Phil Bredesen

Legal community mourns passing of Justice Clark

The legal community is mourning the passing of state Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark at age 71.

Clark was named to the high court bench in 2005 by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. She was chief justice from 2010 to 2012.

Here’s the full statement from the Administrative Office of the Courts:

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia A. Clark, whose public service to the judiciary and her community spanned over four decades, passed away overnight, at the age of 71 after a short battle with cancer. Justice Clark was first appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005 by Governor Phil Bredesen and was reelected in 2006 and 2014.  She served as Chief Justice from 2010 to 2012.

“Justice Clark was a member of the Tennessee judicial family for over 30 years and has mentored hundreds of judges,” said Chief Justice Roger A. Page. “She loved the Tennessee judicial system and has made it better in immeasurable ways. As her colleague for the past five and one-half years, I observed her tremendous work ethic. Her keen mind was surpassed only by her kind and caring heart. She truly tried her best to decide each case based on the applicable law and nothing else. The Supreme Court will not be the same without her.”

Prior to joining the Court, she was the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts from 1999 to 2005. 

“Justice Clark and I served together on the Supreme Court for thirteen years. We shared many experiences as colleagues and as friends,” Justice Sharon G. Lee said. “Our friendship strengthened over the years as we faced challenges together—such as the contested retention election in 2014—and through our laughter and good times when we joined with fellow women judges at our ‘Tennessee Chicks Rule’ dinners, and when we traveled to Cuba to study their judicial system. I saw first-hand Justice Clark’s tireless dedication to her faith, her family, her friends, the judiciary, and access to justice for all. She faced every challenge and obstacle with grace, hard work, and humility.”

When Governor Ned McWherter appointed Justice Clark to the trial bench covering the 21st Judicial District of Williamson, Hickman, Perry and Lewis counties in 1989, she became the first woman trial judge to serve rural counties in Tennessee. She paved the way for fellow judges to be accepted by clerks, litigants, lawyers, and other judges.

“Connie Clark’s service to the people of the State of Tennessee at all levels was inspiring and second to none. Her commitment to public service was unsurpassed,” said Justice Jeff Bivins. “She was a brilliant and incredibly fair jurist. Her institutional knowledge and expertise cannot be replaced. To me, she also was a trusted friend and colleague both before and since I joined the Court. I will so miss her not only in all Court matters but as a dear friend.”

Justice Clark had the longest tenure of the Justices currently serving on the Supreme Court. She was well-known for precise and detailed legal analysis and writing style, as well as being an active and thoughtful questioner during oral arguments. In total, she was on the bench for more than 1,100 Supreme Court cases.

“Justice Connie Clark had a pitch-perfect judicial temperament. Always calm, measured, precise, and even-handed in her approach to the Court’s decisions,” said Justice Holly Kirby. “In the important cases the Court takes on, she always strove to put aside any political considerations or personal judgment on the wisdom of actions of the other two branches of government. I’ll never attain Justice Clark’s level of judicial perfection, but she inspires me every day to try.”

Justice Clark’s scope of work, however, reached far beyond the Supreme Court.  She was involved in nearly every program and project in the court system, including the Access to Justice initiative, as well as a being a fixture in bar, community, and religious organizations in Middle Tennessee and nationally for more than 40 years.

An Early Advocate For Women In The Legal Profession

After graduating from Vanderbilt University and earning a master of arts in teaching from Harvard University, Justice Clark taught history for four years in the Atlanta area. She went on to study law at Vanderbilt University Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review Editorial Board.

Upon graduation in 1979, Justice Clark practiced law in Nashville and Franklin, becoming, in 1984, one of the first woman partners in a large Nashville law firm. She specialized in municipal and employment law, and represented many cities, police departments, and several school boards.

She joined legal organizations that advocated the advancement of women in leadership roles, including the Lawyers’ Association for Women, Marion Griffin Chapter, and the Tennessee Lawyer’s Association for Women.  She also chaired the Board of Directors of the Nashville YWCA and served on the Board of the League of Women Voters of Williamson County.  Throughout the 1980s, Justice Clark supported and advocated for more women to be appointed and elected to the bench.  By 1989, it was her turn to slip into the black robe and join the growing ranks of female jurists across the state and country.

