Posts

Lee Elected Chief Justice, Term Begins Sept. 1

Press release from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts; August 14, 2014:

Justice Sharon Lee will become Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, effective September 1.

Justice Lee won a retention election for an eight-year term to the Court in the August 7, 2014 statewide election. She has been a member of the Tennessee Supreme Court since 2008.

“It’s an honor to serve the Court, the Tennessee judiciary, and the people of Tennessee in this role,” said Justice Lee. “I am grateful to the citizens of Tennessee for electing me to the Supreme Court and appreciate the confidence the members of the Court have shown by electing me as Chief Justice. I will continue to work to ensure that courts in Tennessee are fair and impartial.”

Before her appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Lee served as a Judge on the Tennessee Court of Appeals from 2004-2008. From 1978-2004, she practiced law in her hometown of Madisonville and also served as a municipal judge, a mediator, and a county and city attorney. Justice Lee received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Tennessee.

Justice Lee is active in her community, serving on several boards including the YWCA Knoxville and the East Tennessee Historical Society. She also is involved with the Volunteer Ministry Center and the 2014 Congressional Medal of Honor Convention. Justice Lee has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Chief Justice William E. Barker Equal Access to Justice Award, the YWCA Knoxville 30 Remarkable Women over the past 30 years, the Lizzie Crozier French Leadership Award from the East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Council, YWCA Knoxville Tribute to Women Honoree, the Woman of Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts Council of the Southern Appalachians, the Spirit of Justice Award by the East Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women, and the University of Tennessee Alumni Professional Promise Award. Justice Lee has two daughters.

JAS: TN Supreme Court Election Campaign TV Ad Spending Surpassed $1.4 M

Press release from Justice at Stake; August 7, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 7–Television ad spending in Tennessee’s Supreme Court election surged past $1.4 million, in a tough contest that attracted money from in-state and out-of-state sources. On Thursday, voters delivered new eight-year terms to all three incumbent Tennessee justices who sought retention to the five-member court.

“Partisans and special interests opened their checkbooks to send a message of intimidation to courts not just in Tennessee, but across America,” said Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “And to survive, Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices have had to become professional fundraisers, often soliciting money from parties who will appear before them in court.”

“The amount spent attempting to influence this retention election is deeply troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arms race spending has no place in a supreme court election. Tennesseans shouldn’t have to worry about outside groups playing politics with their courts every time there is an election.”

According to estimates provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, more than $1.4 million worth of television advertising for and against the justices’ retention had aired by the time polls opened today. More than a million dollars’ worth of advertising contracts are also identified in publicly-available FCC files.

The Tennessee Forum, an anti-retention group funded by a PAC operated by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, spent an estimated $474,150 on TV ads. An out-of-state group, The State Government Leadership Foundation, also spent $63,390 on TV ads to unseat the justices. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-funded group, spent money on anti-retention radio campaign for which expenditures remain undisclosed.

The most spending on TV ads, however, came from the justices themselves, who spent an estimated $579,870 in joint ads defending against anti-retention efforts. Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a group formed by a local attorney, also spent $215,840 on TV ads to retain the judges, and Chief Justice Gary Wade funded TV ads totaling $94,980.

Skyrocketing judicial election spending has become the rule, not the exception in recent years. The $1.4-million Tennessee Supreme Court race follows a $1.3-million judicial primary in North Carolina in May, in which the Republican State Leadership Committee was a major spender, and an Arkansas Supreme Court race in which advertising spending doubled over the previous cycle.

The escalating spending on a judicial election in Tennessee matched a national trend of increasing expenditures on judicial elections since 2000, Brandenburg and Bannon noted. In recent years, the trend has spread to several states, such as Tennessee, that have worked to insulate courts from political pressure by establishing merit selection systems. Retention (up-or-down) elections held within the framework of merit selection systems have begun to attract spending and political pressure not previously seen in these races.

Television spending data for the Tennessee race, ads, and storyboards, are available at the Brennan Center’s Buying Time: Tennessee 2014 webpage. For past spending in judicial elections, read The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts, a report released by the Brennan Center, Justice at Stake and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports.

TV Methodology

All data on ad airings and spending estimates are calculated and prepared by Kantar Media/CMAG, which captures satellite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels. Cost estimates are revised by Kantar Media/CMAG when it receives updated data, resulting in some fluctuations in the reported ad spending.

Stewart Co Election Commish Chair Files Election Finance Complaint Against Justices

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 5, 2014:

NASHVILLE — A complaint recently filed with the Registry of Election Finance and made available to the Tennessee Forum levels three new charges at the campaign to retain Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade. The complaint follows an earlier charge against Judge Gary Wade and establishes a pattern of disregard for campaign law and judicial ethics by the judges.

