allies."

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Lawyers Push Back Against Effort to Oust Justices

Lawyers across the state have begun fighting back against Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s campaign to unseat Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee. The Nashville Bar Association Tuesday released a resolution supporting the judges’ retention in the Aug. 7 judicial election and urged its members to vote in favor to retain. On Wednesday, a group of attorneys including former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Drowota and former Appeals Court Judge Lew Conner met with the Tennessean to spell out their efforts to combat Ramsey, who Drowota said was using misinformation to unfairly criticize the justices in an effort to stack the court with partisan judges. “To have politics come into the courts makes absolutely no sense,” Drowota said. “You don’t want a politicized court. You want a fair, impartial court.”

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Miller & Martin Adds 3 to Nashville Office

Miller & Martin has added three members to its Nashville office. They are Catie Lane Bailey, Douglas Berry and David Lewis. The Nashville Post reports that the “hirings are another sign that the Chattanooga-based firm is rebuilding its Nashville presence after losing the majority of its attorneys in 2012.” Bailey will serve in the firm’s government relations practice group as senior policy advisor. She previously was director of government affairs at the Tennessee Apartment Association. Berry, formerly of Berry & Harris in Nashville, will continue to represent cities in zoning, eminent domain and utility matters. Lewis previously was vice president and associate legal counsel at LifePoint Hospitals in Brentwood. He has worked in health care for 25 years and is a former chair of the TBA Health Law Section.

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Barrett Named to State Election Commission

Former state Rep. Donna Rowland Barrett has been appointed to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee State Election Commission, the Memphis Daily News reports. The Murfreesboro Republican served in the state House for 10 years before retiring in 2010. She now runs the Barrett Group, which specializes in cost control strategies. Barrett fills the vacancy created by fellow former Republican state Rep. Tom DuBois of Columbia, who is running for circuit judge.

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Haslam Won't Take Part in Campaign Against Justices

Gov. Bill Haslam said today he will not take part in efforts by Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey to unseat the three Supreme Court justices appointed by Democrats, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Haslam told reporters at a Lipscomb University event that he has a “good working relationship with all three” targeted justices. Haslam also said he has some concerns the campaign against the judges could hurt chances of passing the constitutional change on judicial selection that he is supporting.

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General Election Races Take Shape

Candidates from across Tennessee won places on the Aug. 7 general election ballot in primary elections Tuesday. Results are now available from county election commissions and news organizations, which also provided analysis of trends. The TBA provides a listing of these sources.

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General Assembly Adjourns

The 108th Tennessee General Assembly has adjourned for the year. Legislation passing this session included measures to allow wine sales in grocery stores, fight methamphetamine production and give high school graduates free tuition at community colleges, which was a signature proposal of the governor, Knoxnews reports.

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TBA Leaders Lobby Legislators During D.C. Event

Tennessee Bar Association leaders joined more than 350 of their colleagues from across the country for 2014 ABA Lobby Days in Washington, D.C., April 8-10. The annual event provides legal leaders the opportunity to meet individually with legislators and their staffs to cut through the noise of other special interests on Capitol Hill and successfully educate Congress on issues of importance to lawyers. In addition to urging the legislators to support funding for the Legal Services Corp., TBA leaders urged lawmakers to reject tax reform legislation that would tax certain law firms using accrual rather than cash accounting. TBA President Cindy Wyrick, President-elect Jonathan Steen and Executive Director Allan Ramsaur made up the delegation. See photos from the visit.

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