ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — A judge has dropped six official misconduct charges against former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris.
The Johnson City Press reports that Judge John Kerry Blackwood ruled there was insufficient evidence to proceed with Harris’ trial, which started Monday.
It would have been Harris’ third trial. Two previous trials ended in hung juries.
During opening statements Monday, District Attorney General Tony Clark told jurors that county inmates were taken to property owned by Harris to bush hog it, mow it, cut wood and raze structures there.
Harris’ attorney said in court that Harris did not know the inmates were working on the property.
A grand jury in October 2011 indicted Harris on felony charges, including official misconduct, theft, criminal simulation, attempted aggravated assault and tampering with evidence.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he sees no need for any more gun legislation at the state level, but in general likes the idea advanced at the federal level of expanded background checks for firearm purchases.
“I think we’ve addressed the gun laws we need to (address) in Tennessee right now,” Haslam said in answering a question posed from the audience at the American Legion Auxiliary Volunteer Girls State.
He cited as a capstone of state gun laws legislation signed into law earlier this year that allows handgun permit holders to keep their weapons in a locked vehicle almost anywhere, including the parking lot of employers who prohibit guns on their property.
But at the federal level, the governor said he was open to at least one change.
“I think there has to be a better way to do background checks. … It makes sense and I think we can do it without infringing on people’s Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Asked to elaborate later by reporters, Haslam said sees no need for either expansion or restriction of gun rights in Tennessee.
“If it was my preference, there wouldn’t be any gun legislation brought up in the next (legislative) session,” he said. “Now, obviously, we’ve got 132 people (state legislators) who get to decide what they do. But for me, I think the status quo would be OK.”
He declined to give any specifics on background checks, including whether he would support ending what gun control advocates characterize as a the “gun show loophole” in current federal law. Though background checks are required for purchases at retail gun stores, they are not mandatory for sales at gun show events.
“I don’t have anything in mind,” he said. “I don’t know enough to be specific about that. … I think there are people into that who are further down that road than I am.”
And this from Andy Sher’s report on the governor’s comments: Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris on Tuesday called the new law (“guns in parking lots”) an “abomination” that needs to put right to protect gun owners as they commute to and from work.
Meanwhile, Harris said the group has more proposals on its agenda.
“Our to-do list has probably got 30 or so areas on it at this point,” he said. “We’ve always got a list of what do we want to change.”
One issue the group is interested in is what it calls “constitutional carry” law.
It says that as a citizen, Tennesseans don’t need to obtain a state-issued handgun-carry permit. Five states have such statutes while Kentucky has a modified version, Harris said.
Harris noted that during his 2010 campaign for governor, “Haslam said he didn’t mind and would sign” such legislation into law. Then, Harris said, Haslam “immediately flip flopped on that and he’s never flipped back into it.”
The Tennessean reports that the Tennessee Firearms Association plans to give away a Bushmaster AR-15 on Monday, subject to a background check for the winner of a drawing that Executive Director John Harris says has already pulled in more than 10,000 contestants. The promotion started on April 8, more than a week before the U.S. Senate voted down a proposal for expanded background checks that was promoted by the president and supported by 90 percent of Americans, according to most polls.
While Harris said the promotion had been planned for a while, the association’s website (main website HERE, gun giveaway page HERE) says the goal is “to advance the effort to resist Barack Obama, the federal government and even a few in Tennessee state government who are determined to destroy your 2nd Amendment rights!!” Supporters don’t have to give money to the association to enter the drawing, but they’re encouraged to “chip in a few dollars to help support the promotion and TFA!!!”
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, a Nashville gun control activist, said the timing of the promotion is disturbing…. “just four months after Newtown and in the middle of our country’s debate about gun safety is in-your-face insensitive… We have to balance the right to bear arms with the right to be safe. A gun giveaway right now inflames emotions and does not help us achieve that goal.”
…If thwarting federal legislation is the point of the giveaway, (former state Rep. Debra) Maggart said it makes little sense, because Tennessee’s mostly Republican congressional delegation reliably supports the Second Amendment. So do the Republicans who make up a supermajority in the General Assembly, she said.
“This may illustrate perfectly what I’ve been saying all along: They create these issues to raise money. That just stokes the fire to frighten folks.”
Maggart gave Harris credit for “good marketing,” however, after the political backlash against the Newtown massacre led many gun owners to fear it would be tougher to buy an AR-15. The gun actually became more expensive in some places, according to national reports.
“He’s playing into the fear that’s out there that the gun lobby has helped create,” she said.
Harris, an attorney, said many of the state’s Republican politicians aren’t as reliable as Maggart thinks they are. He said Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, Tennessee’s two GOP senators, are “not soundly, consistently pro-Second Amendment.” He called the so-called “guns-in-trunks” bill passed by the General Assembly this year “an abomination” and “a disaster” because it doesn’t explicitly protect people who keep their guns in their cars at work from losing their jobs.
