Former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn, who in 1971 signed a bill into law that changed the way the state selects appeals judges, on Friday said that enacting the bill was a mistake.
From The Tennessean:
“At the time I signed it, I felt constrained by many other issues,” Dunn said. “I regret signing the retention election bill.”
Those comments followed a hearing at the Tennessee Supreme Court in which attorney John Jay Hooker, merciless critic of judicial appointments, presented his argument that state law says appeals judges ought to be elected by voters, not appointed. It’s a position Hooker has championed in court but lost so many times that, some joke, everyone has lost count — even Hooker himself.
“If you want to wear those black robes, not just for this afternoon, you have to run for it, and run the risk of losing,” Hooker said in a theatrical performance, punctuated by finger wags and podium pounds. “It’s not fun to lose. I’ve become a professional at it.”
The judges were not the typical members of the state’s high. Instead, they were appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam after Hooker complained that the usual justices shouldn’t hear the case since they were all chosen through the current system.
Hooker, a former Democratic candidate for governor who lost to Dunn, has sued the state and asked the special court to reverse a 1973 decision, Higgins v. Dunn, which supported the current system.
…Attorney Janet Kleinfelter, representing the state, said it was not the first time but should be the last time the state defends the way appeals judges are elected, known formally as the Tennessee Plan.
Kleinfelter pointed out that the system has twice held up on appeal, and that other state supreme courts, such as Georgia’s, have concluded that appointing appeals judges is constitutional.
“This judicial system is entitled to finality,” Kleinfelter said.
NASHVILLE – John Jay Hooker has filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking the appointment of successors to three appeals court judges who plan to retire Aug. 31, 2014, contending move will wrongfully deny voters the right to make choices in the Aug. 7, 2014, election.
“They have created a situation so there will be no election for their seats,” said Hooker, 82, a lawyer and past candidate for multiple political offices who has waged a series of legal battles against the state’s judicial selection system. “The state Constitution requires that there be an election… They are unconstitutionally calling off an election.”
The state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, which will cease to exist at the end of this month, has announced plans to select nominees to fill the three appeal court seats before then and send them to Gov. Bill Haslam.
Those announcing plans to retire effective Aug. 31, 2014, are Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Cottrell of Nashville, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Joseph Tipton of Knoxville and Court of Appeals Judge Alan Highers of Memphis. The commission plans hearings June 27, 28 and 29 to select nominees.
Haslam intends to accept the nominations and make the appointments after “an appropriate amount of time” to review the nominees and make a decision, according to a gubernatorial spokesman.
Hooker’s lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Circuit Court, names Haslam, Tom Lawless, chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission, and state Attorney General Bob Cooper as defendants. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the commission submitting nominees and the governor acting on them.
Hooker said proceedings in the case will be before Circuit Court Judge Hamilton Gayden, who also presided over a separate recent Hooker lawsuit – one of several filed over the years – that challenged to system for selecting judges of the state Supreme Court and appeals courts.
Gayden ruled against Hooker on most points in that lawsuit, but found he was correct in one assertion – that the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals judges should be assigned districts for election rather than be elected in a statewide vote.
A specially appointed state Supreme Court will hear arguments July 19 on that case. The state’s sitting Supreme Court justices all recused themselves from hearing the case.
No hearing has been scheduled yet in the new Hooker lawsuit. A spokeswoman for Cooper said the attorney general’s office had not served with a copy of the lawsuit Wednesday and would have no comment.
– Note: Hooker filed a copy of this story, which appeared earlier in the News Sentinel and this blog, as an exhibit in his new lawsuit.
ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Hawkins County General Sessions Judge James “Jay” Taylor has received an additional one-year sentence in exchange for guilty pleas to six felony theft charges.
The Kingsport Times-News (http://bit.ly/SSDiXu) reports that a judge on Friday also ordered Taylor to pay $71,783 in restitution to victims in Hawkins County and serve 600 hours of community service.
Taylor is already serving a three-year jail sentence stemming from guilty pleas last month to similar charges in Davidson County.
The newspaper reports the charges in Hawkins County stem from money he took from clients in his private practice and from funds he raised to put a display in the courthouse lobby that contained the Ten Commandments.
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.
Two lawyers named to a state panel to decide whether Tennessee’s system for selecting judges meets constitutional muster also lead a group that lobbies against judicial elections, according to TNReport. George H. Brown and William Muecke Barker are both listed as board members of Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts, an organization that fights against “misguided individuals and groups … pushing to replace our merit based system with state-wide partisan elections.”
Brown and Barker, along with three other lawyers, were handpicked by Gov. Bill Haslam to decide a lawsuit brought by Tennessee’s most indefatigable critic of the state’s merit-based system of judicial selection, John Jay Hooker.
“(Haslam)’s thrown down the gauntlet,” said Hooker, a two-time candidate for governor who has been fighting this issue in court through various lawsuits since 1996. “He’s said these judges are my people. He’s kind of got me cut off at the pass.”
…A third lawyer Haslam selected to the special Supreme Court, Robert L. Echols, works for the Nashville law firm Bass, Berry and Simms. The telephone number listed on the Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts website rings at Bass, Berry and Simms. H. Lee Barfield, a member of the firm’s state government lobbying arm, is also a board member for TFIC and is past president of the organization.
…Haslam last month handpicked all five members of the Special Supreme Court to rule on the case, a task he said his staff carefully pondered given that the governor himself is a named defendant in the case. He’s standing by his appointees in the face of a push by Hooker to disqualify the trio for the appearance of bias.
