It’s been great to hear from so many of you this week and to know that Voting Smart has been helpful in your ballot decisions. We have received a rash of emails; Facebook comments; new Likes; and blog comments from new followers, old friends, incumbent judges and judicial candidates.
Judge Betty Thomas Moore, who has held court in General Sessions Div.5 since 1998, asked to respond to opponent Ellen Fite’s allegations that complaints against Judge Moore prompted her decision to run. We alluded to Ms Fite’s comments in our “What We Know” summary on her, with a link to a March 24, 2014 article on MidtownRepublican.com.
The article by Georgeann King said in part:
. . . Fite, who has already sat as a special judge in the court in which she is running, says she “had so many people come to me and ask me to run this year. I thought about running 16 years ago and even 8 years ago.” There have been complaints about the judge who runs the court currently and that spurred her to seek the post.
“Both lawyers and litigants feel abused in there. People complain about her judicial demeanor and that she is often late. The judge has an absentee rate of 27%. She is abusive and yells at people.” . . .
Judge Moore responds (as written):
I appreciate the chance to respond. I appreciate that you personally endorsed Ms. Fite for a number of reasons. I have been an experienced sitting Judge for almost 16 years and she has not; the Bar Poll gave her a few more percentage points than me but I did not go out and solicit votes as my opponent did because I trusted that the lawyers (and candidates) would follow the rules to vote only if you had cases in that court. Unfortunately, that did not happen and as a consequence of the distrust of the outcome of poll, endorsements and e mail have been sent from numerous attorneys and law firms supporting my re election who were appalled at the results. I have over 300 attorneys, and counting, who agreed to be placed on literature. I have done that in the past but chose not to do that this time. I have notes and letters from citizens who come to my court who applaud what I do as a judge, how I run my court room and my fairness and integrity. That is what I am most thankful for. I recognize the trust that the citizens of Shelby County have placed in me. I recognize that I must be accountable with the taxpayers time and money, I too am a taxpayer and therefore am harder on myself. I am at work as required, sometimes having special setting at 7:30 or 8 am to accommodate litigants who work and lawyers who may have court elsewhere, when our court starts at 10 and 1:30. I do not take off a lot of time from work unnecessarily, never have, never will. I have 24 years with the county and would be entitled, as a regular employee, to at least a combined 45 days of sick and annual days. My record shows that my off days have been extremely reasonable. I know that you are aware that this is campaign season and unfortunately, as I believe, in this case, the truth can get stretched, discarded or completely changed around. I am proud to say that I have done a good job as Judge in this court, many of the lawyers and litigants who come into my court agree with that. Everyone may not leave out completely happy, because everyone can’t always get what they came for but they will admit that I know the law, I am fair, I treat folks with respect, I am firm where I need to be, and I am a jurist of integrity. I appreciate that, though your personal endorsement is for my opponent, that your Attorney endorsement recognized me as the most qualified and did endorse me for re election. Thanks again . . .
We are happy to post all (civil) comments and questions from readers and candidates. So far, only one comment has not passed our Back in River City Civility Test (and you know who you are). If you have something to say, it should be helpful to voters and encourage further dialogue. No profanity or ad hominem attacks, please. Your comments can help others, and make our Guide more complete.
Voting Smart: Back in River City’s Guide to Shelby Co.’s 2014 Judicial Elections is now COMPLETE!. We added three more sections:
- Addition to Appellate Courts tab: Analysis and commentary on Tennessee Supreme Court incumbent retention elections
- Section IV: Amendment #2: Selecting Judges (appears on a new tab/page accessed from our home page). This section covers the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2, 2014 ballot. It will change the way we select judges in our appeals courts and the Tennessee Supreme Court
- Appendix: Tennessee’s Judicial System (appears on a new tab/page named Appx: TN Court System). Here you will find definitions of all courts in the Tennessee system so you can feel less intimidated when you face the lengthy Aug. 7 ballot (also useful for playing Legal Trivia).
We have also changed one of our candidate recommendations. Many of you saw a disturbing article about General Sessions Court Judge Lonnie Thompson in Sunday’s Commercial Appeal. We knew that Judge Thompson had been charged in 2006 in a domestic violence incident. Noting the outstanding ratings Judge Thompson received from our attorney panel and the fact that the charges were dropped, we initially recommended Judge Thompson over newcomer Christian Johnson in the Div. 6 race. After reading the CA account of two more domestic violence incidents (1994 and 2013; all three incidents with separate women), we were forced to reconsider. Even though charges were dropped each time, the appearance of a pattern of conduct is deeply disturbing.
