News

Campaign Against Florida Judges' Retention Heats Up

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is set to run TV ads across Florida critical of three state Supreme Court justices up for retention election. The ads take aim at the justices’ joining a court ruling that removed from the ballot in 2010 a legislatively introduced measure intended to derail federal health care legislation. The Americans for Prosperity involvement follows the recent announcement of opposition from the Republican Party of Florida. Justice R. Fred Lewis, who is one of the justices targeted, told a bar group, “We cannot sacrifice fairness and impartiality and the court system to political whims." Gavel Grab has details

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Court Scrutinizes South Carolina Voter ID Law

A special panel of three federal judges in Washington heard arguments today on whether South Carolina’s measure requiring residents to show federal- or state-issued photo ID at polling stations significantly burdens minority voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The judges, who must sign off on the measure, appeared skeptical that the state would have enough time to get the law in place for use on Nov. 6, noting that many state-imposed deadlines for implementation expired last year. Bloomberg News reports

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Senate Candidate Stevens Involved in Estate Dispute

John Stevens, a state senate candidate and lawyer, acknowledged in an affidavit that he tore up an unconscious widow's last will and testament in a hospital room three years ago, and that he knew she was unconscious at the time, the Commercial Appeal reports. Ruth Keras died the next day. St. Jude and Jackson-based Youth Town of Tennessee were each to have received major portions of the 82-year-old woman's estate before the papers were destroyed. But four days before he visited Keras, Stevens had been contacted by Joe Wilkes to draw up a power of attorney on behalf of Keras, naming Wilkes' wife Peggy as attorney-in-fact. Stevens also established a revocable trust, court records indicate, that provided that upon Keras' death, all trust assets were to be divided equally between Peggy Wilkes and Keras's brother. Stevens is running for state Sen. Roy Herron's open District 24 seat against Democrat Brad Thompson.

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Rep. Todd: Not Guilty Plea

State Rep. Curry Todd’s attorney Worrick Robinson pleaded not guilty on his behalf today to DUI and weapons charges, the Tennessean reports. Todd was arrested Oct.11, 2011, after police say he failed a roadside sobriety test and was carrying a handgun in his vehicle.

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Shelby Commissioner Named to State Election Spot

Shelby County Election Commissioner Norma Lester was appointed Thursday by Gov. Bill Haslam to fill a vacancy on the state Registry of Election Finance, which enforces campaign finance laws in Tennessee. Lester, 70, a retired nursing administrator who was named to the county election commission last year, will fill a seat on the six-member state board that has been vacant since April 2011. The News Sentinel reports

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Hooker May Challenge Blumstein's Impartiality

John Jay Hooker on Friday told The TNReport that he expects to file a motion challenging Special Court Justice Andrée Sophia Blumstein's impartiality to hear his case on the constitutionality of the state’s judicial selection method. Gov. Haslam appointed Blumstein and four others to sit on a Special Supreme Court to hear the matter. Three of them recused themselves last week. Hooker says Blumstein's role on the editorial board of the Tennessee Bar Journal, a publication of the Tennessee Bar Association, poses a conflict because the association is in favor of the Tennessee Plan.

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Executive Order Clarifies Ethics Policy; Gov's Meetings Stay Secret

Gov. Bill Haslam issued Executive Order No. 20 last week on "ethics policy and disclosures" in the executive branch of state government. While spokesman David Smith said the new order brings "clarity by combining everything from the two (previous orders) into a single executive order," it does not open up information on private meetings held by the governor as had been requested by the online news service TNReport. "There's just a lot of discussions that we have, that any governor needs to have, as part of the decision-making process that we go through on so many different issues," the governor told TNReport, though adding he might "revisit" his stance at some point. The News Sentinel reports

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Rep. Todd Arraignment Moved to Next Week

State Rep. Curry Todd's arraignment on drunken driving and weapons charges, set for today, has been delayed until Sept. 14, the Associated Press reports. The Collierville Republican was arrested in October after failing a roadside sobriety test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found stuffed in a holster between the driver's seat and center console.

