Jonathan T. Skrmetti

AG statement on shooting at activist’s home

Here is a statement issued by state Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti about a shooting at the home of activist Justin Kanew, the founder of the liberal Tennessee Holler website.

Tennessee has suffered through an awful season. We have mourned the murder of six of our own in an incomprehensible attack at The Covenant School. We lost nine soldiers from Fort Campbell in a tragic helicopter crash. And over the weekend, intense storms killed over a dozen Tennesseans, while many more lost their homes.  

Though we’ve seen the worst of times recently, many among us have responded with their best. Many Tennesseans stepped up to comfort and support one another. They have walked alongside those in grief. They offered their time, talent, and treasure to support their neighbors. 

Unfortunately, some have chosen a different path.

Over the weekend, an unknown assailant fired into the home of a local political activist while his children were sleeping inside. I don’t know him personally, though I know I often disagree with him. Regardless of any differences of opinion, though, as a dad and as an attorney general I cannot tolerate this attack against him and his family. 

At the same time, our lawmakers are receiving graphic anonymous death threats. Our participatory democracy is being tested by these escalating acts of political violence. No Tennessean should have to worry about their safety, or the safety of their family, because of the opinions they express. No lawmaker should face injury or death for serving as an elected representative of the people. 

Disagreement is a good thing. Democracy depends on disagreement. Each of us has a right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to express our opinions. There are limits on how we express those opinions, and those limits are governed by the legislature, by the courts, and ultimately by the people. That system, the rule of law, is the foundation of our republic. Only by respecting the rule of law and the inherent value of human life can we flourish together despite many differences of opinion. 

We have been blessed with the freedom to disagree peacefully. Each and every one of us must work relentlessly to preserve that blessing so we can pass it along to the next generation. No matter how fierce a disagreement is, we need to step back from violence and let our constitutional system work.

Nashville DA says recording system akin to residential Ring cameras

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk is likening the security system outside his office to Ring cameras used at residences around the country.

WTVF-TV reporter Phil Williams has been running a series of stories questioning Funk’s management of the office, including a report Monday that Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office had opened a criminal investigation into whether audio recordings made by security cameras violated the state’s wiretapping statute.

Funk in a letter to Skrmetti last week, said he had been in discussions with one of his deputies, Janet Kleinfelter, for three months about security measures at his office before receiving an email from the AG raising concerns.

“We have never conducted any unauthorized audio or video recording of any area where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy,” Funk wrote. “We know what the law allows and what the law prohibits.”

Funk also notes that he and Williams have tangled in court cases over previous coverage.

Even if Skrmetti’s office conducts an investigation, it’s unclear what authority he have would have to prosecute a criminal case. The AG’s office in Tennessee generally deals with civil matters, and its criminal division is largely dedicated to handling legal appeals. But the AG is appointed by a Republican state Supreme Court and counts on the GOP supermajority in the legislature for his funding. GOP lawmakers are often upset by Funk’s declarations that he won’t go out of his way to prosecute people for crimes related to abortions, transgender issues, or possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Lawmakers in 2021 passed a law to give the AG the authority to seek the appointment of a special prosecutor if the elected DA declares a blanket refusal to make cases against certain crimes.

Here is Funk’s letter to Skrmetti and Deputy AG Scott Southerland:

Dear Generals Skrmetti and Sutherland,

Members of the Nashville District Attorney’s Office work hard to promote public safety in Nashville and across Tennessee. These jobs are dangerous since we are on the front lines of the criminal justice system. We often receive threats. Some of these threats are credible, imminent and life threatening.

Recently, an Assistant District Attorney received threats of death and violence from an individual who said he knew what time she walked to court. As warrants for these threats were being served, this individual proved so dangerous that he engaged in a 10 hour standoff with law enforcement, fired shots at members of the Metro Nashville Police Department and set an apartment building on fire.  ·

Just two weeks ago, two Assistant District Attorneys were threatened with sexual and physical violence by a former defendant. He even went so far as to demand they let him into our Office and stated he was waiting for them just outside the building. His actions were so dangerous that he was arrested before he could carry out his threats.