“I heard Justice Clark tell a story about how, early in her career as a trial judge in a rural county, she encountered a woman who was angry at being called for jury service and was rude and disrespectful. Judge Clark excused the woman from jury duty, but ordered her to sit and observe the court proceedings for the day,” said Margaret Behm, a partner at Dodson Parker Behm & Caparella, and a long-time friend and colleague of Justice Clark. “The following morning, Judge Clark was surprised to see the woman with her daughter in her courtroom. The woman told Judge Clark: ‘I wanted my daughter to be able to see that there is a woman who can be in charge of this, because I want her to know that she can be anything she wants to be.’ Justice Clark tells this story as an example of how you never know when you have the opportunity to touch someone’s life. But, it is also an example of what it was like to be around Connie Clark, and the effect she had as a jurist, with her common sense, humility, intellect, and ability to connect.”

In 2005, Justice Clark became the fourth woman to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and in 2010 she became the second female Chief Justice. Since 2008, there has been a female majority on the Tennessee Supreme Court. With more than 16 years of service, Justice Clark had the second longest tenure of any woman serving on the Supreme Court. Perhaps more notable, she made a specific point to ensure the doors opened for her earlier by others continue to widen and be accessible to judicial candidates from all backgrounds, genders, and races.

A Statewide and National Leader and Teacher

Justice Clark chaired the Tennessee Judicial Council and was the inaugural chair of the Judicial Evaluation Commission.  She previously served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Conference of State Court Administrators.  In 2004, she was named one of the 21 members of the ABA Commission on the American Jury, which is dedicated to educating the public about, and reinvigorating the nation’s commitment to, jury service. 

Forever a teacher, she instructed fellow judges at the National Judicial College, American Academy of Judicial Education, and the American Institute for Justice, in addition to being a frequent guest speaker at various bar and other organizations.  Justice Clark served for ten years as an adjunct professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Law and served on the faculty of the Nashville School of Law.  As a trial judge, Justice Clark served as Vice-President of the Tennessee Judicial Conference and Dean of the Tennessee Judicial Academy, and was a member of the Supreme Court Commissions on the Rules of Civil Procedure and Technology. 

She spoke frequently to civic and leadership groups about the importance of the rule of law and of an independent, accountable judiciary in protecting the constitutional rights accorded all persons and groups. 

Ensuring Access to Justice for All Tennesseans

Justice Clark served as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the Access to Justice Commission, from 2014 until her death. During her time on the Court, the Supreme Court declared Access to Justice to be its number one strategic priority. Justice Clark whole-heartedly embraced this initiative.

Justice Clark travelled the state and around the country speaking to attorneys, judges, and other interested groups about the importance of judicial support for such activities.  She pioneered the successful Faith and Justice Alliance, which brings attorneys into community faith-based and other civic organizations, where clients may feel more comfortable about sharing their problems than in a traditional courthouse or law firm setting. Today, hundreds of Tennessee houses of worship provide thousands of hours of pro bono legal service to more than 7,000 people a year.

“Justice Clark’s long and unwavering support as liaison to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission was the foundation to Tennessee being recognized as a national leader in access to justice initiatives,” said Bill Coley, chair of the ATJ Commission. “Her commitment to this work was an inspiration to all, including me, who have joined in this effort. We are committed to continuing this work in a way that honors Justice Clark.”

The ATJ Commission recently achieved its long-term goal of having at least half of all Tennessee attorneys provide pro bono legal services each year.  In 2018, 52.85 percent of Tennessee attorneys performed over 640,000 pro bono hours valued at more than $137 million.  In addition, the ATJ Commission developed court-approved forms to assist litigants who are representing themselves, including divorce forms and parenting plan forms.  These forms have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times since their creation.

A Lifelong Active Member of the Faith Community

Justice Clark was a lifelong active member of First United Methodist Church in Franklin, where she served as lay leader and member of the finance committee, the Trustees, and the staff parish relations committee.  She previously served as chair of the Site Selection and Building Committee during the church’s move to its current location in 2015.  She served for the last ten years as an at‑large member to the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  She was elected in 2012, 2016, 2019, and 2020 as a Tennessee Conference lay delegate to General Conference, the Church’s international legislative body that meets once every four years. She chaired the General Administration Committee in 2016. She also served as Chair of the UMC Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals.

Justice Clark served as chair of the United Methodist Publishing House Board and as a member of the Board of Trustees of Martin Methodist Foundation. She previously served as vice chair of the Board of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee, until it became U.T. Southern, as part of the University of Tennessee system, on July 1, 2021.

