ouster

AP: State election coordinator’s memo served as basis for judge ouster resolution

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins helped lay the groundwork for a controversial resolution to oust a respected Nashville judge for a ruling to expand access to absentee voting during the pandemic, according to public records obtained by the AP’s Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise.

Goins sent a five-page memo outlining his complaints about Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle to Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), the sponsor of the resolution that would gain as many as 67 cosponsors before it was killed in a House subcommittee last week. Goins said he wrote the memo at Rudd’s request about a month before the resolution was filed.

According to emails obtained by the AP, Rudd’s assistant sent a Jan. 20 email saying the lawmaker was “in need of verbiage and information for this resolution.” According to Goins’ memo:

“Chancellor Lyle issued numerous orders and expressed her opinion ranging from ordering ministerial checklists, destroying accurate election documents, using her specific language for instructions and websites, to challenging statutory language regarding voting fraud. The practical effect was she became the de facto Coordinator of Elections when it came to voting by-mail.”

Goins also took issue with Lyle’s “tone” during proceedings.

Lyle in June told Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office “shame on you” for taking matters into its own hands by modifying her absentee balloting order without first seeking approval from the court. Goins the previous week had told county election commissions to “hold off” on following Lyle’s order while his office revised application forms and sought a stay.

The state’s creation of a new category for voters unwilling to risk their health was criticized as sowing uncertainty about whether ballots would be counted if the decision is later overturned. While Lyle declined plaintiffs’ motion to impose sanctions for the unauthorized changes, she ordered the state to revise its forms to include concerns over COVID-19 among the existing qualifications for people too ill to vote in person. If her ruling isn’t followed, she warned, criminal contempt proceedings could follow.

“Chancellor publicly chastised defendants saying, ‘Shame on You’ and threatened criminal contempt,” Goins wrote. “However, Chancellor Lyle did not ‘shame’ or ‘threaten to hold in contempt’ the multiple plaintiffs who voted in-person even though they signed a verified complaint under oath in her court saying they did not want to risk their health by voting in-person and needed to vote by mail.”

Goins and Hargett promoted news coverage of the plaintiffs’ decisions to vote in person while the lawsuit was going on.

Read the full AP story here.

Bid to oust judge over absentee voting ruling killed in House

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), right, gestures at Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) in Nashville on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee has killed a resolution calling for the ouster of Nashville Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle for a ruling expanding access to absentee voting last summer.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd failed on a voice vote. The question was called on the measure despite the Murfreesboro Republican saying he wanted to roll the bill until next week. Rudd confronted Chair Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) after the meeting.

“You’re a disgrace!” Rudd told Farmer, bumping into a reporter standing between the two lawmakers.

The measure’s failure comes as a bit of a surprise as 67 Republicans were listed as co-sponsors. But the subcommittee included two Republicans members hadn’t signed on — Michael Curcio of Dickson and Johnny Garrett of Goodlettsville — and two Democrats who opposed the measure, Antonio Parkinson of Memphis and John Ray Clemmons of Nashville.

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) demanded a roll call vote, but his motion didn’t come until the vote was already underway. He sought a recount after the fact, but Farmer had already gavelled the resolution dead.

One observer noted the fight over the ouster resolution could portend a splintering among the House Republican Caucus going forward. The extent of the fallout and the fate of inevitable resurrection attempts remain to be seen.

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.

Bar association blasts bid to remove judge over absentee ballot ruling

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), standing right, attends a GOP caucus meeting on July 24, 2019, in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Bar Association says an effort to oust a Nashville judge over her ruling in an absentee voting case last summer “threatens the bedrock principle of separation of powers.”

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) introduced the resolution to begin ouster proceedings against Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle last week. The measure has 67 co-sponsors — enough for the removal to clear the House chamber if it came up for a floor vote. Lyle was appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in the 1990s.

Bar Association President Michelle Greenway Seller said in a release that if the ouster succeeds, it could “create a precedent that any time a judge rules against the state, or on a statute, or renders a politically unpopular decision, that decision could potentially trigger legislative removal proceedings against that judge.”

Read the full release below.

Continue reading

AG asked to opine on power to oust Byrd from House

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Cameron Sexton, the Republican nominee to be elected speaker during Friday’s special session, is asking state Attorney General Herbert Slatery about whether the chamber has the power to oust Rep. David Byrd over allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage basketball players when he was their coach in the 1980s.

UPDATEThe Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports that the AG’s office does not anticipate being able to answer in time for the special session.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear General Slatery:

Article 11, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution provides:

  • Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offence; and shall have all other powers necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free State.

The Tennessee House of Representatives has used the power to expel only twice since 1866. In both instances, the member was expelled for conduct that occurred during the time of the member’s service. I am writing to request an opinion as to the following question:

  • May the House of Representatives expel a member for conduct which occurred more than twenty-five years prior to the member’s initial election to the House of Representatives and that is publicly known at the time of the member’s most recent re-election to the House of Representatives?

As always, I appreciate the work that you and your staff provide to the General Assembly and to the citizens of Tennessee. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Respectfully submitted,

/signed/
Representative Cameron Sexton
25th Representative District