Wade Skipping Chattanooga Forum to Avoid Encounter with Critic

After learning he was going to have share stage time with a state lawmaker who is not among his biggest fans, Tennessee Chief Justice Gary Wade cancelled a luncheon appearance before a group of Chattanooga-area Republicans today.

For over a month the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club had been planning to have Wade, a Democrat, speak before the group and make his case for getting another eight-year term on the state’s high court.

But as the event began to approach, some Republicans from around town, including House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, began to express concerns about Wade being given a campaign platform without allowing for equal time from an opponent, said Henry Hoss, the group’s president.

The Pachyderm Club is in fact committed to supporting “the goals and objectives of the Republican Party,” said Hoss. But because the Supreme Court is ostensibly nonpartisan, the organization’s leadership didn’t initially contemplate any need to invite a Republican opponent, he said.

“To be honest, we didn’t even realize there was another side,” Hoss told TNReport on Friday.

Nevertheless, after some internal deliberations an invitation to participate was extended to Sen. Mike Bell, a Riceville Republican. Bell has been highly critical of Wade and like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and McCormick, opposes his retention. In June, Bell chaired an ad-hoc committee hearing that initiated a probe into the dismissal of an ethics complaint against Wade last year by the state’s Board of Judicial Conduct.

Hoss said the plan was to give both Wade and Bell 15 minutes or so for some remarks, then open the meeting up to audience questions.

However, the revised program was unacceptable to Chief Justice Wade. When informed that “the rules had changed” and Bell was going to get a chance to tell his side of the story, Wade cancelled.

“We didn’t understand why that was appropriate,” said Carol Brown Andrews, a spokeswoman for the “coordinated campaign” of Wade and the two other Supreme Court Justices running for retention, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee. “If they wanted to hear from Sen. Bell on any subject — and especially that subject — they should have invited him at a different time. And if they had wanted to have them both at the same time, they should have made that clear from the beginning.”