An ethics complaint has been filed with the state Board of Judicial Conduct against three sitting state Supreme Court justices who are running for new terms in the Aug. 7 retention election.
Basically, it accuses Justices Cornelia Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade of violating a judicial conduct rule against endorsing candidates – contending, more or less, that they have endorsed each other, at least implicitly, by campaigning together and appearing in pictures together.
Further, they are accused of violating a rule against using court facilities in campaigns, a reference to pictures of the Supreme Court building on campaign websites, taping a TV interview there and the like. And the complaint describes Keep Tennessee’s Supreme Court Fair, which a spokeswoman for the justices has described as an informal group working with the three judges’ individual campaigns, as “an unauthorized political organization” that runs afoul of other rules.
The complaint with attached exhibits, runs 106 pages, and was filed by George Scoville, who WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams bills as “a self-described political and media strategist” in a report on the filing. (Note: Full text HERE.)
Part of Scoville’s complaint, Williams notes,
faults the justice for allowing NewsChannel 5 into the Supreme Court chambers to shoot video about the plan to attack them. And he argues they should not have sat down together for a joint interview with NewsChannel 5, saying it created the appearance they were endorsing each other.
NewsChannel 5 reached out to Scoville, who would not identify his clients.
“I’m sorry, but I have strict confidentiality agreements with my clients, who are in the Washington, DC area,” Scoville said in an email. “I can say, however, that I am not currently servicing any clients related to any election for any public office at any level of government.”
Under Board of Judicial Conduct rules, all complaints against judges are treated as confidential. But in this case, the complaintant — Scoville — has made his filing public.
Scoville also has a blog post on the compliant, HERE. An excerpt:
Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Wade and Justices Clark and Lee have been using Court facilities and resources for campaign purposes. They have all appeared in public together, interceding into each others’ campaigns, a form of public endorsement of each other. They have also failed to stop each other from certain electioneering behaviors, which the Tennessee Supreme Court’s ethical canon compels them to do. While they are allowed to form their own campaign committees, and are prohibited themselves from directly soliciting donations from individuals, they have together been raising money through, and have paid monies for campaign services to, Keep Tennessee’s Supreme Court Fair, a secretive, unauthorized political organization. They and this organization have made repeated public overtures to the need to protect the independence of the judiciary, yet all three justices were appointed by a Democratic former governor of the state, and two of the three voted to appoint Tennessee’s Democratic attorney general. That Democratic attorney general is on record saying that controlling the partisan composition of the Court and the Office of the Attorney General has been a project of Democratic Party politics in Tennessee since the early 1970s. Keep Tennessee’s Supreme Court Fair is an organization run and staffed exclusively by Democrats and is using campaign vendors in the Washington, DC area who cater to Democrats exclusively. So when Chief Justice Wade and Justices Clark and Lee claim that they are campaigning to protect the judiciary’s independence, they are knowingly making false statements and misleading voters.