News

Wyatt to Run for General Sessions Judge

Nashville attorney Vince Wyatt announced he will run for General Sessions Court Division IV in the Democratic primary in May. He spent four years working as a prosecutor, nine years as a defense attorney and seved a four-year stint as a judge advocate general in the Navy. The son of long-time Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Randall Wyatt, the younger Wyatt also told the Tennessean, “It’s probably always been in my blood, so to speak.”

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State Rep. Granted Judicial Diversion in Domestic Dispute

State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, will receive no jail time after a jury found him guilty of reckless endangerment stemming from a domestic dispute with his ex-wife. Judge Paul Summers decided to grant Hawk judicial diversion and sentenced him to two years' probation and 150 hours of community service. The judge also ordered Hawk to pay $1,500 in restitution to his former wife and pay all court costs. Hawk told WJHL News Channel 11 he was glad to put the situation behind him and plans to run for re-election in 2014.

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Knoxville Attorney Announces Bid for U.S. Senate

Knoxville attorney and Navy veteran Terry Adams yesterday announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, Nooga.com reports. If successful, he will face the winner of the Republican primary, which pits incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander against state Rep. Joe Carr. Adams earned his law degree from the University of Memphis and is founder and managing attorney of Adams Law Firm and Admiral Title. He is backed by Bob Tuke – former chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party and the last Democrat to run against Alexander – who will serve as campaign treasurer.

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Haslam Names Commission for Judicial Appointments

Governor Bill Haslam today named members to the Governor's Commission for Judicial Appointments, which will consider applications from those seeking to fill court vacancies. Attorneys among the group are S. Leo Arnold of Dyersburg; Bradford Box of Jackson; Alberto Gonzales of Nashville; Olen Haynes Sr. of Johnson City; Thomas Lawless of Nashville; Gilbert McCarter II of Murfreesboro; Jimmie Carpenter Miller of Kingsport; J. Bartlett Quinn of Chattanooga; Cheryl G. Rice of Knoxville; W. Scott Sims of Nashville; Michael Spitzer of Hohenwald; and Charles Tuggle and Amy P. Weirich of Memphis. Community members are Miles Burdine, president of the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Jesse Cannon with Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar; David Golden with Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport; and victim advocate Verna Wyatt of Nashville. Haslam established the commission earlier this month to help guide his decisions in making judicial appointments.

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TBA Votes to Support Constitutional Amendment on Judicial Selection; Merit Selection to Be Made Part of the Process by Executive Order

Following a complete review of the TBA policy on judicial selection, the TBA Board of Governors on Oct. 12 reaffirmed its commitment to merit selection to fill judicial vacancies and voted to support the Constitutional amendment, which provides for gubernatorial appointment, legislative confirmation and retention elections for judges. The Board did so because of assurances that Governor Bill Haslam would include merit in the process via an Executive Order, if the amendment is adopted. The amendment will be on the ballot in the state’s November 2014 general election.

The TBA leadership has worked closely with Governor Haslam’s Administration in the weeks prior to the release of the Governor’s executive order of Oct. 17, which, when viewed in conjunction with the notice and application instructions, sets in place a commission and protocol for judicial appointments very much like the former Judicial Nominating Commission.

TBA President Cindy Wyrick, in announcing the TBA’s support for the constitutional amendment, said “the TBA will support the constitutional amendment because we have been assured that the Governor will implement a merit selection process to appoint qualified judges. We applaud Governor Haslam for his recent executive order, which demonstrates his continuing commitment to filling vacancies with qualified judges through use of a merit selection process.”

TBA support for merit selection and retention elections goes back almost 50 years. This year’s policy review began with discussions and votes in the association's Governmental Affairs committee and its policy making House of Delegates. Final approval came as the Board met for its quarterly meeting.

“The advantage to the constitutional amendment, from our perspective, is that it puts retention elections squarely in the constitution,“ said Wyrick. The TBA maintains that retention elections, under current law, are constitutional as decided by three separate courts. “The combination of merit selection and retention elections is the best way to bring fairness, impartiality, stability, consistency, and clarity to our legal system. These are the values we believe in,” said Wyrick.

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Prosecutor: No Charges in Campfield 'Robo Call' Case

Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols has determined that no criminal charges are warranted against Ben Farmer, who has acknowledged responsibility for a telephone “robo call” poll about state Sen. Stacey Campfield. Farmer’s attorney said in an email Monday that his client has been embarrassed by the episode, which previously was characterized as a “computer glitch” during testing of polling operations by Cyragon LLC, a company owned by Farmer. Campfield also had questioned whether Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, who is opposing his re-election and previously was employed by Cyragon, was involved in the robo calls. Briggs has denied any involvement, Knoxnews reports.

