News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Randy Boyd will join his administration as special advisor to the governor for Higher Education to focus on affordability, access and quality of state programs.
Boyd will consult with a formal working group appointed by Haslam made up of the governor, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), and president of the University of Tennessee. Although Boyd’s position will be full-time, he will be working for the state on a voluntary, unpaid basis.
Parties in a lawsuit challenging how high-ranking Tennessee judges are selected are presently more wrapped up in who will rule on the case than the merits of the case itself, observes Andrea Zelinski. Gov. Bill Haslam last week appointed three new members to a Special Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit against him challenging the constitutionality of how the state has picked judges over the past four decades. Haslam’s earlier appointees stepped down after John Hay Hooker, a longtime political gadfly behind the lawsuit, pressured them to recuse themselves for having ties to an organization that lobbies against popularly electing judges.
Now, another special justice, W. Morris Kizer, has revealed that he donated to Haslam’s campaigns for Knoxville mayor in 2003 and governor in 2010. Kizer’s household gave $3,000 to Haslam’s gubernatorial campaign, according to campaign records.
Kizer insists his political donations don’t “constitute a basis for disqualification,” but Hooker contends every link is suspect.
“It’s like a football game between the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt,” said Hooker, an 82-year-old former Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate who today is asking the Special Supreme Court to take up his case. “Do you want the referee to be a graduate from the University of Tennessee or Vanderbilt? That’s a no-no.”
…”If you ask anybody if they’re alive and human, they have an opinion about things,” Haslam said last week before naming the three new members to the panel. “That’s different than having a conflict. I think anybody that we will appoint will understand that difference and will make sure there’s no conflicts.”
Appeals judge Alan Glenn, chairman of the Judicial Ethics Committee, said the governor’s interpretation is correct. The tricky part, he said, is defining what conflicts can “reasonably” be questioned.
“Like defining what’s fairness and what’s beauty, everyone has their own ideas,” he said. “What is reasonably questioned impartiality? Everyone has their own views on it.”
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed three new attorneys to the Special Supreme Court to hear a case from which all five Tennessee Supreme Court justices have recused themselves.
The new special appointees join two previous appointees to make up a group of highly qualified and diverse legal minds representing the three grand divisions of the state. The governor’s new appointees are:
J. Robert Carter, Jr. is a criminal court judge in Shelby County, elected Judge of Division III in August 2010 after serving as an assistant district attorney general for 26 years before his election. Carter graduated magna cum laude from Christian Brothers College with bachelor’s degrees in English and Humanities. He received his J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphries School of Law.
James R. Dedrick retired in 2010 from the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he had served since 1993 as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. He began his career with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1983 and was a federal prosecutor for drug, corruption, white collar, tax and other felony investigations and trials. He received his Bachelor of Science degree with honors from East Tennessee State University and graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law with honors.
Monica N. Wharton serves as the chief legal counsel for the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, overseeing the risk management and legal affairs department since 2008. Wharton previously worked at the law firm, Glankler Brown PLLC, practicing in the circuit, chancery and federal court systems. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, graduating with honors, and she earned her J.D. from William & Mary School of Law.
Carter, Dedrick and Wharton join Andrée Sophia Blumstein and W. Morris Kizer on the Special Supreme Court. Blumstein and Kizer were originally appointed in July with three other appointees who recused themselves in late August. The Special Supreme Court will decide any appeal of Hooker et al. v. Haslam et al., a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Court of Criminal Appeals appointment by the governor.
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.
Attorneys for both the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission contend in legal briefs filed last week, that the 2011 law clearing the way for new special school districts in Shelby County violates the state constitution.
The trial starts this week and the Commercial Appeal has a setup story outlining the constitutional arguments. (A previous ruling by Judge Hardy Mays) dismissed challenges by the council and commission that Norris and Todd’s Public Chapter 1 was illegal because it was special legislation applying only to Shelby County. But Mays specifically asserted he was dealing only with the law’s first two clauses in making that determination; those related specifically to the timing and process of transferring administration and operations of a special school district like MCS to the county.
Mays declined to consider challenges to the third clause in Public Chapter 1 — (b)(3) — because he said they were not yet “ripe.” The clause says “after the effective date of the transfer of administration” that “the restrictions imposed on the creation of municipal school districts and special school districts shall no longer apply in such county.”
Mays wrote in an order in July that (b)(3) was now, indeed, ripe.
Laws passed by the state in 1982 and 1998 created a ban on the creation of any new special or municipal districts in any of the state’s 95 counties. The commission and council are now asserting the (b)(3) clause is invalid because it seeks to “contravene” or “repeal” that more general ban only in very specific cases in a certain few counties.
They also intend to prove the 2011 and 2012 laws represent “special” legislation in violation of Article 11, Section 8 of the state constitution because it grants special privileges to the eight Tennessee counties where special school districts exist but not to the other 87.
“The Challenged Acts suspend the general law of Tennessee for a select few,” write the commission attorneys from the firm of Baker Donelson.
