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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.

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Pro-retention Group Releases First Ad in Support of TN Supreme Court Justices

Press release from Tennesseans for Fair Courts; July 22, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 22, 2014) – With an unprecedented and nakedly political assault on the Tennessee Supreme Court in full swing, Tennesseans for Fair Courts is ready to strike back with a new ad campaign to protect the independence of the state’s judicial system.

The first ad—a 30-second TV spot—shines a spotlight on the malicious untruths beings spread by political extremists who are attacking three Supreme Court Justices in particular. The ad quotes various media outlets and independent judicial experts who have called the accusations “false,” “misleading,” “lunacy” and a “smear campaign.”

“Experts have evaluated and condemned these false attacks on our state’s Supreme Court, and that is a fact every voter in Tennessee needs to know,” said Clint Kelly, a Hendersonville attorney and spokesperson for Tennesseans for Fair Courts.

The expert analysis, as reported in The Tennessean, WTVF-TV NewsChannel 5, and elsewhere, concludes that accusations that Justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade have ever “advanced ObamaCare” are complete fabrications.

“That is the lie of all lies to say they had anything to do with ObamaCare,” said Kelly. “They have not made any rulings on ObamaCare, nor are they likely to because that’s a federal issue and this is a state court.”

In a July 20th editorial titled “Don’t be fooled by the smear campaign,” The Tennessean responded to attempts to connect any state Supreme Court Justice to ObamaCare by saying, “This is lunacy—and a sad case of using a charged buzzword just to inflame and mislead.”

“These falsehoods are part of a transparent power grab by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. He isn’t satisfied with a super majority in the state legislature and is trying to seize control of the Supreme Court as well,” said Kelly.

The first 30-second TV spot by Tennesseans for Fair Courts is now available online and will be aired on network and cable television in markets across Tennessee. See the ad at http://youtu.be/HNLT-J_ASok.

“Ron Ramsey is embarrassing our state by trying to cast aside the checks and balances established by our Founding Fathers. He’s allowed himself to become a handmaiden for the Koch Brothers and other out-of-state ‘dark money’ groups who want their own personal brand of political extremism to run rampant in our courts,” said Kelly.

According to the Tennessee Bar Association, nine out of ten attorneys in Tennessee want to retain all three justices because they are fairly and impartially administering the law under the Constitutions of the state and the country.

All three justices are also supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, which generally does not make endorsements in supreme court elections but has made an exception in response to the unprecedented politicization of this year’s election.

A bi-partisan group of current and former prosecutors has also publically come out in favor of retaining all three state Supreme Court justices.

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Ads For, Against Retention of State Supreme Court Justices Flood TN Airwaves

Press release from Justice At Stake; July 23, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23 – A significant new barrage of politically-charged campaign ads hit Tennessee airwaves this week targeting three state Supreme Court justices up for retention. Among the out-of-state groups spending money to unseat the justices is Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-linked dark money group that also spent money to influence state Supreme Court races in North Carolina and Florida in 2012. Other groups seeking to influence Tennessee’s retention election include the Republican State Leadership Committee, which distributed fliers, and the State Government Leadership Foundation.

The state is seeing a surge of ads both for and against Justices Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee as the August 7 retention election approaches. Early voting began July 18. While much of the advertising spending is likely to remain undocumented until the next state disclosure deadline at the end of July, public FCC files show spending on television ad contracts continues to rise, and has crossed the $400,000 threshold.

The ads include:

  • A radio ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, criticizing the justices for appointing a “liberal” Attorney General who did not oppose Obamacare.
  • A TV ad sponsored by Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a pro-retention group, disputing claims made in ads opposing the justices.
  • A TV ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum, a conservative Tennessee group, claiming the justices are “liberal on crime” and “threaten your freedoms.” It urges voters to “replace the liberal Supreme Court.” The group said these ads are part of statewide campaign that will air through the election.
  • A TV ad highlighting the justices’ records, saying they upheld “nearly 90 percent of death sentences,” and urging viewers to vote in favor of their retention.
  • A TV ad from the State Government Leadership Foundation, a partner group of the Republican State Leadership Committee, criticizing the three justices for being “liberal on the Obama agenda.”
  • A TV ad in favor of Justice Gary Wade, describing him as focused on work, family and faith.
  • A TV ad sponsored by Keep Tennessee Courts Fair (the coordinated campaign to retain justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade), in which retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Mickey Barker says “politics has no place in our courts.”

“The continued flood of money into judicial elections from all sides is already a threat to impartial justice. But if AFP has decided to spend the kind of money in a judicial race that it has spent in other contests around the country, this could transform judicial politics in the United States,” noted Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “More judges are feeling trapped in a system that is persuading many people that justice is for sale.”

“The ads in Tennessee are just the latest in a disturbing trend of outside groups attempting to influence who sits on our courts,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “People need to feel that judges are accountable to the law, not special interest groups pouring money into retention elections. Ads that politicize judges’ records on the bench undermine the independence of our courts.”

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National Group Worries Both Sides in Supreme Court Retention Fight Politicizing Judicial Rulings

Press release from Justice at Stake; July 21, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 21 – The first television ads calling for voters to oust three Tennessee Supreme Court justices facing retention on August 7th have hit the state’s airwaves, as the retention election continues to heat up.

An ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum, a conservative Tennessee group, claims the justices are “liberal on crime” and “threaten your freedoms.” It urges voters to “replace the liberal Supreme Court.” The group said these ads are part of statewide campaign that will air through the election.