“This latest complaint is clear, concise and well-documented. With the election only days away, I implore Judges Clark, Lee and Wade to answer these charges immediately,” said Susan Kaestner. “The voters have a right to know whether judges seeking eight-year terms as the final arbiter of law and justice in the state have themselves been violating the law.”

“If we can’t trust these judges to follow simple campaign laws, how can we trust them to properly interpret the constitution and laws of this state?”

In the complaint, Robert Mallory says the joint campaign effort of the three judges is coordinating with the newly formed Tennesseans for Fair Courts PAC in violation of Tennessee state law. Mallory, who serves as Chairman of the Stewart County Election Commission, notes that the two groups’ current television ads (seen here and here) contain almost identical messages delivered in a similar way.

Mallory also points out that the campaign’s signs are illegal. Mallory references a news report that includes Justice Sharon Lee placing a campaign yard sign that does not comply with campaign finance law disclosure requirements, which is a criminal violation.

Mallory also notes that the coordinated campaign for the three judges’ Facebook page, which became active in May, carries a URL which is identical in name to the Tennessee for Fair Courts PAC which was not formed until June.

The PAC also failed to disclose whether expenditures were either in-kind or independent or in support of or opposing a particular candidate as required by campaign finance regulations.

A copy of the complaint can be accessed by clicking here.

Supreme Retention, Replacement Campaign Spending Tops $1.5 M

Press release from Justice At Stake; August 1, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 1 – In the final week before the August 7 retention election for three incumbent Tennessee Supreme Court justices, spending has soared over a million dollars with both pro-retention and anti-retention groups investing heavily in television advertising, Justice at Stake has found.

“Tennessee has joined a growing club of states where courts face a tidal wave of spending and political pressure,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake. “As judicial campaigns grow worse, money and partisan interests can’t be allowed to undercut impartial justice.”

According to state disclosures, the three incumbents, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee, have raised over $1,045,000 among their three campaigns since the start of the year. In addition, a pro-retention group, Tennesseans for Fair Courts, has raised over $46,000 this year.

An anti-retention group, the Tennessee Forum, has raised more than $426,000 since the start of the year, including a contribution of $425,000 from RAAMPAC, the PAC set up by Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who has led efforts to unseat the justices.

In recent days, Ramsey also distributed via email a video instructing voters how to vote against retention of the justices.

In addition, the Republican State Leadership Committee reports expenditures of over $196,000 on an anti-retention direct mail effort, while two other groups have spent undisclosed amounts on anti-retention efforts via direct mail and broadcast advertising: Americans for Prosperity, and the State Government Leadership Foundation, an RSLC partner group. The SGLF has purchased television advertising contracts worth more than $23,000, according to FCC filings by local television stations.

Overall, public files available on the FCC website show that at least $987,000 has been spent to book television advertising contracts by pro- and anti-retention groups. Of this, more than $562,000 has been spent by the justices’ campaigns and supporters, while more than $425,000 has been spent by opponents, led by the Tennessee Forum with more than $402,000.

Links to videos of the ads are available on the Buying Time website of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.

TN Forum: Retention Campaign Mostly Funded by Lobbyists, Judges, Lawyers

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE — According to the most recent financial disclosures available at the Tennessee Registry of Elections website, Tennessee’s liberal Supreme Court is relying almost exclusively on lobbyists, judges and lawyers for their campaign cash. Nearly 70% of the Supreme Court’s coordinated campaign contributions during the most recent reporting period came from the legal community.

“Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade are clearly relying on their buddies on the bench and lawyers who must appear before them to fund their campaign,” said Susan Kaestner of the Tennessee Forum. “Accepting, much less soliciting, cash from lawyers who may have to practice in your court brings up a whole host of ethical dilemmas.”

“These lawyers were either trying to curry favor or felt intimidated into giving,” said Kaestner. “Nothing good can come from either of those scenarios.”

“I find it deeply concerning that there are at least two lobbyists on these disclosures. It is against the law for lobbyists to give to gubernatorial or legislative candidates. If you are a judge trying to remain truly independent, the last thing you want is to be seen cozying up to a lobbyist. Special interest money handed over straight from lobbyists to sitting justices has no place in our Supreme Court.”

“This is a campaign that is funded by trial lawyers and conducted by Obama operatives,” stated Kaestner. “Neither this court nor its campaign represents the average Tennessean in any way, shape or form.”