Threats come into this Office frequently. The security guards at the main entrance to our Office have discovered a variety of deadly weapons carried by visitors.

I will never forsake my duty to provide a safe working environment for the 160 members of my Office. One of our security measures is to have essentially “Ring cameras” at the front doors of our office. We have discussed our security measures with Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter of your office and have worked with her over the last 3 months responding to FOIA requests without compromising security.

The letter you sent Friday via email at 5:17 p.m. questions our security procedures. We have never conducted any unauthorized audio or video recording of any area where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy. We know what the law allows and what the law prohibits.

I called General Sutherland at 5:44 p.m. and again at 6:22 p.m. Friday to request clarification of some of your preservation requests. I left a message with my personal cell phone number and have yet to receive a response.

The current Phil Williams story, which has been broadcast by Channel 5 and promoted on social media platforms, was designed to make viewers believe that our security violates the law. However, their reports do not contain any information that our measures improperly audio or video tape any protected areas.

Your comment that “[W]e are aware of the allegations and take them very seriously” is being used to validate their baseless slander and undermine trust in the District Attorney’s office.

Phil Williams and Channel 5 previously broadcast a story claiming I had solicited a bribe. After four years of litigation, they issued a retraction and admitted they “never had any proof.”

Any concerns you have regarding Nashville District Attorney’s Office security practices will quickly be eliminated by a visit to this office to inspect our practices. This is simple and straightforward. Because public trust is essential to our work, I am asking you to come TODAY and then immediately put in writing that our security measures do not violate any Tennessee statute and are in fact prudent measures for public safety.

General Sutherland has my personal cell phone number. Please call me upon receipt of this letter to clarify portions of your letter and to schedule your visit to my Office.



Glenn R. Funk

cc: Director David B. Rausch

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

Skrmetti sworn in as Tennessee attorney general

Jonathan Skrmetti has been sworn is Tennessee attorney. He succeeds Herbert Slatery, who didn’t seek a second term.

Here’s the release from the AG’s office:

Nashville, TN – Jonathan Skrmetti was sworn in as Tennessee’s 28th Attorney General this morning at a private ceremony attended by his immediate family.  

“It is the honor of a lifetime to serve the people of Tennessee as their Attorney General and Reporter,” said General Skrmetti.  “I look forward to promoting the rule of law and advocating for the rights and freedoms of all Tennesseans.”

Attorney General Skrmetti was appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court to serve an eight-year term on August 10, 2022. Tennessee is the only state where the Supreme Court selects the Attorney General.

Prior to his appointment, Attorney General Skrmetti served as Chief Counsel to Governor Bill Lee and as Chief Deputy Attorney General. Before his work on behalf of the State of Tennessee, General Skrmetti was a partner at Butler Snow LLP in Memphis and served as a federal prosecutor for almost a decade, first at the Civil Rights Division and then as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Memphis. He also taught cyberlaw as an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis.

Attorney General Skrmetti earned honors degrees from George Washington University, the University of Oxford, and Harvard Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy.  Following law school, he clerked for Judge Steven Colloton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.  He and his wife and four children currently reside in Franklin and attend Harpeth Hills Church of Christ.

Lee names new communications director, legal counsel

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee on Monday announced Casey Black Sellers will take over from Laine Arnold as commutations director and Erin Merrick will succeed Jonathan Skrmetti as chief legal counsel. Arnold is moving to Lee’s re-election campaign while the state Supreme Court named Skrmetti attorney general last week.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the appointments of Erin Merrick to succeed Jonathan Skrmetti as Chief Legal Counsel, effective September 1, and Casey Black Sellers to succeed Laine Arnold as Director of Communications, effective September 2. Skrmetti will assume the role of Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter. Arnold will lead communications for the governor’s re-election campaign in addition to starting a strategic communications venture for corporations and causes.