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2 Republican Race Results Will Stand

The Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee, acting in its role as the state primary board, today voted to uphold the primary election results in State House District 71 and Congressional District 9. Shirley Curry lost to Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, by four votes, according to unofficial returns. Charlotte Bergmann lost to George Flinn by about 7,000 votes. The subcommittee unanimously recommended to the full committee that both election contests be dismissed based on their review of the election contests. The News Sentinel reports

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Surgeon Considers Run for Campfield's Seat

State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, is in the middle of a four-year term but Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs has expressed new interest in seeking his 7th Senate District seat in 2014, the News Sentinel reports. Briggs, a Repubilcan, is a cardiothoracic surgeon and retired Army colonel who has served in active and reserve units. He says he will wait until after the Nov. 6 elections before making a decision.

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Lawsuits May Impact Election

A series of court battles in several states may determine, over the next several weeks, everything from how people cast their votes, when polling locations will be open and what ballots will look like. Many cases have a partisan bent, with rulings potentially tipping the scales slightly in favor of Democrats or Republicans. WMCT has this AP story

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Portland Judge Steps Down to Focus on State House Race

Portland City Judge Steven Glaser has stepped down from the post to focus on his race against William Lamberth for the 44th District state House seat, the Tennessean reports. To fill the position, the Portland City Council has appointed Jane Wheatcraft as interim city judge. "I am not prohibited by law from seeking a state office while holding a municipal post, but I would like to avoid any appearance of impropriety which might arise,” Glaser wrote in an Aug. 6 letter.

Summers: Remember Past Experience with ‘Election’ of Judges

In an opinion piece in the Tennessean today, former state attorney general Paul Summers writes that those supporting direct election of appellate judges have forgotten the state’s past experience with that system. “Back when we had partisan elections for the judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Appeals, they were in theory elected by hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans. In truth, they were selected by a handful of party officials in Nashville...” Summers writes. He reminds readers that in those days, Democrats were in charge and often Republicans didn’t even put up a slate of judges. Today, under merit selection, he argues, the appellate courts are more evenly balanced.

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Corker Names New General Counsel

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker announced Wednesday that veteran Senate aide Rob Strayer will serve as his new legislative director and general counsel. A 2000 graduate of Vanderbilt Law School, Strayer most recently worked at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he served as director of the Homeland Security Project. He previously served as deputy staff director of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Strayer replaces Ryan Berger who will remain on staff as a policy advisor. The office also announced that John Lipsey has been promoted to chief counsel. The Chattanoogan reported the news

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Former Judges Lead Fight for Missouri Merit Selection

Defenders of Missouri’s nationally recognized merit selection plan for choosing judges have unveiled a campaign to defeat proposed changes when voters go to the polls this fall. According to critics, the proposed state constitutional amendment would insert politics into choosing appellate judges and give too much influence to the governor. A group of former judges, state bar leaders and community representatives have formed the Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee to fight the initiative. Among the leaders are six former state Supreme Court judges. Read more from Gavel Grab

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Carr Says Akin Should Stay, But Denies Agreement on Rape

State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, denied telling a reporter today that he agreed with U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s theory that victims of “legitimate rape” seldom carry pregnancies to term, but he stood by his position that Akin should not be pressured to leave the Missouri Senate race. Carr confirmed to the Tennessean that he does not think Akin should be forced to drop out, but that view does not constitute proof that he agrees with Akin on the subject of rape.

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South Carolina Voter ID Law Trial Underway

The federal trial over South Carolina's voter identification law began Monday. During testimony, state Sen. George "Chip" Campsen III cited examples of fraud that he took into consideration while drafting early versions of South Carolina's law. But under questioning from Justice Department attorney Anna Baldwin, Campsen said the examples he gave did not involve the type of fraud that requiring photo identification would address. The Justice Department rejected South Carolina's law, passed last year, which requires specific photo identification be shown in order to vote. The department decided the law violates Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters. South Carolina's voter photo ID law was subject to approval from the Justice Department because of its history of racial discrimination. WRCB has this AP story

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Public Policy Added to UT Master's Degree

The University of Tennessee this fall began offering a new master of public policy and administration through a partnership between the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and the College of Arts and Science’s political science department. The new degree replaces the existing master of public administration degree that has been offered for more than 40 years. The degree will "equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to be effective managers, responsible executives and ethical public servants,” program director Professor David Folz said.