Memphis City Councilman Lee Harris is pushing passage of a city ordinance that, as it stands, would declare the city cannot discriminate in hiring on the basis of race, age or gender, which is not very controversial. But Jackson Baker reports he’s also proposing an amendment that would add “sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”
...And that’s where some resistance could arise, both on the Council and in the city. Harris said Sunday night he thought most of the organized opposition in the city — “90 percent” — emanates from Cordova and specifically from Bellevue Baptist Church, where pastor Steve Gaines and church members have mounted a campaign against the ordinance.
As for the population at large,l Harris doesn’t foresee much objection to the inclusion of the sexual categories, loosely characterized by the initials LGBT (for “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered/transsexual”). “We wouldn’t be doing anything radical. We wouldn’t even be moving ahead much. We’d just be catching up,” said Harris, who said most major American cities have already moved to extend workplace protection to people in those categories.
Nor does Harris believe such an ordinance would be in conflict with legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2011 that prohibits local jurisdictions from passing anti-discrimination provisions at variance with those ordained by state law. Harris, who consulted legal authorities in and out of city government, said he was assured that, so long as his ordinance confined itself to municipal government and did not apply to “third party”employers, it would pass muster.
But Harris said his decision on whether to include the sexual categories in his anti-discrimination ordinance will be based solely on a simple practical test: “Do we have the votes? That’s it, pure and simple.” The ordinance will need 7 of the Council’s 13 votes to prevail.
And Harris was explicit on the subject. There are five Council members who would definitely support the more inclusive version of the ordinance, Harris said…Two other Council members — Wanda Halbert and Ed Ford — Harris counts as undecided, the swing voters on the issue.
While passion about gun rights contributed to the defeat of state Rep. and House Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart on Thursday, The Tennessean says her ouster may not dramatically change how the legislature addresses Second Amendment rights — at least not in the near future. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said the legislature and its leaders will try to respect the rights of property and gun owners when they consider this type of legislation next spring.
“We will always do what is best for the state of Tennessee,” Harwell said. “We are always open to discussion, but our job is to uphold the Constitution and do what’s best for the state.”
…And while Harwell said all of the state Republicans who won Thursday share common conservative principles, she said the all-out effort didn’t play well with lawmakers.
“Some members have been upset about how she was treated,” she said.
…John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said the reasons his group got involved went beyond a single bill.
“It dates back to the broader issue last year when she said that she had no intent of taking Second Amendment issues to the floor in an election year,” he said.
Harris expects the law to pass eventually, whether in the next General Assembly or another one with more receptive legislators. And he sent a not-so-veiled warning to GOP leaders that they should pay attention to what happened Thursday — even if some of Tennessee’s biggest businesses don’t like it.
“We hope this legislation won’t be derailed by leadership because of financial allegiances,” he said.
In a statement, Chris Cox, who leads the NRA’s Political Victory Fund, called Rogers’ win a great victory for the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
“The NRA will always champion Second Amendment rights in Tennessee and across the United States,” Cox said. “We look forward to working with Courtney Rogers and all of our supporters in Nashville during the next legislative session to help secure passage of the Safe Commute Act.”
John Geer, chairman of the political science department at Vanderbilt University, said… this race showed how the Republican-dominated legislature could end up taking more conservative positions than the people it represents, a finding that emerged in a poll Vanderbilt conducted in partnership with The Tennessean earlier this year.
“They’re not fearful of losing to a Democrat,” he said.
“They’re more afraid of losing to a more conservative candidate.”
A blogger’s report on the voting history of 488 Shelby County voters being erased — a move that could lead to purging their names from voter registration lists — has led to a local election commission investigation and a call for investigations at the state and federal level, reports Jackson Baker. Allegations from (blogger Bev) Harris last week that hundreds of Shelby County voters — almost all black Democrats — have had their voting history erased have put Election Commission officials on the defensive and prompted a demand from 9th District congressman Steve Cohen Sunday that the U.S. Department of Justice and Tennessee State Election Coordinator Mark Goins look into her charges.
“The ballot must remain free and open to all,” said Cohen, who had made similar requests for DOJ scrutiny following a glitch in the August 2010 countywide election that caused several hundred voters to be turned away, at least temporarily, after an erroneous early-voting list had been fed into the county’s electronic voting log.
Subsequently, a slate of losing Democratic candidates in that election filed suit to force new elections, and Harris was one of several consultants called in to aid the litigants. She helped prepare a comprehensive list of alleged irregularities but was not recognized as a proper authority by Chancellor Arnold Goldin, nor did attorneys for the plaintiffs avail themselves of her most sensational accusations, some of which imputed illegal intentions to the Election Commission. Goldin would ultimately dismiss the suit summarily.
Harris, whose Black Box Voting blog attempts to monitor election irregularities nationwide, has remained in touch with Shelby County Democrats who are appealing that decision and has stepped-up her attentions to local voting issues of late.
