News

Alexander, Ball Agree to Candidate Forum

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic challenger Gordon Ball will both attend a candidate forum hosted by the Tennessee Farm Bureau Oct. 16, Nooga.com reports. The forum will be held at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville on the same day early voting begins.

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Sen. Summerville Arrested for Public Intoxication

Outgoing state Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, was arrested on one count of public intoxication last Friday, the Tennessean reports. Officers responded after witnesses said an intoxicated male was walking down the street with a lawn chair. Summerville was booked at the Dickson County jail and released on $2,000 bond. He also was cited for carrying an open container. Summerville was first elected to the state legislature as a Republican in 2010 and lost his primary re-election bid in August. His term is scheduled to end in January.

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Panel Begins Discussion of Criminal Justice Reforms

Legislators and law enforcement officials are talking about criminal justice reform this week, WRCB reports. The Senate Judiciary Study Committee met today at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville to start the work. Presenters were to include Tennessee Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, as well as city and police officials, district attorneys and criminal justice advocates. 

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Slatery Named New Tennessee AG

Herbert Slatery has been unanimously selected the new Tennessee Attorney General by the state Supreme Court. Slatery is currently chief legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam. Prior to that appointment, he was in private practice in Knoxville with Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis PC for 30 years. A Knoxville native, Slatery earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and law degree from the University of Tennessee. The Nashville Post reports Slatery said he was humbled and "profoundly grateful" for the apppointment and promised "no quick wholesale changes" to the office. Soon after the announcement current Attorney General Robert Cooper released a statement congratulating his successor and expressing his gratitude to those who served with him.

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Ramsey Cites Favorites for AG, Comments on Election

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he is monitoring the attorney general selection process and has talked to three of the candidates – Republicans Doug Overbey, Herbert Slatery and Bill Young. “Between those three … I don’t have a favorite. I hope [the justices] just choose the most qualified one.” Speaking to The Nashville Scene and other reporters for the first time since his unsuccessful campaign to unseat three of the state’s Supreme Court justices, Ramsey praised the court for holding an open hearing of the candidates, but was critical that the final decision is going to be made “behind closed doors.” Ramsey also talked about the judicial selection vote, saying, “The people spoke. That’s what it’s all about. Their message that we don’t want partisan politics in the judiciary won out, even though I do think that’s almost comical because I do believe there’s partisan politics in the judiciary.”

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Appeals Court Reinstates Defamation Suit Against Campfield

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reinstated a defamation lawsuit against Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield yesterday, finding that the lower court erred in throwing out the $750,000 lawsuit filed by former Roger Byrge, a Democratic candidate for the state House in 2008. The appellate panel also found that the facts of the case might justify a finding of “actual malice” by Campfield, the Johnson City Press reports. The case stems from a blog post Campfield wrote claiming that Byrge had multiple drug arrests and that the mug shots were “gold.” It was later determined the arrest record belonged to Byrge’s son. Campfield was defeated in the Republican primary last month but his term does not end until after the general election in November.

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Howell Takes Oath as New State Representative

Republican Dan Howell of Cleveland was sworn in early as the new state representative for House District 22 in a ceremony yesterday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee administered the oath of office in the House chamber. Howell will fill the two months remaining in the term of former Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who was elected Bradley County sheriff and took office earlier this month. Howell won the GOP primary and faces no opposition in the Nov. 4 general election.

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Kyle Gets Democratic Nod, Will Face GOP's Flinn

Shelby County Democratic Party leaders yesterday selected Sara Kyle as the party's nominee in the special election for state Senate District 30. Kyle is the wife of Jim Kyle, who resigned the seat when he was elected to the Shelby County Chancery Court in August. She also is a former member of the Shelby County Public Service Commission and the Tennessee Regulatory Authority Commission. Kyle beat former Democratic state Sen. Beverly Marrero by two votes. Former Memphis City Council member and state Rep. Carol Chumney had applied for the nomination but withdrew just before balloting began. Kyle will face former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn, who was selected by Republican Party leadership. Local party members were tasked with choosing nominees because there was not time for a primary election under state law. The Memphis Daily News has more.

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Sen. Norris: Attack on Supremes Leaves ‘Bad Taste’ for Amendment 2

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says that last month’s heated fight to unseat three Supreme Court justices has likely shot Amendment 2 in the foot, the Nashville Post reports. Aggressive advertising aimed at unseating the justices in the August primary election hurt both those who wanted to push out the justices and those urging voters to constitutionalize much of the state’s method of selecting them, he said. “If you get an ad that says, ‘Oh, we don’t want this in Tennessee,’ when that’s exactly a plateful of what we were just served, that can backfire,” Norris stated.

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Rep. Howell to be Sworn in Monday

Dan Howell will be sworn in during an official ceremony on Monday as the new state representative for House District 22, filling the remaining term of Republican Rep. Eric Watson, the Chattanoogan reports. The ceremony will be at 1 p.m. in the House chamber in Nashville. Howell won the Republican primary for the seat in May and will not face a Democrat challenger in November.

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Kyle Seeks AG Opinion on Succession

State Sen. Jim Kyle is asking the Tennessee Attorney General for a legal opinion on how the process will work for putting his Senate seat on the November ballot and how party nominees should be chosen. Kyle is leaving the legislature two years into a four-year term after he was elected this month to the Chancery Court. In seeking the opinion, Kyle cites “the confusion and the ambiguity of the statute” that governs the process. In related news, the Shelby County Democratic Party executive committee had been set to select a nominee for the Senate seat tomorrow but have put off that meeting until more guidance is available. The Memphis Daily News has both stories.

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Witnesses Announced for Criminal Justice Hearing

State Sen. Brian Kelsey today released the names of 26 witnesses scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 15-16 regarding proposed state criminal justice reforms. The witnesses include Attorney General Robert Cooper, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams, TBI Director Mark Gwyn, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Parole Board Chair Richard Montgomery, and several academics, mayors, district attorneys, public defenders, attorneys and law enforcement officers. See the full list on Chattanoogan.com.

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Tracy Concedes Primary to DesJarlais

State Sen. Jim Tracy today conceded the Fourth Congressional District Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, giving up on a nearly two-year campaign that he lost by just 38 votes. While he said he saw evidence that the race was even closer, Tracy said he did not want to hurt the party by prolonging the election any further. The Tennessean reports that while Tracy did not explicitly endorse DesJarlais, he made his loyalty to the party clear. DesJarlais will face Democrat Lenda Sherrell in the November general election.

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GOP Lawyers ‘Eyeing Possibility’ of AG Appointment

A recent article in the Tennessee Journal suggests that a number of Republican lawyers are “eyeing the possibility of becoming the first Tennessee attorney general to carry the party’s label since Reconstruction.” Among those being mentioned as challengers to AG Robert Cooper are Bill Young, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts; Herbert Slatery, counsel to the governor; state Sen. Doug Overbey; Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris; Tom Lawless, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments; and Safety Commissioner and former Memphis district attorney Bill Gibbons. Of the group, only Overbey has said he plans to apply, according to the journal. Knoxnews reporter Tom Humphrey also looks at the topic, suggesting that the justices likely will have to evaluate attorney general candidates through a political lens and select the applicant in their best political interest.

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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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