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.
Five former state employees have been accused of abusing patients at Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute and the TBI is investigating, according to WSMV-TV. “If those vulnerable patients are being mistreated by state employees, harmed or injured, we need action,” said State Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville.
…The five former employees (not named in the report) are accused of abusing two patients, one of them confirmed by the I-Team to be Matthew McDougal of Brentwood.
The termination records read that in two separate instances, once in April, and another in May, employees inflicted bodily injuries on McDougal and the other patient.
The reported abuse occurred in the forensic services program, where some of the most at-risk patients are located.
“If a patient is abused in that situation, there’s a failure of the system,” said Jeff Fladen, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
A spokeswoman for the TBI confirms on May 23, some 22 days after the last reported abuse, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health, which oversees the institute, asked the TBI to investigate.
The five employees were then fired the next month.
A crisis is brewing in the federal judiciary that experts say could jeopardize fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, reports the Chattanooga TFP. “I’ve worked in all three branches of government and the private sector,” said U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice. “I have never been involved in any organization either public or private in which the workload has so far exceeded the resources that are allotted to do that job.”
Across-the-board budget cuts of 8 percent brought on by the sequester have meant hiring freezes, unfilled positions, training and travel expenses cut for what many call an already overworked portion of federal government.
The sequester is just the latest of decades-long trends of broadening federal courts’ responsibilities yet underfunding to carry out their congressional mandate, Mattice said.
But at stake are far more than layoffs, furloughs and heavier workloads, as important as those are to the people involved. The very heart of the American judicial system could be on the line, Mattice and others said.
…”Do I have to dismiss cases if we cannot pay for defender services?” Mattice said.
Though judges, court clerks and prosecutors all feel the pinch, public defenders have it worse.
Beth Ford is the federal community defender for the eastern district. Her office represents indigent criminal defendants in federal court. The task is a constitutionally-guranteed right of citizens accused of crimes.
The looming budget, due in September, looks like a “perfect storm” for defender services, she said.
“We will have a 23 percent decrease in proposed budget funding,” Ford said.
That means this year’s already reduced annual budget of $5.8 million would decline to $4.5 million. Ford avoided furloughs and layoffs this fiscal year by foregoing 401(k) contributions to her staff. That’s not likely next year, she said.
Other defender’s offices across the nation have already begun layoffs and furloughs, she said.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said he’d met recently with district judges and U.S. Attorney Bill Killian about the problems they’re facing.
“They are making do with less and I commend them,” Fleischmann.
…Killian is down three assistant U.S. attorneys in his criminal division. The 33 remaining attorneys resolved more than 900 cases in the district spanning from the Virgina-Tennessee border to Chattanooga.
The office handles more than 1,800 ongoing cases a year among its three branches in Greeneville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.
… The district comes in at the top of per capita caseloads and prosecutions when compared to others across the United States, he added.
His criminal division attorneys average 387 hours a year of unpaid overtime each. And the eight civil division attorneys average 295 such hours.
News release from state Department of Labor and Workforce Development:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced today Tennessee’s preliminary unemployment rate for June is 8.5 percent, which increased two tenths of one percentage point from the May revised rate of 8.3 percent. The national unemployment rate for June 2013 was 7.6 percent, unchanged from the previous month.
Tennessee’s June unemployment rate increased to 8.5 percent.
Over the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased from 8.2 percent to 8.5 percent.
Total nonfarm employment decreased 16,500 jobs from May to June.
The largest decreases occurred in government, manufacturing, and health care/social assistance.
Over the year, nonfarm employment increased 32,000 jobs. The largest increases were in professional/business services, leisure/hospitality, and retail trade.
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (July 17, 2013) – The Tennessee Black Caucus released the following statement in response to the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida:
“This was a disappointing verdict that just goes to show we have a long way to go until all Americans enjoy true equal protection under the law,” said Rep. Larry Miller, Chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus. “While we mourn and pray with the Martin family, we must also work hard to stop this from happening to innocent children here in Tennessee.”
On Sunday July 14, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators released a statement of support for the Martin family and reiterated the NBCSL opposition to so-called “stand your ground” laws across the country. In December of 2012, NBCSL ratified resolution LJE-13-06 “urging state legislatures that have adopted ‘Stand Your Ground’ or ‘Shoot First’ laws to reform or repeal them and we also support the review and investigation by the United States Department of Justice referencing the Zimmerman case.”
