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Voting Smart Updates for July 30, 2014: Sheriffs and Vacationing Judges

July 30, 2014


The Shelby County Deputy Sheriff’s Association‘s endorsements in the judicial races have been added to candidate backgrounds in  Voting Smart: Your Guide to Shelby Co.’s 2014 Judicial Elections.

We’ve also added a link to the Commercial Appeal’s recent investigative piece chastising General Sessions judges Phyllis Gardner, Betty Thomas-Moore and Lonnie Thompson for taking too much time off from the bench.

Several people have asked us if we would rescind our recommendation of Judge Gardner based on this new information. Here’s our take on the issue:

The judges broke no laws, bent no regulations. Judges Gardner and Moore defended themselves by saying they are “entitled” to the time off. Judge Moore (and presumably, Judge Gardner as well) bases her position on personnel policies for City of Memphis employees (see her comments to Back in River City here). Shelby Co.’s Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy told the CA that elected officials are not subject to specific vacation policies, but take time off at their discretion.aeroplane-taking-off-albatros-africa-350px

We strongly believe that the black robe is an honor that should be worn with humility and respect for the citizens and taxpayers who award it. To treat a General Sessions judgeship as just another job in city government  – with vacation and sick day benefits one can take at will –  is a degradation of the role and its responsibility. General Sessions courtrooms are closed four weeks a year and every Friday afternoon. A judge with a deferential attitude, rather than an entitled one, would consider that time as time off, not just a perquisite of scheduling.

The other issue raised by the CA article is the use of unpaid attorneys who agree to sit in as “special judges” when a judge is absent. No matter how principled the parties may be, this practice naturally raises questions about judicial favoritism among litigants and other attorneys. The tradition is not good for our judicial system. It should be used minimally and better alternatives explored.

The Commercial Appeal deserves praise for its recent investigative reporting on both candidates and sitting judges. As for Back in River City,  we are holding to our recommendation for another term for Judge Gardner. In our opinion, she is the better of the two candidates for General Sessions Division 2. That said, we hope that the spotlight shone on judges’ time away from their courtrooms  will prompt all election winners to use better judgment in their vacation planning.



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