Three Special Supremes Bow Out of Hooker Case

Three of the five special Supreme Court judges selected by Gov. Bill Haslam to serve in deciding a challenge to Tennessee’s judge selection system have decided they won’t serve after all.
William M. “Mickey” Barker of Chattanooga, George H. Brown Jr. of Memphis and Robert L. Echols of Nashville recused themselves Friday from hearing a lawsuit brought by John Jay Hooker.
Barker and Brown have served on the state Supreme Court in the past and Echols is a former U.S. District Court judge. The impartiality of all three was questioned by Hooker, who noted they all have been involved in a group called Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts, which supports the present system for picking the state’s top judges that is under attack in the lawsuit.
“Although the undersigned special judges have not formed an opinion about the constitutionality of the contested language of the Tennessee Constitution governing the election of appellate judges, they find that it is of utmost importance to protect the integrity of this court and to avoid allegations challenging the independence, partiality or fairness in its decision making process, and opinions,” says a recusal order signed by Barker, Brown and Echols.
Hooker, 80, a lawyer and perennial candidate for various political offices, has contended for years that the present system violates the state constitution. A Davidson County judge dismissed Hooker’s latest lawsuit on the issue in June, but he has appealed to the Supreme Court.
All five members of the regular Supreme Court recused themselves earlier in response to motions filed by Hooker saying they could not be impartial in ruling on the system that put them in office. In accord with state law in such cases, Haslam named the five special justices to hear Hooker’s appeal.
The recusal leaves Haslam to appoint three more special judges while Hooker also is questioning the impartiality of the remaining two special judges, Nashville attorney Andrée S. Blumstein and W. Morris Kizer, a former Knoxville city law director.
A Haslam spokesman said the governor is “disappointed that three of the appointees felt it necessary to recuse themselves based on a perceived conflict of interest, but he understands their decision and appreciates their initial willingness to serve.

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