“Jonathan is a brilliant legal mind with vast experience at the state and federal levels, and Tennesseans will be well-represented by his service as Attorney General,” said Lee. “Erin is a dedicated public servant who will lead with integrity and bring significant expertise as Chief Legal Counsel, and I appreciate her continued service to Tennessee.”

Erin Merrick currently serves as Lee’s deputy legal counsel, a role she has held since 2019. Previously, Merrick was an assistant attorney general in the Tennessee Office of the Attorney General, where she practiced state and federal civil litigation before both trial and appellate courts. Merrick earned her bachelor’s degree at American University and holds a master’s degree in Economics and Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt University.

“Laine’s leadership and insight as Communications Director and Senior Advisor have played an invaluable role in my administration. I commend her work to ensure key priorities and accomplishments were communicated effectively, and Maria and I treasure her friendship,” said Lee. “Casey has been an integral member of our team, and I have full confidence that her extensive communications experience will continue to serve Tennesseans well.”

Casey Black Sellers currently serves as Lee’s press secretary. Sellers has deep experience in state and federal political communications, including service with U.S. Representative David Kustoff of Tennessee and former U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. Sellers earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Jade Cooper Byers, currently deputy press secretary, will assume key responsibilities as Lee’s press secretary. Byers earned her bachelor’s degree at Belmont University and has served Lee since his successful primary run in 2018.

New TNJ alert: New AG, Democratic infighting, and another rejection of loosening term limits

AG applicants pose for a photo outside the state Supreme Court chamber on Aug. 9, 2022. From left are Bill Young, Jonathan Skrmetti, Culver Schmid, Don Cochran, Mike Dunavant, and Jerome Cochran.

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Supreme Court appoints Gov. Bill Lee’s top legal adviser Skrmetti as new AG.

— Skrmetti in public interview posited creating a new unit to handle lawsuits against the federal government, acknowledged “hunger” for more formal legal opinions.

— From the campaign trail: Democrats fight over text message flap, tiebreaker options in Cocke County, and Memphis voters don’t want their elected officials to serve more than two terms.

— Obituary: Larry Wallace, TBI director in wake of bingo gambling corruption probe.

Also: Lee joins GOP governors blasting climate bill that includes tax credits for electric vehicles (many of which will be built in Tennessee), constitutional amendment campaigns ramp up activity, and diverging fortunes for write-in campaigns.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Supreme Court picks Skrmetti for AG

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Supreme Court has chosen Jonathan Skrmetti to succeed Herbert Slatery as attorney general.

UPDATE: The vote was 4-1, with Justice Sharon Lee dissenting. The order did not include an explanation by Lee, the only justice appointed by a Democrat, about why she disagreed with her colleagues Jeff Bivins, Sarah Campbell, Holly Kirby, and Roger Page.

Here’s the release from the high court:

Nashville – The Tennessee Supreme Court has selected Jonathan Skrmetti to serve as the state’s next Attorney General and Reporter.

From 2018 to late 2021, Skrmetti was the Chief Deputy Attorney General in the Attorney General’s Office, where he managed approximately 160 attorneys in 15 litigating divisions and served as a negotiator in the $26 billion multistate opioid settlement. Since December 2021, he has served as chief counsel to Governor Bill Lee.

“Mr. Skrmetti has dedicated the majority of his career to public service and has the breadth of experience and vision necessary to lead the Attorney General’s office for the next eight years,” Chief Justice Roger A. Page said. “He is an accomplished attorney with a deep understanding of Tennessee government and our judicial system.”

Over his career, Skrmetti has worked extensively with the three branches of Tennessee state government, appearing before all levels of the judiciary, drafting language and advocating in support of legislation, and providing counsel to leadership throughout the executive branch.

“It will be a privilege to continue serving the people of Tennessee as their Attorney General and Reporter,” Skrmetti said. “I look forward to working with the dedicated public servants at the Attorney General’s office to represent all three branches of Tennessee’s government. I thank the Supreme Court for entrusting me with this responsibility and General Herbert Slatery for his eight years of distinguished leadership.”