Under normal circumstances, we would not endorse a judicial candidate with a resume as thin as Mr. Johnson’s (he just passed the bar in October 2013). Mr. Johnson is, quite frankly, an unknown quantity. Still, the options here are not terrific. Mr. Johnson worked his way through law school at the University of Memphis as a paralegal, and therefore has more experience than the average new JD. We are more comfortable with Mr. Johnson at this time than we are with Judge Thompson, and he will have our vote in the General Sessions Div. 6 race.
We suggest you consider both candidates very carefully before making your own decision.
The Appellate Courts section of Back in River City’s Voting Smart Guide is now available on the tab marked Appellate Courts on our home page. This is complicated stuff, folks, and we are doing our best to make it clear to all readers.
We still have more to come, including background information on the referendum for three Supreme Court justices and a section we’re calling Politics in Judicial Selection. This section will explain why we are voting to replace all three Supreme Court Justices on the ballot. It will also include links to their individual performance evaluations as rendered by the Tennessee Judicial Performance Commission. Finally, it will give you background you’ll need to navigate the political storm brewing around November’s referendum on a State Constitutional Amendment that will both alter the judicial selection system we’ve used for 20 years (arguably, illegally) and enshrine the concept of “merit selection” rather than contested elections for judges in appellate courts, including the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Watch for these (we hope, FINAL) sections to our Guide on Monday, July 21st.
We are honored, humbled and awed by the response our Voting Smart Guide is receiving. We have received many positive and encouraging from judges, judicial candidates and engaged voters.
Remember that we are happy to answer questions and you are welcome to post your own polite and informed opinions, whether or not they agree with ours.
Early voting has begun at 157 Poplar Ave. You can vote there tomorrow (Saturday) from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. All early voting satellite locations will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. beginning Monday, July 21st. Click here for a list of early voting locations.
We know that many of you have been waiting for the final sections of Voting Smart: Your Voting Guide to Shelby County’s 2014 Judicial Elections. Yesterday we announced that information and our endorsements for all judicial elections (except the Appellate Court and Tennessee Supreme Court retention referenda) were up on our website and Facebook pages Back in River City and Voting Smart .
We also owe you a weighing in on the Shelby County District Attorney General race.
We are still working on the Appellate/Supremes section. It contains a fairly lengthy history of judicial selection in Tennessee (of questionable interest except to history and political geeks like us) as well as background data on the candidates.
But early voting begins tomorrow, so here’s the bottom line for you Early Birds who just want to know how we’re moving our thumbs.
It’s thumbs down on everyone – Appellates and Supremes – for us.
It may surprise you, but this decision goes beyond any partisan concerns we may have (although they, too, factor in).
Our final analysis of these races will be up posthaste. (I get to have a life again when the final period is in place so I assure you I am motivated!).
As for the District Attorney General’s race, here’s a quick summary:
Amy Weirich was elected with strong bi-partisan support. She has been in office only two years, a fraction of a full eight-year term. She is doing her job well. It would take an extremely strong opponent to justify replacing her. We all know that the contentious Judge Joe Brown doesn’t fit that definition. Enough said. We’re sticking with Amy.
Thanks to everyone who has read and shared the Guide and offered your kind encouragement. We are honored that you find our research and analysis of value. Please continue to spread the word that the Guide exists. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our opinions; our job is to help everyone make more informed and thoughtful decisions.
So, go out and vote to make a better Memphis!
We’ve just posted three new installments of Voting Smart: Back in River City’s Guide to Shelby County’s 2014 Judicial Elections.
The Guide begins on the tab marked Voters Guide on our homepage. Here you will find information on how to use our Guide. This tab includes Section I, Voter Information and Preparation; Section II, our Recommendations; and the first part of Section III, our Analysis of candidates running for Circuit Court, Chancery Court and Probate Court judgeships.
For technical reasons we continue to whine about, we have had to separate the Guide on multiple tabs/pages on Back in River City due to its length. Analysis for Criminal Court candidates is on a separate tab; as is analysis for the General Sessions candidates, Appellate races, and Tennessee Supreme Court races. Our recommendations for the Appellate and Tennessee Supreme Court races (these are the vote-up-or-down races) will be published tomorrow.
