published Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

State bar association launches "unprecedented" poll on Tennessee Supreme Court justices

NASHVILLE — With a political battle looming over the retention election for three sitting state Supreme Court justices, the Tennessee Bar Association today launched its first-ever poll of member attorneys to see what they think of the jurists.

"The TBA is taking this unprecedented step as part of its efforts to help ensure that the 2014 judicial elections maintain a fair, impartial and accountable judiciary," the 12,000-member organization said today in a news release.

Several top state Senate Republicans, including Speaker Ron Ramsey and Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville have been critical of the five-member court and the three incumbent justices, all Democrats, who are seeking reelection on the yes/no ballot.

The justices themselves are bracing for a storm leading up to the Aug. 7 election.

In the August general election, Tennessee voters will be asked to retain or replace three Supreme Court justices: Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee. Two other justices, both Republicans, aren't seeking reelection.

The poll will ask TBA members to rate each of these justices with one of four options:

* Highly recommend retention

* Recommend retention

* Do not recommend retention

* Do not have an informed opinion at this time.

Members will vote by secret ballot. The poll opened today and will close on June 9. Results will be released in mid June.

The TBA says it's conducting the poll because it believes lawyers "are uniquely qualified to provide an informed opinion as to whether a justice should be retained. It hopes that in providing the collective view of the organized bar, it can help Tennessee voters educate themselves about the election."

Asked why the group is getting involved, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur said in an interview today "there's a lot of people asking the Tennessee Bar Association what we're going to do, what we can do to try to ensure a fair, impartial judiciary."

Bar associations in other states have traditionally conducted such polls "that provide voter with information," Ramsaur said. "It's a good thing for us to do here."

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