NASHVILLE - A new TV ad targeting the three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who are up for retention elections by voters is filled with "false messages," the judges' campaign spokesmen charged Saturday.
The ad that a conservative Tennessee group called the Tennessee Forum began airing Saturday says "The most liberal place in Tennessee ... is the Tennessee Supreme Court," and carries a large graphical headline charging "Our Supreme Court Liberal on Crime."
But the 2013 court ruling cited under that headline in the ad upheld both the first-degree murder conviction and life sentence of a Memphis man in the 2006 killing of his girlfriend.
The TV ad also carries a headline saying "Advanced Obamacare," which the ad attributes to the Kingsport Times News on July 16. But no such headline or phrase appeared in the East Tennessee newspaper on July 16; instead, the Times News ran a report on Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade's meeting with its editorial board.
Wade and fellow Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee are on the Aug. 7 statewide ballot for eight-year terms. Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is leading an effort to defeat all three, who were appointed by former governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. However, several prominent Tennessee Republicans, including Nashville lawyer and GOP financier Lew Conner, are backing the judges.
Also on Saturday for the first time, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice William C. Koch Jr. issued a statement on the campaign to defeat his three former colleagues, charging the opposition groups with using "smear tactics."
"The smear tactics being used by the special interest groups to attack three of my former colleagues wrongly undermines Tennesseans' confidence in their state courts. I have served with these three judges. While we have not agreed on every issue, they have done their work professionally and competently. This is the same conclusion reached by the members of the evaluation commission who were appointed by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and [state House] Speaker Beth Harwell," Koch said.
Koch was legal counsel to former Republican governor Lamar Alexander, now U.S. senator, and Alexander appointed him to the state Court of Appeals in 1984, where he served until 2007 when Bredesen appointed him to the Supreme Court. He retired from the state's high court this month and is now dean of the Nashville School of Law.
The new TV ad carries the same messages targeting Clark, Lee and Wade as campaign mailers being sent to voters statewide by the Tennessee Forum and the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based organization of GOP state officials whose mission is to elect "down-ballot" Republicans.
The TV ad citation under the "Liberal on Crime" charge says "Prince Adams 5/16.13." That case originated in Shelby County Criminal Court, which convicted defendant Prince Adams in the April 16, 2006, stabbing death of Ohrdra Flowers, after Adams told others that she admitted "cheating on him."
Adams' murder conviction and life-in-prison sentence were upheld by both the state Court of Criminal Appeals and the Tennessee Supreme Court in a May 16, 2013, ruling written by Wade with the unanimous concurrence of the court, including Koch, Clark, Lee and Justice Janice Holder of Memphis. Holder is retiring from the court Sept. 1 and is not on the retention election ballot.
Brenda Gadd and Carol Andrews, the manager and communications director for Keep Tennessee Courts Fair, the coordinated campaign to retain the three justices, and Nashville lawyer James White held a news conference Saturday outside the Tennessee Supreme Court Building to denounce the TV and mail ads.
"The Tennessee Supreme Court and Justices Clark, Lee and Chief Justice Wade in particular have absolutely nothing to do with Obamacare, its passage, its implementation or whether a lawsuit would be pursued in this state," Gadd said.
"The Tennessee Forum and the out-of-state groups know this. They just prefer to lie about it to voters in their attempt for a political takeover of our courts. Lying is not a Tennessee value and voters need to know their rights are at stake. Our courts must remain a politics-free zone."
No case involving the federal Affordable Care Act has reached the state Supreme Court, and likely won't, but the campaign mail pieces by the groups cite state Attorney General Robert Cooper's decision not to join state attorneys general in several states in challenging the ACA. The mailers correctly cite Cooper's appointment by the state Supreme Court to an eight-year term in 2006, but do not note that, once appointed, the state attorney general is independent of the court. Cooper's term expires Sept. 1, and he has not said whether he will seek reappointment.
The Tennessee Forum was first established in 2000 and is headed by Susan Kaestner of Franklin, Tenn. She told Nashville's NewsChannel5 last month that she was raising money for the ad campaign.
"I'm pretty confident out of state groups will be involved," she said. "There are a lot of different groups, there are a lot of different people that are issue-driven interested in this thing."