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Haslam appoints special panel to hear judge lawsuit

8:44 AM, Jul 28, 2012   |    comments
Gov. Bill Haslam
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Gov. Bill Haslam appointed a special Supreme Court to sort through a long-running court battle over how judges are chosen in Tennessee.

Haslam named three former judges and two other attorneys to handle an appeal filed by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Nashville lawyer John Jay Hooker that challenges the makeup of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Hooker says the court violates the state constitution because members are initially appointed by the governor.

Hooker asked members of the state Supreme Court to recuse themselves from the case because they are also appointed by the governor. Eleven of 12 appeals court judges have also dismissed themselves.

The special Supreme Court will consist of William M. Barker, a retired state Supreme Court chief justice who now practices law in Chattanooga; Andree Sophia Blumstein, a Nashville attorney specializing in civil appellate litigation; George H. Brown Jr., a former Supreme Court justice, circuit court judge and arbitration specialist in Memphis; Robert L. Echols, a former U.S. District Court judge who practices law in Nashville; and W. Morris Kizer, a former law director for the city of Knoxville when Haslam was mayor there.

"The special appointees are a group of highly qualified and diverse legal minds representing the three grand divisions of the state," the governor's office said in a statement. "They come from all practice areas and have more than a century of experience."

Hooker has been challenging the so-called Tennessee Plan, through which vacancies on the state's appeals court are filled by the governor using a list of pre-screened candidates. Judges then must stand for retention elections, up-or-down votes on whether they should remain on the bench.

Hooker says the system violates the state constitution's stipulation that judges be elected. The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled previously that retention elections fulfill the requirement.

Lawmakers are weighing constitutional amendments that would clarify the process.

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