The Supreme Court formally interviewed six candidates during a public hearing earlier this week.

Prior to joining the Attorney General’s office, Skrmetti was a partner at Butler Snow LLP in Memphis. From 2011 to 2014, he was an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee, where he prosecuted federal crimes with an emphasis on human trafficking, official misconduct and hate crimes. Skrmetti also spent five years as an Honors Program Trial Attorney in the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division/Criminal Section. During this time, he spent the vast majority of his time in West and Middle Tennessee and handled all phases of litigation. Skrmetti also served as a law clerk for Judge Steven M. Colloton on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Skrmetti is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. He earned undergraduate degrees from both the University of Oxford (England) and George Washington University.  He is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association, Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy, and the Memphis Bar Foundation. He was a part of Leadership Tennessee Signature Program Class VIII.

Skrmetti will be the 28th Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter. He lives in Franklin with his wife and four children. His family attends Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood.

Lee’s legal counsel Skrmetti, attorney Schmid apply for AG

Jonathan Skrmetti, the top legal adviser to Gov. Bill Lee since December, has applied for attorney general ahead of Friday’s deadline, The Tennessee Journal has learned. Also putting his name in was Knoxville attorney Culver Schmid of the Baker Donelson law firm.

They join four others who previously submitted applications to the state Supreme Court.

Skrmetti had been chief deputy to Attorney General Herbert Slatery when he decided to apply for a state Supreme Court vacancy last year. But he abandoned that bid at the last moment to instead join the Lee administration after Lang Wiseman decided to return to the private sector (Wiseman, incidentally, has decided against applying for AG).

Skrmetti is a Harvard law graduate who worked for the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department before serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Memphis from 2011 to 2014. While later working at Butler Snow, Skrmetti was a member of the legal advisory board for the Beacon Center, the conservative think tank and advocacy group. Hired as the No. 2 position in the AG’s office in 2018, he spearheaded the state’s efforts to negotiate a $26 billion national settlement with opioid producers and distributors.

Schmid, a 2008 state Supreme Court applicant, defended Rep. Eddie Mannis against an effort to have him stripped of his narrow GOP primary win in 2020. He also served on the Tennessee Commission on Practical Government in 1995.

The deadline to apply for AG was noon Friday. The other applicants are:

— Donald Cochran, former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Tennessee.

— Jerome Cochran, a former state representative and administrative law judge.

— Mike Dunavant, former U.S. attorney for the western district of Tennessee.

— Bill Young, executive director of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

Public interviews of finalists are scheduled to be conducted on Aug. 8 and Aug. 9.

Big shakeup in Supreme Court sweepstakes as Lee to hire Skrmetti as legal counsel

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Just as the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments was getting ready to interview candidates for a state Supreme Court vacancy on Wednesday, The Tennessee Journal has learned a major contender is dropping out to instead become Gov. Bill Lee’s top legal adviser.

Jonathan T. Skrmetti, the chief deputy to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery will succeed Lang Wiseman, who stepped down on Friday.

Skrmetti is a Harvard law graduate who worked for the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department before serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Memphis from 2011 to 2014. While later working at Butler Snow, Skrmetti was a member of the legal advisory board for the Beacon Center, the conservative think tank and advocacy group. Hired as the No. 2 position in the AG’s office in 2018, he spearheaded the state’s efforts to negotiate a $26 billion national settlement with opioid producers and distributors.

Skrmetti’s withdrawal from the Supreme Court application process leaves nine candidates for job. The Council for Judicial Appointments will narrow the field down to three for Lee to choose from.

UPDATE: The governor’s office has made it official:

“Jonathan is a dedicated public servant and highly qualified legal professional,” Lee said in a release. “He will bring significant experience and tremendous value to our work on behalf of Tennesseans, and I am confident he will continue to serve our state with integrity.”


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