A Fixture In Tennessee Bar And Community Organizations

Justice Clark always was a busy person. Her record of bar and community service is expansive and includes organizations spanning from those focused on her beloved hometown of Franklin, where her family has lived for ten generations, to many bar associations. She is a past Board member of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County.  She was co-chair of the original Steering Committee of Franklin Tomorrow, Inc., and served on its Board of Directors for the first four years of its existence.  She served as chair of the City of Franklin Land Use Plan Steering Committee and as citizen chair of the City of Franklin Charter Revision Committee.  She is a former member of the Williamson County-Franklin Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.  She served as the first regional Allocations Panel chair of the United Way while serving as a member of the Williamson County United Way Board of Directors. 

“Justice Clark embodied the heart and soul of the Franklin community,” said long-time friend and colleague Julian Bibb. “Justice Clark was in love with Franklin all of her life, helping to guide its development and growth, first in her role as City Attorney during the 1980s, and then by taking on volunteer positions with many civic and charitable organizations, including with her church, Franklin First United Methodist Church. Justice Clark was a servant leader who continually gave back to help improve the lives of others in Franklin. From organizations like The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County to organizations that helped bring the community together, like Franklin Tomorrow, Justice Clark has long been recognized for her many contributions to her hometown.”

Justice Clark was a member of the Williamson County Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association, American Bar Association, Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women (founding member), Lawyers Association for Women, Marion Griffin Chapter (former board member), Nashville Bar Association (former board member and Second Vice President), National Association of Women Judges, and the Nashville, Tennessee, and American Bar Foundations.  She was the first woman to serve as chair of the Tennessee Bar Foundation.  She also was a member of the Tennessee John Marshall American Inn of Court and the Harry Phillips American Inn of Court.

In total, Justice Clark has served on more than 25 boards and worked with nearly 75 organizations, commissions, advisory groups, or task forces since beginning her legal career in 1979.

Recognition For Her Service

Justice Clark has received many awards recognizing her service to the law, including the Janice M. Holder Access to Justice Award from the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services; the Tennessee Bar Association’s Justice Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award; the Vanderbilt University School of Law Distinguished Service Award;  the Grayfred Gray Award from the Tennessee Association of Professional Mediators; the Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey Award from the Lawyers’ Association for Women – Marion Griffin Chapter; the Liberty Bell Award given by the Williamson County Bar Association; and the Pioneer Award from Vision 2020. Clark was also named Appellate Judge of the Year by the Southeastern Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates and was inducted into the Nashville YWCA Academy for Women of Achievement.

Like it never happened? Sethi scrubs social media accounts

Following his disappointing showing in the Republican nomination contest for the U.S. Senate, former candidate Manny Sethi’s campaign has taken the unusual step of scrubbing his social media accounts from the internet.

Gone are Sethi’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, though some of his ads are still to be enjoyed on his YouTube page.

Sethi, a Vanderbilt surgeon, gained gained 39% of the vote in the Aug. 6 primary, compared with 51% for winner Bill Hagerty, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan. Sethi had sought to characterize Hagerty as being the establishment candidate while he represented the GOP grassroots.

Sethi’s message resonated in some areas of the state (he gained his biggest advantages in Rutherford, Knox, Coffee, Williamson, and Maury counties). But Hagerty blew Sethi out of the water in Shelby County by more than 12,700 votes — enough to negate the 9,429 margin Sethi pulled out over Hagerty in all 12 counties he won.

In all, Hagerty won 83 of 95 counties, including 29 in which the margin was more than 1,000 votes.

In contrast to Sethi’s social media disappearing act, former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who lost a bruising race to U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) in 2018, has kept his Twitter account. It still touts his highest profile endorsement of the race: that of pop superstar Taylor Swift.

Jerry Adams, budget adviser to 10 Tennessee governors, dies

Longtime former Deputy Finance Commissioner Jerry Adams, who served under 10 Tennessee governors, has died of an apparent heart attack.

Jerry Adams (handout photo)

Adams was hired in 1962 by Harlan Mathews, who was finance commissioner in Gov. Buford Ellington’s administration. He was named deputy commissioner during Ellington’s second term in 1967, and Gov. Winfield Dunn appointed him commissioner for the final months of his term after Ted Welch left government. Adams was acting commissioner for about six weeks under Gov. Ray Blanton, and then settled back into being deputy commissioner under Govs. Lamar Alexander, Ned McWherter, Don Sundquist, and Phil Bredesen.

After officially retiring from state government, Adams remained a consultant on budget matters under Gov. Bill Haslam and Bill Lee.

“In January 2003, I was a brand-new governor, innocent of the details of state finances, and faced with a $300 million shortfall in a state with a strict balanced-budget requirement,” Bredesen said in a statement. “A lot of hours with Jerry Adams in my conference room solved the problem. He knew everything there was to know about the budget, about how things fit together and actually worked.”