Each member of the court had an overwhelming majority of their campaign dollars come from the legal community during the most recent reporting period. Sharon Lee received the highest dollar amount at $73,780.00 which amounted to 71.55% of her contributions. Connie Clark’s total lawyer contributions clocked in at $55,685 or 70.19% and Gary Wade received 63.78% of his donations from lawyers which amounted to $53,239.

Altogether the Supreme Court coordinated campaign received $182,704 from lawyers, judges or lobbyists. That’s 68.7% of the total contributions taken in.

At least two people currently registered to lobby in Tennessee appear on the disclosures. Emily Ogden gave $250 to Sharon Lee and Candy Toler gave $100 to Gary Wade.

Tennessee Code Annotated 3-6-304(j) states: “No lobbyist shall offer or make any campaign contribution, including any in-kind contribution, to or on behalf of the governor or any member of the general assembly or any candidate for the office of governor, state senator or state representative.”

TN Forum: Finance Disclosures Show Supremes Campaign Linked to D.C. Dems

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE — The latest campaign financial disclosures from Supreme Court judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade reveal more links to Washington, D.C. Democrats. An examination of the latest documents reveal more money changing hands between Tennessee’s Supreme Court judges and political operatives for Obama and Ford Jr.

“This disclosure eliminates any doubt,” said Susan Kaestner. “These judges are partisan Democrats, period. Tennessee does not need a Supreme Court that relies on Obama liberals to distort their records and make them appear to be something they are not.”

“Tennessee has utterly rejected Barack Obama and D.C. Democrats. It is time for Tennessee to vote replace on Democrats Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade,” Kaestner concluded.

Clark, Lee and Wade spent nearly $25,000 on media production with Democrat firm, Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly, LLC. MVAR bills itself as a “full-service political media firm with experience helping Democrats and progressive causes.” According to its website, the firm was the media team for the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. Other clients include Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D-CT).

Clark, Lee and Wade paid $300,000 to a Democrat advertising firm called Buying Time, LLC. The firm’s founder, Cathie Herrick boasts on the firm’s webpage that she handled day to day operations for the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996.

Gary Wade paid Hart Research Associates $16,000 for research and polling. Hart Associates is the firm of noted Democratic pollster Peter Hart. Hart has worked for Hubert Humphrey, Lloyd Bentsen and Jay Rockefeller. Partners in his firm have represented noted liberals like Dianne Feinstein and Bernie Sanders.

Previous media reports identified three Democrat operatives working for the judges — including one who worked in Barack Obama’s White House and one who led Harold Ford Jr.’s campaign against Sen. Bob Corker. The disclosure confirms Clark, Lee and Wade continue to retain the services of former Obama operative Victoria McCullough, Harold Ford, Jr. communications director Carol Andrews and Democrat lobbyist Brenda Gadd.

TN Right to Life Joins Fight to Unseat Supremes

Press release from the Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Late yesterday, Tennessee Right to Life, the largest pro-life organization in Tennessee, put the full weight of its organization behind the effort to replace Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

“The replacement effort has been building support and catching fire across the state,” said Susan Kaestner, President of The Tennessee Forum. “We are pleased to see Tennessee Right to Life speaking out on the importance of replacing the liberals on our Supreme Court.”

Tennessee Right to Life’s full endorsement letter is below.

Dear Members of Tennessee Right to Life,

Early voting is underway and Tennessee Right to Life is receiving many inquiries regarding the August 7 vote to replace three Supreme Court Justices.

Tennessee Right to Life is leading the critical campaign to win passage of Amendment 1 in the November election. It is important to note, however, that Amendment 1 is only necessary because of the judicial arrogance of the Tennessee Supreme Court. In the landmark case of Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee v. Sundquist, members of the state Supreme Court imagined themselves entitled to amend our Tennessee Constitution on the matter of abortion without the consent of Tennessee’s people.

Not only were common sense safeguards for the unborn and abortion-vulnerable women immediately stripped from state law books, so was any opportunity to adapt the challenged laws because the Tennessee Supreme Court established abortion as a so-called “fundamental right” in the Tennessee Constitution. With their radical pro-abortion ruling favoring Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, activist judges made clear that efforts by the people and our elected officials to “infringe” on this new right would not be tolerated.

So now we find ourselves facing the most significant and expensive abortion vote ever in Tennessee to nullify the Court’s terrible ruling and restore the rights of Tennesseans to have a voice in abortion policy and regulation.

Equally important is the matter of judges who place their policy preferences over those of the people. The opportunity to “replace” Justices Clark, Lee and Wade sends a strong message that we expect our judges to interpret the Constitution, not re-write it. Each was appointed by a pro-abortion Governor and enjoys the support of a pro-abortion establishment actively working to defeat pro-life Amendment 1.

