Lawyers form coalition to oppose legislative move to oust judge

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) attends a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A group calling itself the Committee for an Independent Judiciary is forming a coalition to fight efforts by legislative Republicans to oust Nashville Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle for her ruling expanding access to absentee voting last summer.

“Currently in Tennessee, there is an unprecedented and misguided attempt by some state lawmakers to remove a highly qualified and respected judge because they disagree with one of her decisions,” according to the group.

“During her 25-year career on the bench, Chancellor Lyle has consistently handed down thousands of legal rulings based on the law. Tennessee’s legislature has never in its long history removed a judge from office. This resolution is a threat to judicial independence and, if passed, would quickly erode the fundamental separation of powers. As this bill makes its way through the state legislature, concerned citizens must come together and express opposition.”

The coalition’s leadership committees are comprised of:

  • Bob Boston, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, Nashville.
  • Roger Dickson, Miller & Martin, Chattanooga.
  • Aubrey Harwell. Neal & Harwell, Nashville.
  • Lucian Pera, Adams & Reese, Memphis.
  • Wayne Ritchie, Ritchie, Dillard, Davies & Johnson, Knoxville.
  • D. Billye Sanders, Dockery & Associates, Nashville.

The resolution filed by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) claims Lyle “committed serious ethical violations and abused her authority by pursuing a personal and partisan agenda” by ruling in favor of greater access to mail-in ballots during the pandemic.

Lyle, who was appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in the 1990s, has made many high-profile ruling over the years. They included a decision to allow Tennessee’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to appear on the 2006 ballot despite the state missing a public notice deadline.

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