Tennessee Democrats' lawsuit to keep the Republican candidate off the ballot in House District 26 ran into another delay Thursday when a scheduled court hearing had to be pushed into next week.
Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton can't hear the case until he has jurisdiction, and that won't happen until the Tennessee Court of Appeals signs an order saying it won't take up an earlier version of the lawsuit filed in Davidson County and then dismissed.
Atherton had set a tentative hearing for Thursday in hopes that order would be ready, but it wasn't. The new tentative hearing date is Wednesday. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Robin Smith has filed a motion to intervene, saying she needs to protect her own opportunity to run for election.
The timeline for a decision is tight, given that the ballot for the Nov. 6 election is scheduled to be approved Sept. 14.
The Tennessee Democratic Party sued the Hamilton County Election Commission and state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins on July 2 to keep Smith's name off the Republican primary ballot after incumbent Gerald McCormick dropped out.
The Democrats claimed McCormick's stated reason, that he had taken a job that required him to move out of the district, was a mere pretext so the ballot could be reopened. If Smith could be blocked, the only candidate in House District 26 would be Democrat Jean-Marie Lawrence.
The primary came and went with no ruling, and now the Democrats are aiming at the general election ballot. Meeting Wednesday to certify the balloting, election commissioners were told the case has cost around $30,000 to date, out of $50,000 appropriated for it.
Atherton started to hear the case Monday. Attorney Benjamin Gastel, representing the Tennessee Democratic Party, laid out his case briefly. Then attorney Steven Duggan, representing the election commission, raised the jurisdiction issue and Atherton put the proceedings on hold until they are resolved.
Smith's motion to intervene states that although she is not named in the lawsuit, she has an interest to protect in the case that could be harmed if she isn't represented.
In a news release Smith said she is seeking to intervene to protect nearly 8,000 Republicans who voted in the District 26 primary on Aug. 2 and "are at risk of being disenfranchised."
She said the Democrats' "farcical legal action" demonstrate's the party's "priority of securing an opponent-free election for its nominee" and asks the courts to "waste the time of the judiciary and the money of taxpayers attempting to achieve in a courtroom a seat they cannot win at the ballot box."
In response, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Mary Mancini said, "If Republicans followed the rules and didn't try to cover up Gerald McCormick's attempt to run for office in Chattanooga when he swore he lived in Nashville, they wouldn't be in this mess. Tennessee Democrats will always stand up for and protect when it's clear their rights have been violated."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.