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Press Releases

Vacancy in 3rd Judicial District Draws 7 Applicants

Press release from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts; January 30, 2015:

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will consider seven applicants when it meets February 11 in Greeneville to select nominees for the circuit court vacancy in the 3rd Judicial District, which serves Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, and Hawkins counties.

The vacancy has been created by the death of the Honorable Michael Faulk, who died in November. The applicants are:

Kenneth Newton Bailey, Jr.
Greeneville

Douglas R. Beier
Morristown

Beth Boniface
Morristown

Daniel Graham Boyd
Rogersville

Link A. Gibbons
Morristown

William Erwin Phillips II
Rogersville

Linda Thomas Woolsey
Greeneville

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will interview the applicants on February 11 at the General Morgan Inn, 111 Main St. Greeneville, 37743.The meeting will include a public hearing at 9 a.m. EST, during which members of the public may express their opinions about the applicants. The interview and public hearing will be open to the public.

The council is expected to make their selections immediately following the interviews and forward the names to Governor Bill Haslam for his consideration.

Completed applications of all the candidates can be found by clicking on the links above.

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Press Releases

TN Supreme Court: Successor Judge May Act as 13th Juror in Review of Verdict

Press release from the Administrative Office of the Tennessee Courts; January 13, 2015:

The Tennessee Supreme Court today ruled that a successor judge who takes over a case from the judge that presided over the trial, may act as the “13th juror” in a case.  In its ruling, the Court created a rebuttable presumption, which means that it is assumed the judge can act as a 13th juror unless evidence is presented that contradicts that assumption.

In a criminal jury trial in the State of Tennessee, 12 jurors are tasked with determining a verdict. Under Tennessee law, a trial judge has a duty to act as the 13th juror, not to deliberate with the jury on the case, but to provide an independent layer of review in assessing the weight of the evidence. Examining the weight of the evidence requires consideration of a number of factors, including resolving conflicting evidence presented at trial. If the trial judge determines that the weight of the evidence is against the verdict, the trial judge must grant a new trial.

The question presented to the Court in this case is whether a successor judge may act as the 13th juror in cases in which the original trial judge is not available to act in that capacity. The Court held that a successor judge, after carefully considering the record, may act as the 13th juror in all cases except in the rare occasion in which the demeanor of a witness was the critical issue in weighing the evidence that led to the verdict.

In the trial at issue in this case, the judge presiding during the testimony and presentation of evidence left the bench between the time of the jury’s guilty verdict and the time of sentencing. The jury convicted the defendant of aggravated burglary, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, aggravated robbery, and aggravated assault.The defendant, Justin Ellis, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for these offenses. The defense then filed a motion for a new trial and raised the issue of whether a successor judge could properly act as a 13th juror without having been present for the testimony. After reviewing the record, the successor judge determined that he could act as a 13th juror in this case. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals determined that, under the facts of this case, the successor judge could not fill the role of 13th juror and ordered a new trial.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which today created a rebuttable presumption that a successor judge may act as the 13th juror and held that the presumption could only be rebutted when the demeanor of a witness is the critical issue involved in resolving this issue. In this case, the Court determined that the demeanor of the witnesses was not the critical issue and that, as a result, the successor judge acted properly in serving as the 13th juror in this case in determining that the weight of the evidence supported the jury’s guilty verdict.

Read the unanimous opinion in State of Tennessee v. Justin Ellis, authored by Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins.

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Public to Get First Look at Proposed Judicial Redistricting Maps

More than a dozen proposals for Tennessee’s first judicial redistricting in nearly 30 years submitted by individual attorneys, district attorneys, public defenders and judges will be unveiled Friday.

“The response we have gotten to our public call for judicial district maps is extremely encouraging,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in a statement to TNReport. “I would especially like to commend the Public Defenders Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association for coming to the table and sharing their ideas.”

Judicial redistricting, which would change the way judges, district attorneys and public defenders are allocated throughout the state, has a bearing on the workload of judges and court workers and the efficiency of the state justice system.

The state’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984. A key reason why redistricting is needed, legislators say, is that in the past three decades, Tennessee’s population has jumped from 4.5 million to 6.4 million.

Sumner County, for example, makes up the 18th Judicial District. It has a population of 163,686, according to 2011 census numbers, and has one circuit court judge assigned to it. But over in Blount County, where there are 40,000 fewer people, there are two circuit court judges.

Tennessee’s 95 counties are divided into 31 judicial districts. Within each district are circuit courts and chancery courts. Some districts also host criminal courts and probate courts.

Ramsey’s office provided TNReport one example of a map they received of how districts could be redrawn. That example can be seen here.

A request for comment from the Administrative Office of the Courts was not immediately returned. An official with the AOC had previously told TNReport the office had no opinion on whether judicial districts should be redrawn.

Ramsey last month launched a website seeking public input into the creation of the new judicial maps. He also sent a memo about this to interested parties.

“While I have heard from several individual judges and district attorneys, their respective conferences have been MIA in the consensus-building process,” Ramsey said. “I find it curious that the judiciary insists that districts from school board to Congress be strictly drawn to the hallowed ‘one man, one vote’ principle yet balks at the mere suggestion that the principle be applied to itself. We came into this process with open minds and a desire to work with interested parties.”

Indeed, not everyone is happy with the potential changes coming.

From Knoxville’s Metro Pulse:

The biggest problem, (Chancellor Daryl Fansler, the president of the Tennessee Trial Judges Association) says, is that Ramsey’s memo requires any new redistricting plan to make each of the 12 counties with populations over 100,000 people their own districts. Since the memo restricts increasing the number of districts above 31, that leaves 83 counties to be divided among 19 (or fewer) districts, with just 54 judges to serve them. There could be districts with seven or eight counties apiece, stretching hundreds of miles. Judges, lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants might now have to travel two or three hours to get to court — and court appearances might take a much longer time to get on the schedule.

Ramsey said he believes that the General Assembly will make a map that is fair to Tennessee’s citizens.

“We continue to endeavor to create a map that takes into account both regional integrity and population growth to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders,” he said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.