Public records show that the Tennessee Forum has spent at least $119,055 on television ad contracts in the Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson, Tri-Cities and Chattanooga markets on several stations: WTVF ($30,800); WKRN ($11,150); WSMV ($13,670); WATE ($7,865); WVLT ($12,250); WBIR ($19,155); WDEF ($3,735); WDSI ($1,925); WJHL (16,065); and WTNZ ($2,440).

“Bare-knuckle Supreme Court campaigns have been spreading around the country, and now it’s Tennessee’s turn,” noted Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “The new ad is right out of the usual playbook, accusing judges of being soft on crime. As spending accelerates on both sides, yet another state court is being pressured to raise big money and answer to interest groups and politicians.”

“Campaign ads on both sides that politicize judges’ rulings in criminal cases are particularly troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Characterizing judges as soft or tough on crime could put pressure on judges to decide cases with an eye toward how their judgment will be portrayed in the next election cycle.

The Tennessee Forum and the Republican State Leadership Committee have also distributed direct mail pieces urging voters to replace the justices.

Public records show that campaigns to retain the justices have spent at least $201,495 so far on television ad contracts in the Memphis, Nashville, Jackson and Knoxville markets on several stations: WKRN ($23,010); three buys on WSMV ($20,340, $21,975, $9,175); WTVF ($21,850); WHBQ ($3,605); WLMT ($1,245); WREG ($16,230); three buys on WBIR ($14,245, $20,025, $6,915); WVLT ($8,165); WTNZ ($3,250); WATN ($3,320); WMC ($13,365); and two buys on WATE ($6,940, $7,840).

The ad highlights the justices’ records, saying they upheld “nearly 90 percent of death sentences,” and urges viewers to vote in favor of their retention.

Since 2000, Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics have documented spending in judicial elections in the New Politics of Judicial Elections series (click for the latest report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts.) No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports. As noted in the latest New Politics report, fundraising and spending in retention elections are widely considered to be a recent phenomenon.

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Dept. of Children’s Services to Continue Three Branches Institute

Press release from the Tennessee Dept. of Children’s Services; Sept. 24, 2013:

NASHVILLE – During the coming year, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services will continue the Three Branches Institute, an initiative bringing together members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches to work with the department on strengthening the state’s child protection and juvenile justice systems.

“For Tennessee to have a strong and effective system of children’s services, the three branches of government must have a clear vision on the mission of the services, and confidence that the services are generating desired outcomes,” said DCS Commissioner Jim Henry.

The Three Branches model grew from collaboration among the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Center for State Courts, and the National Council of Family and Juvenile Court Judges. DCS is working on this initiative with Casey Family Programs and the Georgetown Center for Juvenile Justice Reform.

In Tennessee, the Institute has set a highly focused agenda, including: developing a clear picture of how well Tennessee’s child protection system works; a wide understanding of the complexities of child protection work; using standardized assessments by the courts and DCS to guide their work and to allow for uniform data collection; implementation of evidence-based practice alternatives to incarceration in juvenile justice; and allocation of juvenile justice resources to support community-driven solutions.

The Institute is expected to meet quarterly through August 2014. It began work in August 2012.

Members of the Tennessee Three Branches Institute are:

Legislative Branch
Representative Joe Armstrong
House District 15

Senator Mike Bell
House District 9

Representative Harry Brooks
House District 19

Representative Kevin Brooks
Senate District 24

Senator Charlotte Burks
Senate District 15

Representative John J. DeBerry, Jr.
House District 90

Senator Dolores Gresham
Senate District 26

Senator Jack Johnson
Senate District 23

Judicial Branch
Judge Donna Scott Davenport
Rutherford County Juvenile Court

Judge Nolan Goolsby
Putnam County General Sessions Court

Judge Tim Irwin
Knox County Juvenile Court

Judge Robert Lincoln
Washington County General Sessions Court

Judge William Peeler
Tipton County Juvenile Court

Judge Curtis Person
Juvenile Court of Memphis & Shelby County

Judge Ken Witcher
Macon County Juvenile Court

Executive Branch
Crissy Haslam
Tennessee First Lady

Will Cromer
Office of the Governor

Commissioner Larry Martin
Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration

Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH
Tennessee Department of Health

Commissioner Bill Gibbons
Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security

Director Mark Gwyn
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

Commissioner Jim Henry
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services

Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield
Tennessee Department of Corrections

Commissioner E. Douglas Varney
Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services

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Speaker Williams Appoints Olen G. Haynes Sr. To Judicial Nominating Commission

Press Release from House Speaker Kent Williams, March 9, 2010:

Speaker of the House Kent Williams (Carter County Republican – Elizabethton) has appointed Olen G. Haynes, Sr. of Washington County as a member of the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission.

“Olen brings a wealth of experience that will make him an asset to the Judicial Nominating Commission”, said Speaker Kent Williams. “He is well respected in our area and I am confident he will serve our state well”.

Mr. Haynes has been a leader in the community for over 60 years.  He attended East Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee College of Law.  He is currently a partner in the law firm of Arnold, Haynes & Sanders and has practiced law for over 40 years.  His areas of practice include personal injury, eminent domain, medical malpractice, product liability, aviation law, domestic relations and criminal law.  Haynes’ dedication to the community and knowledge of the judicial system will serve him well during his time on the Judicial Nominating Commission.

The purpose of the Judicial Nominating Commission is to assist Governor Bredesen in finding and appointing the best qualified persons for service on the appellate courts of the state, nominating for the trial courts, and to assist the electorate of the state in electing the best qualified persons to the courts.  The Judicial Nominating Commission is also responsible for making the courts less political and keeping political pressures away from the judicial system.

This appointment was made in accordance with T.C.A. Section 17-4-102.