For members seeking direction from Tennessee Right to Life PAC as to how your votes can best serve the cause of Life and the unborn in our state, we respectfully urge your votes to REPLACE Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

Toward that Goal,

Brian Harris, President
Tennessee Right to Life

Progressive Group Slams Nat’l Conservative Groups Involvement in Retention Race

Press release from the Center for American Progress; July 31, 2014: 

To: Interested Parties
From: Center for American Progress, Legal Progress
Re: National Right-Wing Groups Target Tennessee Judiciary

On August 7, Tennesseans will decide whether three Supreme Court judges appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen (D), along with other appellate judges, stay on the bench. Governor Bill Haslam (R) will fill any vacancy should the Supreme Court judges lose.

This election has obvious implications for Tennessee citizens, but national conservative groups are using it as a clarion call for the right wing agenda. That is why the Republican State Leadership Committee, or RSLC, and the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, have joined the race.

Right wing to spend millions to make sure courts put corporations over middle class families in Tennessee

The president of the RSLC said it plans to spend “north of $5 million” to elect judges this year, including more than $200,000 so far in Tennessee. With one week left in the race, the RSLC could be the biggest player in the Tennessee Supreme Court election.

The RSLC has not shied away from sharing their goal: protecting their radical, right wing agenda that puts corporations over middle class families. According to RSLC’s president, “Republicans have had a significant amount of success at the state level, not only being elected to offices but implementing bold conservative solutions… Unfortunately, that’s running into a hard stop with judges who aren’t in touch with the public.”

The “bold conservative” policies that have been challenged in court include legislation that disenfranchises voters, keeps injured citizens from filing lawsuits, and cuts essential services like health care and education. After the RSLC helped elect Republican legislators in Tennessee and North Carolina, the state legislatures passed two of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws.

In order to protect the agendas of GOP politicians, the RSLC has become the first national party organization focused on electing judges. It’s not just the RSLC. Americans for Prosperity are also running ads criticizing three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot on August 7.

The RSLC has done this before

Tennessee is not the only state in which the RSLC has spent millions of dollars trying to influence judicial elections. North Carolina is another prime example. In North Carolina, four out of seven seats are up for grabs in November. It is the first election in more than a decade in which candidates have no access to public financing.

The RSLC was the biggest spender in the May 5 primary election for the North Carolina Supreme Court. Its money funded ads attacking an incumbent justice for being “soft” on “child predators,” citing her dissent in one case. During the 2012 election, as the North Carolina Supreme Court was deliberating in the redistricting lawsuit, RSLC spent more than $1 million to keep the court’s 4-3 conservative majority in place. And then Justice Paul Newby, who benefited from the RSLC’s money, refused to recuse himself in the redistricting lawsuit.

Conclusion

The RSLC is seeking to use judicial elections to promote its right-wing agenda at the expense of middle class Tennesseans. After helping elect conservative legislators, the RSLC saw those legislators roll back the clock on voting rights, limit access to justice, and allow more money in politics. Citizens are challenging many of these statutes in state courts, but the RSLC is spending millions of dollars to ensure that their legislators’ agendas are not thwarted by the courts. The RSLC wants state courts that will serve as rubber stamps for legislatures. Citizens would be better served by independent courts that decide each case based on the facts and the law, not politics or partisanship.

TN Forum Criticizes AG for Silence on Federal Release of Immigrant Children

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; July 29, 2014:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Forum today chastised Tennessee’s Supreme Court-appointed Attorney General Bob Cooper for failing to take any action against the federal government for releasing 760 illegal immigrants into the state of Tennessee.

“Barack Obama has once again imposed what amounts to an unfunded mandate on the state of Tennessee and once again Bob Cooper has failed to act,” said Susan Kaestner, president of the Tennessee Forum. “This is just the most recent example of what happens when you have a liberal Supreme Court appointing a liberal attorney general.”

“An attorney general is supposed to look out for the legal interests of the people of Tennessee. When the federal government falls short or oversteps, we need to have an attorney general we can count on to stand up for our interests,” Kaestner explained.

“Connie Clark and Gary Wade did not call Cooper to the carpet for his refusal to stand up against Obamacare. Instead they defended his actions. Now he has gone and done it again,” Kaestner stated. “How much abuse must our state take from the Obama administration before our Supreme Court and its attorney general deem it appropriate to fight back?”