A month or so ago, she contacted members of the Shelby County Election Commission and the news media with a list of largely recycled allegations concerning the 2010 elections. These attracted little note, but she got everybody’s attention with her new charges last week that the prior voting history of 488 Shelby Countians, whom she listed by name, had been inexplicably erased on an Election Commission “all details” list of registered voters of a sort that is issued monthly. Almost all of the voters on the list were African American Democrats, and the absence of a voting history could make such voters legal fodder for a purge list, Harris said. Note: Harris blog HERE.
John Harris, president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, has issued a new attack on House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart following a House Republican Caucus vote Monday night – behind closed doors – to oppose efforts to bring the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill to a House floor vote.
A Maggart quote on Harris: “In my experience, weak men do not like strong women. I think that’s what this is all about.”
Here’s an excerpt from the Harris email to supporters: Rep. Debra Maggart has been identified by TFA and we understand by other grassroots organizations as the symbolic figure of a Republican legislative leadership that has trampled on the 2nd Amendment rights of citizens these last two (2) years, that has made knowing misrepresentations to the citizens regarding their support and that of the caucus for the 2nd Amendment and the rights of citizens, and that demonstrated an unsettleing willingness to abuse the rules to defeat legislation on grounds other than the merits in open recorded floor votes.
Rep. Debra Maggart’s political career needs to end much as the Romans crucified criminals – not just to end her tenure but as a glaring example to other Republicans that you cannot take the grassroots groups or the rights of citizens for granted and then put your hand out to Big Business for their support all the while expecting to be re-elected. Symbolicly, it is time to display a used crucifix at the entrance to the General Assembly as a warning. Rep. Debra Maggart’s race is not a race limited now to the 45 District from which she claims power. Her race is a statewide race for constitutional conservatives to stand up from all 99 districts and proclaim we will not be taken for granted and we will not have our rights as citizens sold for a measure of silver.
Rep. Maggart has a primary challenger in the Republican Primary. The challenger is Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers . Lt. Col. Rogers is raising the funds necessary to offset the enourmous Maggart warchest that we can assume has been funded in many respects by Big Business and related interests. Lt. Col. Rogers’ campaign is asking every firearms owner and conservative in the State who has been taken for granted by Debra Maggart and her peers to contribute “$45 for the 45 District”. It is interesting that the 45 is the caliber that has been used in the handguns of patriots and our armed forces for more than a century to defend the freedoms we cherish in this country. If just 10 percent of the 340,000+ handgun permit holders could make that small effort it would practically ensure that the voices of conservatives would no longer be taken for granted by the elected Republican leadership in Tennessee.
News release from Smith Harris & Carr, Fisher and Associates:
The Nashville-based government relations firm of Smith Harris & Carr is pleased to announce an alliance with the Chattanooga public policy company of Fisher and Associates.
Smith Harris & Carr (SHC), formerly Smith Johnson Anderson & Carr, dates back to 1980. It is among Tennessee’s most respected providers of professional government relations services and represents a wide variety of clients including HCA, Ingram Industries Inc., Johnson & Johnson and a variety of professional associations.
Fisher and Associates is owned by Doug Fisher of Chattanooga. Fisher is a veteran government affairs professional, congressional district director and business owner. Although Fisher’s time will be split between Nashville, Atlanta and Chattanooga, he will be based in Chattanooga.
News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation:
Knoxville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation presented additional evidence to the Unicoi County Grand Jury today which resulted in additional charge against Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris. His attorney was served with another criminal summons this afternoon.
The Unicoi County grand jury indicted Harris on an additional count of official misconduct for using his county computer in November of 2011 to produce letters intended to solicit funds to pay his attorney fees. In October of 2011, the grand jury indicted Harris on six counts of official misconduct, one count of theft over $1,000, one count of tampering with evidence, one count of criminal simulation and one count of attempted aggravated assault. TBI began the investigation into allegations of misconduct made against Harris in September of 2010 after being requested by the 1st Judicial District Attorney General’s Office.
Harris is scheduled to appear in court on March 27, 2012 at 9:00 am for an initial appearance on the new charge. A July 2012 trial date set been set for the theft and criminal simulation charges.
Nearly three months after a Unicoi County grand jury indicted Sheriff Kent Harris on 10 felony charges, the county is maintaining a “wait-and-see” approach on what to do about the sheriff, reports the Johnson City Press. County officials are still waiting on action from the state attorney general’s office before making any moves of their own regarding Harris’ position, according to County Mayor Greg Lynch.
“It’s not anything that’s dead in the water,” Lynch said. “It’s on hold right now.”
In late October, the County Commission heard from County Attorney Doug Shults who, at that time, told the commission that he had received information from District Attorney General Tony Clark that the state attorney general’s office was looking into civil actions relative to Harris’ removal from office.
On Oct. 14, a grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, theft over $1,000, criminal simulation and attempted aggravated assault.
Ouster proceedings can be initiated by the state attorney general’s office, the district attorney general’s office or the county. Should the County Commission seek the ouster, the costs associated with the proceedings would fall to the county.