In a speech to the Republican Statesman’s Dinner fundraiser last weekend, Gov. Bill Haslam declared that Tennesseans have “elected the best legislature that we have in the country.”
From TNReport, which has a video of the governor’s remarks: “Those supermajorities (in both the House and Senate) help make the governor a lot smarter,” he said.
Haslam added, “One of the things I am most proud of with this Legislature is that we are all about producing results. Tennessee in the last year has led the Southeast in job-creation and is fourth in the nation.”
News release from Tennessee Education Lottery:
NASHVILLE–Marking its ninth straight year of record sales, the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation today announced totals for the just-ended Fiscal Year 2013, including an all-time high of $339.7 Million in proceeds raised for state education programs, an impressive five percent increase over last year’s then-record $323.4 Million. The Lottery’s strong performance produced approximately $16.2 Million more to be used for education-related funding in Tennessee.
The Lottery also reported $1.36 Billion in total sales for FY 2013, a hefty increase of $56.3 Million over last year’s previous sales records of $1.31 Billion. The totals posted span the fiscal year from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.
Total Lottery funding for education-related programs in Tennessee–including funds used for scholarships, grants, and after-school programs–now exceeds $2.73 Billion since ticket sales began in January 2004.
After the controversial removal of William “Chink” Brown from the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission in February, Gov. Bill Haslam has finally appointed a replacement, reports Nooga.com David Watson, an executive and part owner of Mountain View Ford Lincoln in Chattanooga, will serve out the remainder of Brown’s term as the District 4 representative on the TFWC. The TFWC is the governing body over the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The 13 members have authority over hunting, fishing and boating regulations in Tennessee.
In the letter notifying Watson of his appointment, the governor wrote, “In the thorough and aggressive search for candidates, your individual characteristics and professional qualifications were exceptional among the number of nominees who expressed interest.”
Watson’s appointment will last until February 2015; however, insiders think it is possible that Watson will be reappointed for another six-year term at that point, although that is not guaranteed.
Nichole “Nikki” Goesner first appeared on the Tennessee political stage during the 2009 debate over “guns in bars” legislation, invited by a state senator to tell the story of how her husband was killed in cold blood as she watched and how she has wished ever since that she had a pistol in her purse on that night.
“Had I not been disarmed, I could have had a chance to save Ben,” she writes as she retells the story in the recently published book “Denied a Chance: How Gun Control Helped a Stalker Murder My Husband.”
In her mind, Goesner writes, she constantly replayed scenarios in which she would have acted differently if the .38 she was licensed to carry had been with her. It was left in her car because state law at the time forbade carrying a gun into a restaurant where alcohol was served.
She was there to help her husband, as a second job in the evenings, run a karaoke operation. He was setting up the equipment when she spotted the man who had been stalking her, she writes, and asked the manager to evict him. The manager was talking with him when the man turned, unzipped his jacket, pulled a .45 from underneath his coat and shot her husband, who fell on the first blast and then was shot another five times.
Atlanta TV station WXIA has interviewed Gov. Bill Haslam about Georgia’s push to revise its border with Tennessee. An excerpt: Not surprisingly, Haslam says he likes the status quo – and has only a passing interest in Georgia’s claim to a piece of the Tennessee River.
“We’re very satisfied with the situation the way it is now for, good reason,” Haslam said.
Q: Do you think Georgia has any busines accessing the Tennessee river?
Halsam: “Well, that’s for somebody beyond my capacity. Ask that to an engineer or somebody who can answer that.”
Q: Well, surveyors say that they do.
A: Yeah. Again, it’s not an issue I spend a whole lot of time focused on.
Haslam says he’s aware that the Georgia legislature passed a resolution calling for the state to sue Tennessee to change the state line to the 35th parallel-if Georgia can’t access the river.
The resolution proposes, as a potential compromise, that Tennessee cede a one-square-mile piece of land that would give Georgia geographical access to the Tennessee River and Nickajack Lake.
This week, Georgia governor Nathan Deal said he would approach Haslam at a conference of Republican governors about negotiations.
“I think there is an opportunity to at least have a civil discussion about that issue,” Deal said.
— Hat tip: TNReport, which has a video of the TV station making its video.