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Official Investigation Opens into 10th District Allegations

The Tennessee Attorney General’s office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation today announced they have opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct and financial improprieties in the 10th Judicial District, the Times Free Press reports. On Saturday, three legislators also responded to allegations of legal and ethical impropriety surrounding 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steven Bebb. State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, House Judiciary Chair Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said impeachment proceedings could be started in January after the Tennessee General Assembly returns to session. “The integrity of the system of justice in the 10th District and in our state should not be determined by mere rumors, nor should the reputation of Steve Bebb," said Bell, who is secretary on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Cleveland Daily Banner has more

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Lawmakers Question Campus Gun and Knife Rules

Revisions to the University of Tennessee student conduct rules has sparked concern among some legislators who questioned rules banning guns and most knives with blades three inches or longer. The revamped rules also add some new provisions, such as a prohibition on surreptitiously recording another student when he or she has a "reasonable expectation of privacy." Under state law, the legislature must sign off on all new rules promulgated by state agencies. The Government Operations Committee this week gave its OK, but the rules will go before the full general assembly early next year, the News Sentinel reports.

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Summerville Booted as Chair for Comments to Black Caucus

State Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, doesn’t “give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.” That is what he told Memphis state Rep. Barbara Cooper via email Wednesday in response to her report from the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators criticising the probe of a state university for changing students’ grades. Response was swift on Thursday, TNReport says, when Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham stripped Summerville of his chairmanship on the Higher Education Subcommittee. On Friday, Summerville resigned from the Senate Education Committee, the Commercial Appeal reports and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, said Friday that he has been asked to take over as chairman of the subcommittee, the Tennessean reports in its In Session blog.

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GOP Panel to Hear Vote Challenge

A special panel of state Republican Party executive committee members was to meet behind closed doors this morning to consider a challenge to a legislative primary race. The six-member subcommittee appointed by Chairman Chris Devaney was to evaluate the challenge brought by Shirley Curry, who wants to overturn her four-vote loss in the House District 71 primary. Adam Nickas, executive director of the party, declined to elaborate on the reason for the closed hearing or the basis for Curry’s challenge. The panel is expected to make recommendations to the full executive committee on Sept. 5. The News Sentinel reports

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LAWPAC Makes Campaign Contributions

LAWPAC -- the state legislative, independent, multi-candidate, political campaign committee for Tennessee lawyers -- has made contributions in 15 races this fall. At left, LAWPAC treasurer Allan Ramsaur (left) joins LAWPAC executive committee chair Nathan Ridley (right) in presenting a check to Tennessee Senate candidate Phillip North. See a complete list of candidates supported by LAWPAC this fall.

LAWPAC Makes Initial Contributions For Fall Campaign

LAWPAC -- the state legislative, independent, multi-candidate, political campaign committee for Tennessee lawyers -- today made known its contributions in 15 fall legislative races. In 10 of the 15 races , the candidates receiving contributions are lawyers. The group also made donations where candidates are law students, serve as key legislative committee officers, have relatives who are lawyers or take into account the views of lawyers on critical issues. See the full list of candidates supported by LAWPAC this fall.

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Both Sides of Aisle See Changes

Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, leaders of their respective parties talked together recently about changes for both parties, acknowledging the Republican majority in the Senate has seen some difference from within the last year. “This a typical trajectory, if you will,” Norris said. “The larger your majority grows, the more likely you are to have different opinions." Meanwhile, Kyle said Democrats have to get better at being the minority party and remember that Republicans became the majority in the state House and state Senate based on being an effective minority. The Daily News Journal has more

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