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Moncier Challenges Governor’s Judicial Selection Order

Knoxville lawyer Herbert S. Moncier filed a federal lawsuit Friday accusing Gov. Bill Haslam and state elections chief Mark Goins of violating his constitutional rights, Knoxnews reports. He claims that by creating a new commission to appoint appellate judges in the absence of a legislatively constituted body, the state has infringed on his rights under the first and 14th amendments. Moncier says he wants to run next year to replace Judge Joseph Tipton, who is retiring from the Court of Criminal Appeals.

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Knoxville Lawyer Considering Senate Run

Knoxville lawyer Terry Adams may be testing the water to run as a Democrat for U.S. Senate, the Tennessean's political blog reports. Adams sent an email yesterday to Democrats statewide introducing himself and stating he began considering a run after attending last months’ Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville and the Truman Day Dinner in Knoxville. He concludes the email by asking recipients to share their thoughts on whether he should run and promised to make a decision soon.

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Rep. Curtiss to Step Down at End of Term

State Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, says he will step down from his seat when the current term ends, News Channel 5 reports. The 66-year-old did not give a specific reason for his decision, but said he wanted to give other candidates plenty of time to run for his District 43 seat. Curtiss will have served 20 years when his term ends. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh called Curtiss a leader on workers’ compensation, insurance and utility matters who was "always looking out for the regular working people."

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Election Panel Dismisses Complaint Against Haslam

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance voted today to dismiss a complaint against Gov. Bill Haslam for failing to disclose how much he paid outside adviser Tom Ingram. The panel voted 3-1 to throw out the complaint filed by former state Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester. Ingram was Haslam’s top campaign adviser during his successful 2010 bid for governor. After his election, Haslam paid Ingram out of his own pocket for political and policy advice. Forrester argued that Ingram's political advice was inherently related to Haslam’ re-election effort and should have been disclosed. The Memphis Daily News has the story from the Associated Press.

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Memphis Lawyer Wins Primary for Deberry Seat

Memphis lawyer Raumesh Akbari has won the Democratic primary special election for Tennessee House District 91 – the seat held by Lois Deberry until her death this past summer – the Memphis Daily News reports. Akbari will face James Tomasik, an independent candidate and chairman of the Libertarian Party of Tennessee, in the general election Nov. 21. Akbari earned her law degree in 2009 from the Saint Louis University School of Law.

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Sen. Chambliss to Speak at UT Law Next Week

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a 1968 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, will speak at the school Oct. 4 at noon in the Baker Donelson Classroom (Room 132). Presented as part of the Joel A. Katz-Sun Trust Lecture Series, Chambliss will reflect on his 18 years on Capitol Hill, which included eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 10 years in the U.S. Senate where he has focused on homeland security, intelligence and agriculture issues. The event is free and open to the university community. Read more about the event and Chambliss’ background on the law school’s website.

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Sen. Norris Elected Chair of National Government Group

Tennessee state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, was elected chair of the Council of State Governments at the group’s annual meeting held recently in Kansas City. Norris, the Senate Republican majority leader, is the first Tennessean to chair the group, The Commercial Appeal reports. The council is a national bipartisan professional association composed of members of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state governments. “It is an honor to lead this organization and continue the tremendous work that it has done throughout the United States and North America,” Norris said. He will ascend to the position in December.

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Early Voting Starts Wednesday for DeBerry Seat

Early voting opens tomorrow in the Democratic primary for State House District 91 and runs through Oct. 3, with regular voting following on Oct. 8. The winner in the seven-way primary to fill the seat vacated by Lois DeBerry will advance to a Nov. 21 special general election and face Jim Tomasik, who is running as a Libertarian. No candidates filed in the Republican primary. The Democratic primary race shrank by one earlier this week when Dwight DeBerry, who claims he is related to the late legislator, was disqualified based on a conviction for aggravated robbery and assault in 1992. The Memphis Daily News has more on both stories.

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McWherter Won’t Repeat Run for Governor

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter says he will not make a repeat run for governor next year, though he claims that incumbent Bill Haslam has brought a “culture of corruption” to state government. McWherter lost to Haslam in the 2010 election. Though he may not run, there may be another McWherter campaign afoot. The paper reports McWherter is trying to recruit his wife, Mary Jane McWherter, to seek the state Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson. The Memphis Daily News and Knoxnews have more on the story.

