Tag Archives: recuse

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.

Special Supreme Court Judges Questioned in Hooker v. Haslam

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.

Court of Appeals Judges Retreat from Hearing Hooker Lawsuit

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.

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Legislators Eye End to ‘Private Reprimands’ for Judges

Legislators are eyeing repeal of the state law that allows keeping the admonishments wayward judges receive secret and imposing stricter rules concerning when judges must bow out of a case when accused of a conflict of interest.
Judges say making public the “private reprimands” now handed out by the Court of the Judiciary would be a bad policy move, but acknowledge the Legislature could take such a step.
Changing the rules for recusal of a judge, which are now established by the state Supreme Court, also is criticized on policy grounds. But it could also be a violation of the state constitution, according to Chris Craft, presiding judge of the Court of the Judiciary (COJ).
Both proposals arose during recent hearings by an ad hoc committee appointed to review the COF and recommend changes to the 2012 legislative session. For much of the two days of hearings, the legislators listened to sometimes emotional complaints from citizens about judges they characterized as arrogant or abusive.
“I wish all the members (of the Legislature) could hear what we’ve heard,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet. “I think there is a need for serious change.”
Craft, who also is a Criminal Court judge in Memphis, defended the COJ during the proceedings. He said many of the complaints legislators heard — and the vast majority of all complaints received by COJ — are simply from

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