Alexander called Adams “the consummate professional as a state employee.”

“Everyone trusted and respected him,” he said. “It was my privilege to know and work with him.”

The Tennessee Journal recounted this incident about Adams in 2005:

About 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, May 15, Deputy Finance Commissioner Jerry Adams left his office on the first floor of the Capitol to head home. He took the elevator to the ground floor, where the only exit that can be used on weekends is located. The elevator reached the floor but wouldn’t open. The phone didn’t work. An alarm did, but there was no one in the building to hear it. About 4 a.m. Monday a worker entered the Capitol, and Adams was able to get his attention. By 4:30 the door was open, and he walked out to find three Nashville firefighters. After his 13-hour ordeal, Adams went home and slept. But he was back at work at 9 a.m.

A visitation is scheduled for Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the West Harpeth Funeral Home in Nashville.

Here’s the full statement from Bredesen:

Jerry Adams devoted his professional life to making Tennessee’s government be its best, and he was extraordinarily successful.

In January 2003, I was a brand-new governor, innocent of the details of state finances, and faced with a $300 million shortfall in a state with a strict balanced-budget requirement. A lot of hours with Jerry Adams in my conference room solved the problem. He knew everything there was to know about the budget, about how things fit together and actually worked. Legislators from both parties held him in such high regard that his briefings gave them the comfort they needed to take some tough actions that spring.

I loved to work with him. He was a problem-solver, completely honest and without guile, earnest, smart, deeply knowledgeable. He worked hard, had a sense of humor, was completely non-partisan. I would have been a different and inferior Governor without him and I suspect many of my predecessors from Frank Clement on could say the same. When I heard of his death, it was a bittersweet moment: Sadness at his passing, but profound respect and admiration as he wrapped-up a long, constructive, well-lived life.

National Journal looks into why Dems ‘can’t get it together’ in Tennessee

Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen speaks at a rally in Nashville on Aug. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The National Journal is taking a deep dive into why Democrats have largely failed to make recent gains in Tennessee. The piece is written by reporting fellow Kirk Bado, who once interned in the state Capitol bureau for The Tennessean before going to graduate school.

The article examines why Democrats couldn’t make inroads in the 2016 election despite popular former Gov. Phil Bredesen being on the top of the ticket in the U.S. Senate race.

Bredesen failed to ride the blue wave, losing by 11 points as he carried only two counties, despite the same kinds of demographic changes that have helped other Southern states turn shades of purple. According to current projections, 30 percent of Tennesseans will be minorities by 2030. Given national trends of college-educated voters swinging further to the left, and Tennessee could be on its way to swing-state status; instead, its slate of federal officeholders are as red as those in Mississippi and Arkansas.

Democrats were right back where they started the decade: on the outside looking in.

Bado delves into Tennessee’s transition from conservative Democrats to conservative Republicans, dating back to favorite son Al Gore’s losing his home state in 2000 and the state income tax battles that occurred before and after that momentous election.

While a rightward trend since then should present an opportunity for Democrats, it hasn’t worked out that way, Bado writes:

In theory, Democrats should be well positioned to compete in Tennessee as Republicans shift further to the right. The population has increased by nearly 7 percent since 2010 on the backs of the rapid growth of the tech and health care industries, and a growing nonwhite population.

So what’s to be done? Activists like Charlane Oliver formed Equity Alliance want drastic action.

“The Democratic Party needs two things: They need a backbone and grow some balls,” she said. “Because the Republicans don’t fight fair, and you cannot bring a knife to a gunfight.”

State party chair Mary Mancini, who was elected to her third term in January, admits that her party has struggled to build a bench, failed to make Tennessee competitive, and acknowledges the dire straits the party faces. Yet she promised that Democrats are rebuilding in the state.

“We’re building a Democratic Party for the future, not just the elections coming up next November,” she said.

When asked what she will do differently to change Democratic fortunes, she seemed taken aback by the question, pausing for several silent seconds.

“That’s a really good question,” she finally said. “That’s something I’m going to have to think about a little bit.”

Read the full article here.

Here’s your Bill Lee inauguration gallery

Bill Lee delivers his inaugural address in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Bill Lee delivers his inaugural address in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee, bottom left, looks on as his Cabinet takes the oath of office in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig Tennessee Journal)

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Democrat Mackler to run for Senate in 2020

Democrat James Mackler, who was pushed out of the Senate race in December 2017 by former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s entry into the race, tells Jonathan Mattise of The Associated Press he plans to run the Senate again in 2020.

