News

Process to Fill Kyle Senate Seat Begins

Local Democratic leaders began taking applications Monday for the state Senate seat that will become vacant when Jim Kyle begins an eight-year term as chancellor on Sept. 1. Those interested in seeking the Democratic nomination should submit their name by noon Friday. The party will hold its caucus on Aug. 28 to choose a candidate. Republicans said they also would hold a caucus but did not release details. The winner of the special election will serve to the end of 2016, the Memphis Daily News reports. Among those rumored to be interested on the Democratic side are Beverly Marrero, who held the seat for six years until Kyle defeated her in the 2012 primary; Sara Kyle, a former Tennessee Regulatory Authority member and wife of Kyle; District 98 Rep. Antonio Parkinson; and District 93 Rep. G.A. Hardaway, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Story on Lawyers' Primary Wins Omitted Beck

A story in Friday’s issue of TBA Today, which provided a summary of lawyers who prevailed in state House and Senate party primaries, did not include the election of Nashville real estate attorney Bill Beck as the Democratic nominee to fill the seat of retiring House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner. Beck defeated former Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Director Jennifer Buck Wallace and Stephen Fotopulos, a Navy veteran and former executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Beck will face Republican Brian Mason in the general election for House District 51. The Tennessean has more on the race.

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Lawyers Enter 4th District GOP Primary Fight

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Jim Tracy are now talking with lawyers as the two 4th Congressional District GOP primary foes prepare for a potential legal fight over DesJarlais razor-thin victory last week, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. According to WATE News 2, the DesJarlais camp is consulting with "top election lawyers," including at least one lawyer who worked on the Bush v. Gore election. The move comes after a tumultuous election in which just 35 votes separate the two, though the results have not yet been certified and a number of provisional ballots remain outstanding.

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Kelsey Sets Hearings on Criminal Justice System

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, says he will hold three hearings on criminal justice issues during its study session Sept. 15-16 in Nashville. The hearings will look at the current state of criminal justice in Tennessee, what other states are doing to reform their systems, and suggested changes to Tennessee law. Issues to be addressed include truth in sentencing, pretrial release, reentry programs, probation and parole reform, community-based corrections and reduction in recidivism rates, Chattanoogan.com reports. In announcing the hearings, Kelsey noted that Tennessee has not comprehensively evaluated its criminal justice system in over 20 years and could “learn from other states that have successfully used data to reduce costs and increase safety.”

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Summerville Resigns From GOP Caucus

State Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, who lost his primary race last Thursday, has resigned from the Republican Caucus, the Associated Press reports. In a letter to Caucus Chair Bill Ketron, Summerville said he will be serving as an independent member of the Senate for the remainder of his term and asked that his resignation from the caucus be effective immediately. With all precincts reporting in District 25, former Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield had 42 percent of the vote compared to Summerville’s 16 percent. News Channel 5 has the story.

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Justices, Ramsey Respond to Retention Vote

In a major defeat for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Tennesseans yesterday voted to keep Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade and justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee in the retention elections. “What the numbers tell me is that the citizens of Tennessee have heard our story and have agreed with us that justice cannot be for sale in Tennessee and that partisan politics doesn’t have any place in the courtroom,” Clark said in Nashville. Lee agreed, stating, “I think this win is really not about us; it's about our system of justice in Tennessee. The people of Tennessee of have spoken loud and clear. ... They don’t want anybody coming into Tennessee and trying to buy our system of justice.” Ramsey issued a statement congratulating the three, saying the race raised awareness about the Supreme Court. "For the first time in decades, we had a real election for the Supreme Court. Our Supreme Court justices traveled the state of Tennessee this summer meeting Tennesseans and learning things about our state that you can't find in any law book," his statement said. The Commercial Appeal has more.

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Michael, Kyle and Weirich Win in Memphis Races

Three races in Memphis caught the state’s attention in Thursday’s elections. Shelby County Juvenile Court Special Judge Dan Michael was elected to the court’s top job with 54 percent of the vote, besting challenger Tarik Sugarmon in the race to become Juvenile Court judge. Michael will replace outgoing Judge Curtis Person, who is retiring. Sugarmon currently serves as Memphis City Court administrative judge. Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle claimed the open seat in Chancery Court Part II, besting three opponents to replace Chancellor Arnold B. Goldin, whose seat opened up when he was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Kyle has said that he would resign from the legislature if he won. A special election will be held this year to fill Kyle’s seat for the remaining two years of his four-year term. The Commercial Appeal has these stories. In the race for district attorney general, incumbent Amy Weirich garnered 65 percent of the vote over Joe Brown to retain the job she has held since January 2011 when Gov. Bill Haslam appointed her as the county’s first female district attorney. Weirich credited widespread support from all parts of town and from both parties. 

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Sen. Finney Announces Mayoral Run

Lawyer and state Sen. Lowe Finney told the Jackson Sun yesterday that he will run for mayor of Jackson in next May's election. Finney has served as state senator for eight years. He is not seeking re-election. Finney said that he and his wife, Tiffany, have been contemplating a run for mayor for several months.

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Republicans Duke It Out in Legislative Races

A fierce ideological civil war is playing out in some Tennessee Republican state legislative primary contests as tea party-style Republicans and traditional conservatives battle ahead of Thursday’s election, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press (subscription required). Money for independent expenditures poured in by super PACs on both sides has reached more than $300,000, the paper reports.

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Companies Unhappy with Rulings Donate to Defeat Justices

Tennessee corporations have donated at least $144,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) during this election cycle, although a full accounting will not be available until later this month. The largest donations reported were $25,000 from the Murfreesboro-based nursing home chain National HealthCare Corp., and $25,000 from Dorothy Scarlett, the wife of Tractor Supply retired CEO Joe Scarlett. Both companies have seen adverse rulings by the Tennessee Supreme Court and are mentioned in Sen. Ron Ramsey’s presentation that the justices are tough on business in the state. News Channel 5 has more on the story and a list of all donations given to RSLC through June.

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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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