Oak Ridge Republican Randy McNally, first elected to the state Senate in 1986, says he has decided to seek reelection to another four-year term believing “there are a number of things sort of left undone” — notably including “reform of our state judiciary.”
“It seems the system now is more for the protection of criminals and the enrichment of trial lawyers and not for protection of the public,” he said.
McNally and state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, had earlier announced plans to propose legislation requiring drug testing of all judges, citing legal challenges to convictions in the killings of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom after revelations that the trial judge, Richard Baumgartner, was abusing narcotics. The judge later resigned and pleaded guilty to drug-related charges.
After further review, McNally said last week the draft bill will be revised to avoid potential legal problems. Instead of simply mandating drug testing of judges, the legislation will allow either side in a court case to request a drug test for the judge to preside at a trial. If the judge refuses, he or she would then have to step aside and have another judge appointed to hear the case, McNally said.
The senator said he also wants to push legislation providing more scrutiny and new restrictions on state funding of criminal defense lawyers, citing a 2011 News Sentinel report that a dozen attorneys were members of a “$100,000 club” in billing for fees of more than that amount in one year. McNally said he thinks there are now lawyers in a “$1 million club.”
One proposed McNally bill: If a conviction is overturned because an appeals court finds the defendant had “inadequate legal counsel,” the lawyer providing that legal counsel would have to reimburse the state for all fees he or she was paid. The attorney could also be barred from getting fees in other cases.
“If the defense was inadequate, why don’t we (taxpayers) have a right to try and get our money back?” McNally said.
Further, the senator said he wants to push for a legislative change to court procedural rules that allow defense attorneys to “trash the victim (of a crime) just for the hell of it” while court decisions restrict remarks a prosecutor can make about a defendant.
McNally, who will turn 70 next month and chairs the Senate Finance Committee, had until last week voiced indecision about seeking a new term. He has served as a legislator since 1979 — first in the House and then in the Senate, where he is third in seniority. The state’s senior senator, Democrat Douglas Henry of Nashville, has announced he will not seek re-election next year and Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, second in seniority, has said he might seek election as a judge instead of a new Senate term.