“It is time to vote replace and send this liberal Supreme Court home. Maybe then we can get an attorney general who actually stands up for the state and looks out for the interests of Tennesseans,” Kaestner concluded.

Bill Haslam wrote in a letter to President Obama last week that he had learned of the White House’s dumping of 760 illegal immigrants in Tennessee only after seeing a notification on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. He had previously asked the Obama administration to give him advance notice of any illegals who were on their way to his state.

As of this writing, the Attorney General Cooper has made no public statements on the matter and taken no legal action.

Attorney General Cooper previously failed to stand up for Tennessee by refusing to join any of the various multi-state suits against Obamacare. Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark and Gary Wade defended his refusal. Wade said it was the “right decision for taxpayers.” Clark argued that the refusal was justified because Obamacare was a “federal issue.”

TN Forum: Congrats to Supreme Court Justices on Endorsement by Davidson Co Dems

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; July 24, 2014: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Forum President Susan Kaestner congratulated Democrat Supreme Court Justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee, and Gary Wade on their endorsement by the Davidson County Democrat Party today. In an email to Democrat party activists and supporters, Gary D. Bynum, Chairman of the Davidson County Democrat Party, said, “Remember when Democrats don’t vote, Republicans are elected and we ALWAYS support the Democratic ticket…Vote to “RETAIN” the current Supreme Court on August 7.” A copy of the email can be viewed HERE.

“I congratulate Justices Clark, Lee and Wade on earning the support of their base – the liberal left of the Democrat Party,” Kaestner said. “It should not be surprising that Democrats would endorse the judges given that they are, in fact, Democrats. Chairman Bynum makes clear that Clark, Lee and Wade are key components of the ‘Democrat ticket’ for voters to consider this August.”

“Partisanship is nothing new for Clark, Lee and Wade,” Kaestner said. “They earned the respect of their friends in the Democrat party by being ultra-partisan activists and donors throughout their judicial career, despite claims to the contrary.”

A review of campaign finance records by the Tennessee Forum reveals a strong pattern of partisan behavior by all three Supreme Court judges up for retention this August. The political contribution histories of Judges Clark, Wade and Lee directly contradict the public mythology perpetrated by the judges and their Democrat operatives that they are “nonpartisan.”

“The judges’ political contributions put in perspective the level of deception they are peddling to the people of Tennessee,” said Kaestner. “The judges can masquerade as apolitical, but the facts are the facts. Normal Tennessee citizens go to work, raise families and go to the polls on election day. They do not consistently and generously give large amounts of money to Democrat candidates. There is a term for people who do that: Partisan Democrat.”

Records show that Clark has given a total of $5,435 to political candidates over the years. 80% of those donations have gone to Democrats, including former Democratic Senate Speaker John Wilder, former Senate Democrat Caucus Chairman Joe Haynes and former state Representative Rob Briley. The candidate receiving the largest total contributions from Clark was former Democrat Governor Phil Bredesen. Bredesen appointed Clark to the Supreme Court in 2005.

Clark’s partisan roots transcend her donation record as well. She was elected to the Tennessee Democrat Party Executive Committee, the most partisan and highest ranking political organization one can be a part of at the state level. As a member of the state Democrat Executive Committee, Clark helped set policy, elect the party’s chairman, and worked to elect Democrat candidates across the state.

Wade, the largest political contributor of the three judges, has donated over 70% of his money to Democrat candidates. Wade’s political contributions total at least $27,311 and include former Vice President Al Gore, Harold Ford, Jr., current Democrat Party chair Roy Herron and the Democratic National Committee. Wade also gave at least $3,000 to former Democrat Governor Phil Bredesen. Bredesen appointed Wade to the Supreme Court in 2006.

Publicly available campaign finance records indicate Lee is the most partisan of the three. She gave over $8,000, 92% of which went to Democrats. Recipients of Lee’s political generosity include Harold Ford, Jr., 2010 Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter, current Democrat Party chair Roy Herron and ActBlue. Lee joined her two colleagues in supporting the Democrat Governor who appointed them. She gave Bredesen’s campaign over $3,000. She was later appointed to the Supreme Court in 2008 — by Phil Bredesen.

“These records are public and searchable by anyone with an internet connection. The judges don’t want voters to know their entire campaign is predicated on deception,” said Kaestner. “These judges are candidates for the highest court in the state and they are denying basic truths about their political history.”

“Ironically, their campaign is an argument for replacement. If you truly want nonpartisan judges on the Supreme Court of Tennessee your only choice is to vote ‘replace’ on Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.”

The general public can search databases of state and federal political contributions free of charge at http://www.fec.gov and http://www.tn.gov/tref.