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Burks to Retire from State Senate

State Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, will retire at the end of her current term, the Herald-Citizen reports. Burks has represented the Upper Cumberland area since 1998 when she made history as the first ever “write-in” candidate to win a Senate seat following the death of her husband Sen. Tommy Burks. Much of her focus in office has been in the areas of education, domestic violence and children’s issues. Burke has been an eight-time recipient of the “Legislator of the Year” award from the Tennessee Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence and achieved national recognition from the U.S. Attorney General’s Foundation for the Improvement of Justice. To show appreciation for the constituents of her district, Burke will host a reception Oct. 10 at the Leslie Town Centre in Cookeville from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

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More States Now Have 2014 Ballot Items Affecting the Courts

An updated special edition of Gavel to Gavel again reviews the eight states now confirmed to have 2014 ballot items substantially affecting the courts. The publication notes that Tennessee’s case is interesting in that there is no back up system in place in case the quasi-federal system SJR 2 is rejected by voters and there is no longer merit selection in place.

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Kookogey Withdraws from Tea Party Forums

Former Williamson County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Kookogey is calling himself an “unannounced candidate” for the U.S. Senate, The Tennessean reports. Kookogey made the announcement after attending the first of several forums designed to identify a tea party challenger to take on Alexander. “Thank you for inviting and allowing me to participate in the Beat Lamar forum yesterday in Nashville,” Kookogey wrote. “As an unannounced candidate, however, I have decided to withdraw from the remainder of the scheduled events, lest my attendance confuse your process.” Kookogey did not respond to inquiries as to when he might officially join the race.

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Book Review: COUP

The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early, and Stopped a Pardon Scandal

By Keel Hunt | Vanderbilt University Press | $27.50 | 248 pages | 2013

This review gives you two opinions — one from Judge Walter Kurtz and one from Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle.

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11 File for Seat in Special House Election

The line up of candidates seeking to fill the state House seat held by the late Lois DeBerry now includes 10 Democrats and one Libertarian, the Memphis Daily News reports. After DeBerry’s death in July, Gov. Bill Haslam ordered a special general election for District 91. The Shelby County Election Commission has set Oct. 8 for a primary and Nov. 21 for the special general election.

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Pair to Introduce Hemp Farming Bill

Following Kentucky's lead, Tennessee may be seeing the start of a pro-hemp farming contingent in the state legislature. According to the Associated Press, two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains and Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, are drafting legislation to legalize commercial farming of hemp. The duo plan to introduce the measure in the next legislative session. Kentucky and six other states have passed measures legalizing hemp though federal law prohibits it. Niceley, a farmer, said introducing the measure would "put pressure on Congress" to repeal the prohibition. The Clarion Ledger has a link to the story.

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Carr Switches Races, Will Challenge Alexander

State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, has dropped out of the race to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and refocused his sites on the U.S. Senate and the seat of incumbent Lamar Alexander. Carr announced the move today but the campaign got off to a rocky start, The Tennessean reports. The word “Senate” was misspelled on the campaign website and Carr’s campaign director Chip Saltsman resigned. “I signed up to help you run for Congress, not the Senate,” Saltsman said in a letter announcing his departure. “It is because of Lamar Alexander that people like you have the honor of serving in the majority of the state legislature.” Saltsman went on to say he was supporting Alexander's reelection. Meanwhile, state tea party leaders welcomed Carr to the race but said others will likely step forward as well.

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National Bar Leaders Focus on Judicial Merit Selection

Bar leaders from across the country learned about challenges to judicial merit selection and retention in Tennessee and other states at a presentation today during the National Conference of Bar President's annual meeting in San Francisco. TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur moderated the session, which featured TBA Immediate Past President Jacqueline Dixon, along with Iowa State Bar Immediate Past President Cynthia Moser and Gwynne Young, immediate past president of the Florida Bar. While much of the debate to date in Tennessee has taken place in the legislature, both Florida and Iowa were recently involved in extensive public campaigns leading up to elections.

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Holleman Launches 70-Mile Walk for Senate Campaign

Nashville Metro Councilman Jason Holleman launched a 70-mile walking tour of Senate District 21, exactly one year from the democratic primary election. Holleman says he plans to spend the next seven days meeting with voters and visiting local businesses, the Tennessean reports. Holleman faces attorney Jeff Yarbro in the race to replace longtime state Sen. Doug Henry.

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Opinion: Judicial Selection Proposal Creates ‘Politically Charged’ System

Former Sevierville judge Charles S. Sexton writes in Saturday’s issue of Knoxnews that the legislature’s current proposal for selecting appellate judges is a “politically charged system where a few powerful members…can exert their influence to ensure their preferred candidate is placed before the governor without regard to judicial temperament, legal abilities, peer review and an impeccable reputation for honesty and integrity…” Sexton also argues that while House and Senate leadership say the issue is about electing judges, the plan under consideration does not require direct elections.

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