Letters of the Law

Reader Takes Issue with Justices Over Election, Commitment to Small-Town Practitioners

I wish to take this opportunity to state why I intend to vote “no” in the judicial retention election.

First, all of our trial judges run in partisan elections. Despite that, I know of no trial court judge before whom I have practiced to have brought her or his personal, political bias to the table. All of our judges at all levels enforce the law fairly. Yet, their power comes from the people: not from some sort of “elite.” The people should have an opportunity to judge an appellate judge’s merit in direct competition with others whom they may think may be more qualified than the incumbent.

Most respectfully, this writer gets the opinion that the Justices who are the subject of this election are not crying for independence of the judiciary as much as for their own self-preservation. I have noticed that they have decried the influx of “out-of-state campaign money” However, most respectfully, what about the steady flow of “in-state” money which is filling their coffers in this campaign, $650,000.00 as of this week?

Secondly, and most respectfully, I ask the Justices this: When was the last time you visited a bar association outside the major metropolitan counties, except during a “SCALES” proceeding? Do you really care about us small practitioners? Respectfully, I submit that if you did, you wouldn’t have devised on-line forms for people to do their own divorces and orders of protection in an effort for us to do more pro bono work, which takes money out of our pockets and food out of our mouths. I respectfully submit that the unintended result of these well-intentioned programs, is that our civil courts are clogged, and our courts are holding pro bono days, so that we who are trained members of the profession help, for free, those who refused to pay for our services in the first place correctly do that which they tried to do themselves, when they attempted to practice law without a license.

One would not perform brain surgery on one’s self, yet, regrettably, our Court seems to want to foster the impression to the public that they can practice law without a license.

One way many of us do our pro bono work is by taking appointed Criminal, Juvenile and child support contempt cases: in those cases, our $40 hourly payment is less than half what my plumber charges me for his work. Realizing that this funding is a function of the legislature and not the judiciary, it is still galling to see a supposed “indigent” defendant’s family secure a bondsman, yet turn to the Fund for an attorney. If we were to tighten eligibility requirements for indigent counsel, we who do this work could be paid a decent hourly rate for it.

I pray this letter will be seen as the beginning of an earnest discussion of these issues. If the Justices are retained, I pray that they address the concerns I have raised herein.

— Francis X. Santore Jr., Greeneville

cc:  Hon. Gary Wade, Hon. Sharon Lee, Hon. Cornelia Clark, Ms. Cynthia Wyrick, Hon. Ron Ramsey, Mr. Jonathan O. Steen