“We could have just gone in there and appointed five people who thought exactly the same way. But I honestly feel like we worked to put together a very good panel,” Haslam told TNReport in Clarksville last week.
Gov. Haslam has made no secret of his own opposition to direct judicial elections in the past, saying he fears it would inject excessive and undue political influence into Tennessee’s judicial system. He asked lawmakers early this year to constitutionalize the current appointment-driven practice of selecting judges to clear up any confusion.
John Jay Hooker filed a motion on Tuesday in Davidson County Circuit Court asking Gov. Bill Haslam to disqualify three former members of the state Supreme Court whom the governor appointed to a panel to hear Hooker’s case, reports The Tennessean. Hooker, a spirited octogenarian attorney, has long assailed how state appellate judges are chosen. He holds that they should be elected by voters, not appointed, and says the state’s Constitution backs him up. The governor recently appointed a special panel to hear Hooker’s case after all the current Tennessee Supreme Court justices recused themselves from taking up the issue.
The appointees are former Tennessee Supreme Court justices, which, according to Hooker, means that “their impartiality might be reasonably questioned.”
Hooker, who has run for governor twice, wrote that the governor’s panel appointments “embarrassed the judicial system.”
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed a special Supreme Court to hear a case from which all five Tennessee Supreme Court justices have recused themselves.
The special appointees are a group of highly qualified and diverse legal minds representing the three grand divisions of the state. They come from all practice areas and have more than a century of experience. The governor’s appointees are: William M. Barker, who is currently Of Counsel at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C. in Chattanooga. Barker retired from the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2008 after a decade of service, three as Chief Justice. He began his service as a judge in 1983 when he was appointed Judge of the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial District. He received his bachelor of science from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga and his law degree from the University of Cincinnati. Andree Sophia Blumstein, who is a member at Sherrard & Roe, PLC in Nashville. She has extensive experience in civil appellate litigation and recently received the Tennessee Bar Association’s Joseph W. Henry Award for Outstanding Legal Writing. Blumstein graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s from Vassar College. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt School of Law, and she holds a Ph.D. in Germanic languages and literature from Yale University. George H. Brown Jr., who specializes in mediation and arbitration with Resolute Systems, LLC in Memphis. Brown retired in 2005 after serving 23 years as Circuit Court Judge of the 13th Judicial District. He served on the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1980. He received his bachelor’s from Florida A&M University and his law degree from Howard University School of Law. Robert L. Echols, who is a member at Bass, Berry & Sims in Nashville. Prior to joining the firm, Echols served as Judge of the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee for 18 years and as Chief Judge for seven of those years. He began his legal career as a law clerk for Chief U.S. District Judge Marion S. Boyd in Memphis. He received his bachelor’s from Rhodes College and his law degree from the University of Tennessee. W. Morris Kizer, who has practiced law for more than 35 years, most recently with Gentry, Tipton & McClemore, PC in Knoxville. Kizer also served as Law Director for the City of Knoxville from 2004 until 2008. He received his bachelor of arts from Vanderbilt University and law degree from the University of Tennessee College Of Law.
The special Supreme Court will decide any appeal of Hooker et al. vs. Haslam et al., a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Court of Criminal Appeals appointment by the governor.
— Note: Previous post HERE.
Eleven of Tennessee’s 12 Court of Appeals judges have declined to hear an appeal of John Jay Hooker’s latest effort to invalidate the state’s system for selecting appeals court judges.
Hooker, who has twice been the Democratic party nominee for governor and has run unsuccessfully for others offices as well, has crusaded against the judicial selection system since filing his first lawsuit against it in 1996. Two years later, a specially-appointed State Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the plan in a separate lawsuit with Hooker involved.
In February of this year, Hooker filed another lawsuit, contending Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointment of Jeff Bivens to the Court of Criminal Appeals last year violates that state constitution. Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Hamilton Gayden dismissed the lawsuit, known as Hooker vs. Haslam, in June.
In appealing the dismissal, Hooker also filed motions calling on the Court of Appeals judges, as well as Supreme Court justices, to recuse themselves from hearing the appeal. Since they were selected by the present system, they all have a conflict of interest in deciding whether they were properly seated, he contended.
News release from TBI:
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office have investigated a case against a former Hawkins County, Tenn. judge which has resulted in him being indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury on forty-one counts of theft.
Former Hawkins County General Sessions Court Judge James “Jay” Taylor, age 41, of Rogersville, Tenn. was indicted on 36 counts of theft more than $500 and less than $1,000, three counts of theft over $1,000 and two counts of theft less than $500. Taylor turned himself into authorities on the charges this morning and was booked into the Davidson County Jail.
Between September 15, 2010 and July 27, 2011, Taylor filed numerous false claims with the Administrative Office of the Courts requesting payment for services as appointed legal counsel in cases where he did not perform legal services.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation into allegations of bribery and theft against Taylor at the request of the 3rd Judicial District Attorney General’s Office in August of 2011. The theft offenses named in the indictments occurred in Davidson County where the Administrative Office of the Courts is located and are being prosecuted by the Davidson County District Attorney General’s Office and Tennessee Attorney General’s Office.
TBI’s investigation on Taylor in Hawkins County is currently open and ongoing. Taylor’s bond in the Davidson County Jail is set at $175,000.