They also claim a violation of Article 11, Section 9 in the acts because they did not require countywide local approval despite being “local in effect” to only Shelby County.
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.
Gov. Bill Haslam is a designated defendant in John Jay Hooker’s latest lawsuit on challenging the legality of the state system for selecting appeals court judges which, of course, involves the governor appointing judges.
Now the regular state Supreme Court judges have recused themselves from hearing Hooker’s appeal of the case – and Haslam has appointed five special Supreme Court judges to replace them. Is that a conflict of interest? TNReport reports: “We talked with our legal counsel about that,” the governor said after a higher education discussion at Scripps Network in Knoxville Tuesday.
“If the existing Supreme Court recuses themselves, somebody has to appoint them and that’s the governor’s role under the Constitution in the state of Tennessee,” he said.
The matter has been simmering in the background for years, with Hooker, an outlying but ever-enduring fixture on Tennessee’s political scene, tending the flame. The subject of judicial elections has taken on renewed prominence in the past couple years, as many majority-party Republican lawmakers have said they are committed to reconciling the practice of selecting judges with the state Constitution, which they see as at odds with one another.
Hooker told TNReport this week he knew from the get-go Haslam would have to choose members for the special court. But he says he has the right to question and challenge those appointments, for example that of William Barker, a retired Supreme Court justice.
“How can he possibly be impartial in the matter?” Hooker said. “He’s got a vested interest.
What is the difference in his interest as a former member of the Supreme Court or the sitting member on the Supreme Court?”
The court system so far has no timeline for when the case would be heard, according to Casey Mahoney, the court system spokeswoman.
House Speaker Beth Harwell is also named in the lawsuit. Her office says there’s nothing worrisome about the governor appointing judges on the court to hear the case.
“It is a statutory duty of the governor to appoint a special state Supreme Court in instances such as this, and literally no one else in the state is given such authority,” said spokeswoman Kara Owen. “There is no reason to expect that this panel would be anything but fair and impartial in the proceedings.”
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.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
KNOXVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he doesn’t believe Democratic lawmakers’ request for a special session to discuss using surplus state revenues to halt tuition increases is “wise planning for the state.”
The legislators told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that lawmakers would like a session to be held in August, possibly before students return to school.
They also want to uses the state surplus to drop the sales tax on groceries below 5.25 percent. Haslam included funding in his budget to reduce the sales tax from 5.5 percent.
But the governor told The Associated Press before a meeting of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees on Thursday that there are many other issues to be addressed, such as dealing with uncertain costs associated with federal health care, which he said could be more than $200 million.
“I’m not sure I see the wisdom in having a knee-jerk special session right now when there a so many things on the board for us to consider when it comes to the budget,” said Haslam, who also serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees. “I don’t think that would be wise planning for the state.”
News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Senate and House Democrats called on Governor Bill Haslam Wednesday to convene a special legislative session to freeze tuition rates and cut the food tax, using part of the $225 million in excess revenues the state has collected.
“Now is the time to provide tax relief for all Tennesseans, especially those who are training for new jobs that require a college degree,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “If we’re serious about growing jobs and putting people back to work, then we shouldn’t be raising fees on people who want to work.”
Caucus leaders calculated that, based on numbers provided by the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee, $78 million of the excess revenues would cover all proposed tuition increases at state colleges and universities. Democrats made the announcement as UT trustees met to discuss an average 6 percent tuition increase.
The Board of Regents, which oversees six state universities as well as community colleges and technology centers, proposed similar tuition increases last week.
“It is wrong to tax people who are going into debt to improve their lives,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle. “A tuition increase is simply a tax on students. The money is there. The question is whether the political courage on the other side is also there.”
Democrats also pushed for an additional 1 percent decrease to the sales tax on groceries, which would provide $85 million in tax relief for all Tennesseans. Lawmakers reduced the sales tax by .25 percent during the regular session, meaning Tennesseans would save only 25 cents per $100 of groceries.
“We can provide Tennesseans four times the amount of tax relief in a matter of days,” said Senator Tim Barnes of Clarksville. “It would mean a lot to people in my district who are barely making ends meet as it is.”
The remaining $62 million in excess revenues would go into state reserves.
“This is about providing real results to every Tennessean and telling college students of all ages that we support them,” Finney said. “That’s the message that should be coming from every lawmaker’s office, regardless of political party.”
Note: Asked for comment on the Democrats’ proposal, Haslam spokesman David Smith emailed this: We want to be sure we have a complete picture of what our budget commitments will look like before we interrupt the budget process and start spending funds in an ad hoc way. There are still unknown expenses out there that a comprehensive budgeting process accounts for – such as TennCare inflation or fully funding the BEP. Also, providers have been saying they can’t pay the hospital assessment fee forever. Regarding higher education, the governor has said and continues to believe we need to focus on higher education in Tennessee, and examining the cost structure is certainly part of that process. That shouldn’t be done from a quick-fix perspective.
-The operating budget for state higher education was not reduced in the upcoming fiscal year for the first time in recent memory
-the budget includes $342.6 million in campus improvements and maintenance