About 2,100 bar association members responded to a poll on the retention election of the state's Supreme Court justices. Here are the results:
Justice Connie Clark
Highly Recommend: 74.4%
Do Not Recommend: 7.2%
Justice Sharon Lee
Highly Recommend: 75.9%
Do Not Recommend: 6.8%
Chief Justice Gary Wade
Highly Recommend: 76.7%
Do Not Recommend: 6.3%
NASHVILLE - Nine out of 10 lawyers in a Tennessee Bar Association poll recommend voters "retain" the three state Supreme Court justices on the Aug. 7 ballot.
Result of the association's first-ever Candidate Evaluation Poll, conducted over the last two weeks, were released Friday.
State bar association officials decided to conduct the poll as Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey leads an unprecedented effort to persuade voters to reject the three justices, all of whom were appointed by Democratic governors.
Tennessee appellate judges, including Supreme Court justices, do not run in traditional competitive elections. Instead, voters are asked whether sitting judges should be retained or not.
"Lawyers are uniquely qualified to provide an informed opinion as to whether a justice should be retained in office," said outgoing association President Cindy Wyrick, of Sevierville. "For that reason, it is important that they share this knowledge with voters who will be going to the polls in August."
But a group opposed to the re-election of the three Democratic justices blasted the poll. Critics said the bar association is "clearly in favor of retention" and generated poll questions to get "a desired result."
The poll asked members to indicate whether they highly recommended, recommended, did not recommend or had no informed opinion on the issue as of the date that they responded to the survey, with respect to the retention election of Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee, and Chief Justice Gary Wade.
The bar association membership, made up of about 12,000 members from all facets of law practice, represents more than 70 percent of the lawyers in Tennessee. About 2,100 members responded to the survey.
The results were "about as predictable as Pravda asking party members their approval rating of the Politburo," charged Grant Everett Starrett, president and co-founder of Tennesseans for Judicial Accountability.
Another Tennesseans for Judicial Accountability co-founder, J. Ammon Smartt, a Chattanooga native who is an associate with Nashville-based law and lobby firm Waller Landsden Dortch & Davis, said that "having led judicial reform efforts in Tennessee for many years, this unscientific push poll comes as no surprise to me."
Smartt said that as a one-time bar association member, "I have seen the bar engage in similar tactics in the past. They often drag along members who, but for the influence the bench and the bar have over their careers, would outright oppose efforts like this push poll."
TBA officials say the association is not taking a position on the retention question.
The effort to defeat the justices has been criticized by a bipartisan group of former justices and appellate judges, including retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Mickey Barker, a Signal Mountain Republican.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.