Judicial Selection Bill Fails in Final Days of Session

Legislation to extend the life of the Judicial Nominating Commission failed to win approval Friday, falling by the wayside along with key measures on issues ranging from charter schools to judicial redistricting. With the failure of the bill to extend the Judicial Nominating Commission, the panel will cease to exist on July 1, meaning there is no way to replace a judge who resigns, dies or retires after that date, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur tells Knoxnews. Also offering roundups on the session were the Commercial Appeal and Humphrey on the Hill.

The legislature also failed to reauthorize the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, which will sunset July 1, 2014. Efforts to replace the members of that body led Ramsaur to tell the Metropulse that continuity on the commission is critical for providing the highest level of credibility to the proceedings.

Memphis attorney C. Barry Ward of Ballin, Ballin & Fishman, P.C. has served on the Judicial Nominating Commission since 2009. He offered his thoughts on the death of that body in a submission to the Tennessee Bar Association. You can read them below: (If you have comments, you can add them below. You must be logged in to the website to post comment.)

“DAMN” – A one word e-mail from Miles Burdine to his fellow Judicial Nominating Commissioners summed up our collective response to the Tennessee Legislature’s failure to extend the life of the Commission this past Friday.

Miles is from Kingsport, he served four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is an integral part of the tapestry of people who served on this Commission.

You see, this wasn’t just any commission and it wasn’t just any group of individuals who comprised it.

If you lived in Tazewell, or Johnson City, or Greeneville, Shelbyville, Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga or Knoxville, this Commission was in your fair city or town fairly recently, going about its task of selecting the three applicants for the short list to send to the Governor for judicial appointment. If you lived in one of the smaller rural locations, you know the entire community turned out for this process; if your home was a larger metropolitan area, it usually was attorneys and friends that attended. No matter, what you saw was a group of people from all across this state, representing large and small areas, Republicans and Democrats, and rising above partisanship to come together and pursue one goal: selection of the three best qualified applicants to send to Governor Bill Haslam for his selection for appointment to a judgeship.

The Judicial Nominating Commission received no pay, no CLE credit, but was rewarded by a sense we were helping the legal system in an important way, and by the fantastic life stories of the applicants who aspired to become public judges; this was real pro bono publico work.

We as a Commission sought individuals seasoned by life who were competent in the law and demonstrated an ability to be balanced, blessed with common sense and a sense of fairness. That is what we looked for, it didn’t matter if the applicant was young, old, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or other.

This Commission prepared in advance for the meetings, participated in public speeches and interviews with the applicants; all done in a public, open forum. At the conclusion, the members voted, and surprisingly, nearly always there was a consensus of the first and second applicants, and the third sometimes took as many as nine or ten ballots.

I have been a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission since 2009, and served on its predecessor since 2002. The members of this Commission worked like a finely-tuned apparatus doing its work. We all come to like, respect and depend on the input of our fellow Commissioners. Consider the results:

  • No scandal involving any sitting judges who come through the Commission process;
  • No sordid tales like sister states over money, bias or other;
  • Tennessee was a model for other states’ selection process of judges;
  • Over 80% of attorneys in Tennessee believed the Commission was the way to choose judges according to a recent survey.

I’ll suggest that everyone that came before the commission was treated to a rigorous, intense but fair examination by the Commission.

Serving on the Judicial Nominating Commission has been the highlight of my legal career. Being a part of the process helps validate what we do as lawyers. Each of the Commission’s members made a unique and special contribution of effort, dedication and commitment to a purpose. The collective experience of the Commission brought to bear a formidable basis upon which to make the decisions it was called on to make.

I will miss working with my friends on the Commission doing a task we believed was worth the effort it took to do it; Tennessee will miss this Commission dedicated to the heavy lifting of selecting the best of the best without the intervention of politics into the process.