Again, we heartily welcome your comments here and on either of our Facebook pages for Back in River City or Voting Smart. Let us know if you spot an error, or if you have an important update (your information should be documented, not just anecdotal). We don’t expect everyone to agree with our choices, so debate away. We will also answer questions about how we made a final determination between candidates in races where there was more than one strong choice. But, remember, we are here to encourage civil discourse, so be your very best polite self (no trolls!) , or your comment will not be published.
We appreciate our readers and supporters!
We are proud to offer Back in River City’s comprehensive voters guide to Shelby County’s 2014 Judicial Elections. It’s L O O N N N G, and early voting begins on Friday, so we are publishing in installments as we complete each section. The entire guide will appear as a separate tab on our home page. It includes voter information, including early voting locations and times; information about the ballot and voting in the primaries; a list of our endorsed candidates in each race we are covering; and analysis of how we came to our recommendations.
The upcoming August 7, 2014 ballot (☚ check it out) is the kind most voters dread: it’s longer than a Memphis summer; includes candidates you have never heard of for offices you don’t understand; and the outcome will have a profound effect on our quality of life, both locally and statewide.
The ballot begins with primary races for Tennessee Governor, U.S. Senator, state senators and representatives, and state executive committee men/women. Next are 24 judicial races: nine for Circuit Court, three for Chancery Court, two for Probate Court, 10 for Criminal Court. County District Attorney and County Mayor follow, then County Commissioners, Property Assessor, and County Trustee.
By this time, you’ll be singing,
My back is aching and my knees are weak, I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet.
[email subscribers click here for Elvis]
You still have to make sound decisions in 14 races for General Sessions Court judges (both civil and criminal).
Then it’s Juvenile Court judge, Sheriff, and Clerks for Circuit, Criminal, Juvenile and Probate Courts; County Court Clerk and Register of Deeds; School Board Commissioner for your district; and, if you live in Collierville, Germantown, or Millington, your municipal judge (fortunately, the municipal judge races are all unopposed).
That does it for the local races, but not for statewide. Finally, you will be voting to oust or retain three Tennessee Supreme Court justices and 20 Court of Appeals judges – both civil and criminal, and not only in the Western District, but the Eastern and Middle Districts as well.
Feeling pretty confident?
We didn’t think so.
But vote you should, and not just “straight ticket” (judges aren’t listed by party affiliation, if they have one) or by whose yard signs you’ve seen the most, or (my mother’s favored voting method, God rest her non-political soul) who is the best looking.
The 66 judicial elections (53 races with challengers) make the August 7 ballot unusually long and intimidating. You may not think that selecting judges has much of an impact on your life, but they do, either directly (for example, if you are cited for a building codes violation on your new master suite addition, have a messy divorce, adopt a child, or have an errant teenager) or indirectly (think crime and punishment).
Most local judges are elected every eight years in Tennessee. Under our Tennessee Plan system, voters vote “up or down” to retain or replace Supreme Court and Appeals justices every eight years. At any time, it is difficult for the average voter to cast a sound, informed vote when multiple judicial races are at stake. For most people, researching individual judicial candidates falls into the category of “rational ignorance” - i.e., the perceived benefit is not worth the time investment.
Anyway, who among us really knows the difference between a District Court, Chancery Court, and General Sessions Court?
Back in River City’s Guide to the 2014 Judicial Elections
To help you avoid voter fatigue and low-information voter syndrome, Back in River City is publishing a free, comprehensive guide to the judicial races appearing on the August 7, 2014 ballot. The guide will include our own recommendations, based on extensive research on each candidate, including factual information as well as surveys and interviews with a bi-partisan panel of respected local attorneys. There will also be links to online information about each candidate so that you may do your own research.
The guide will be published here and on two Facebook pages: our Back in River City page, and at Voting Smart: 2014 Shelby Co. Judicial Elections. We will release the guide in sections, starting with General Sessions Court candidates (civil and criminal). The entire guide will also be available on a separate page here at Back in River City before early voting begins on July 18th. Meanwhile, send us your comments and questions about the judicial races, and we will respond. If you are an attorney with significant, recent courtroom experience (but not a current candidate for judge) you may request to be on our attorney panel. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or message us privately through one of the Facebook pages listed above.
Please forward this post to your friends and family. The more people who vote knowledgeably, the better the outcomes for everyone in Shelby County.