An announcement video suggests Mackler will run on an anti-Trump platform. “The 46-year-old says he’s not a politician and President Donald Trump is making life harder across Tennessee, citing health care, the tax law and the trade war,” according to the AP report.

Mackler is the first candidate to say he will run for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville). Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will decide about whether to mount a bid in the coming months, while newly-elected U.S. Rep. Mark Greene (R-Ashland City) has also been telling donors about potential plans to run.

 

O’Hara: Bredesen carried 10 biggest counties by cumulative 10 points. It didn’t matter.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican Senate nominee in Tennessee, speaks at a Farm Bureau event in Franklin on Aug. 9, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A guest column by former reporter Jim O’Hara:

Crow is always best eaten warm.

So, why didn’t Phil Bredesen’s performance in Tennessee’s top 10 counties with the most registered voters translate into a closer contest for the U.S. Senate?

The short and simple answer is that Marsha Blackburn swamped the Democrat by a 69-31 margin in the other 85 counties.  If Bredesen had managed even a 60-40 split, he would still have lost the election.

But the Associated Press wouldn’t have called it as early as 9:06 p.m. Central.

The top 10 counties – in terms of registered voters – are Blount, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Montgomery, Rutherford, Shelby, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson.

On Tuesday, they voted at the levels typical in recent elections and provided slightly more than 1.2 million votes, or 56% of the 2.2 million votes cast in the Senate race. Bredesen won the cumulative vote in those 10 counties by a margin of 677,226 to 559,898, or 55% to 45%.

He got 71% of the Davidson County vote and 66% in Shelby; he essentially ran even with Blackburn in Knox and Hamilton counties with 48% and 49% of the vote respectively.

Blackburn’s biggest margins in those top 10 counties came in Blount (64%), Sumner (63%), Williamson (59%), and Wilson (62%).

But of the 970,866 votes cast for the Senate race in the other 85 counties, she won going away with her 69% to 31% margin.

Was there an enthusiasm gap?  In Davidson County, about 59% of the registered voters came to the polls; in Shelby it was 51%.

In Blount County, about 57% of the voters went to the polls, and in Williamson it was close to 70%.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally posted on Facebook a Tennessee map, proclaiming the state a “Red Wall,” with only Davidson and Shelby blue.  And a Democratic Facebook friend of mine bemoaned the lack of a Beto O’Rourke in Tennessee

Maybe, there is no longer a center to contest in Tennessee, but the voting tea leaves seem more complicated then either would admit.  Can Republicans keep running up 70-30 margins?  How long before even those margins aren’t sufficient as the top 10 counties grow?

___

O’Hara covered politics for the The Tennessean in the 1980s.

AP calls Senate race for Blackburn

Republican Marsha Blackburn has won the Tennessee Senate race against Democrat Phil Bredesen, according to The Associated Press.

 

Bredesen speaks in Chattanooga, hours before Trump rally

Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen speaks at a fundraiser in Nashville on Aug. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Democratic Senate candidate Phi Bredesen held a rally on Sunday in Chattanooga just hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to  come to the city to headline an event for Republican rival Marsha Blackburn.

“If the previous two visits are any guide, he’ll have plenty of derogatory things to say about me,” Bredesen said in his prepared remarks.

“That’s OK — politics today is a blood sport — but I’ve come here to show that there are other ways to campaign and to present your case to the people of Tennessee,” Bredesen said. “We should vote people in and out, not shout them in and out.”

Bredesen praised retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga), who “is understandably not here with us” — but was also not attending the Blackburn rally because of an unspecified prior engagement.

“I want everyone to know that I admire the job he did as Chattanooga’s mayor, and I respect enormously how he has carried himself in his two terms in the United States Senate,” Bredesen said. “As you all know, I’m seeking to follow him in that seat, and it would be a privilege to do so.”

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Haslam predicts Blackburn will win by at least 5 points

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at a press conference at the state Capitol in Nashville on March 1, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam predicted on  NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd on Sunday that Republican Marsha Blackburn will comfortably win the Senate race against Democrat Phil Bredesen because voters in Tennessee care more about the partisan makeup of the chamber than about the individual promises made by candidates.

The governor said the furor surrounding the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh shifted the race in Tennessee by 5 or 6 percentage points in Blackburn’s favor, adding that he thinks “Marsha will win by at least that much.”

“Tennessee is one of those states where the Kavanaugh hearings did change things,” Haslam said. “People realized well it really doesn’t matter, kind of, what you’re saying. The color of the jersey you’re wearing up there is really important.”

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