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Senator Upset Over Dismissal Of Complaint Against Chief Justice

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Senator Upset Over Dismissal Of Complaint Against Chief Justice

By Phil Williams. CREATED May 27, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A top Republican lawmaker is upset about the dismissal of an ethics complaint he filed against the state's top judge, and now he's threatening greater scrutiny of the board that polices Tennessee judges.

As NewsChannel 5 Investigates reported Friday, the Board of Judicial Conduct (BJC) dismissed a complaint filed last year against Chief Justice Gary Wade.

Wade had told a newspaper he believed all the state's appellate judges were qualified to serve. That came as the state's Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) was trying to decide whether to recommend that those judges be retained.

In a letter sent to the Board of Judicial Conduct, Senate Government Operations Chairman Mike Bell noted that he was the one who filed the unofficial complaint. The Riceville Republican was critical not only of the Board's dismissal of his complaint, but also of a letter sent by Board Chair Chris Craft to NewsChannel 5.

"Finally, Judge Craft, your letter contradicts current members of the BJC and the JPEC who told me last fall and continue to say to me that Judge Wade actively and aggressively sought to influence JPEC's judicial evaluations through lobbying efforts, tainting the entire process," Bell wrote.

"If they are correct, and I believe they are, the Chief Justice of Tennessee's Supreme Court has damaged the cornerstone of the evaluation process by robbing it of its independence." (Read the letter.)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey had previously claimed that Wade had been "reprimanded, if not censured" for endorsing judges who were up for re-election.

In an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates, the chief justice defended his actions.

"I was called upon to ask about the work product of our judges and, when that work product is good, it seems to me that the role of the chief justice requires a positive comment upon the quality of the work."

But Bell did not accept the explanations.

"Some of my legislative colleagues think past General Assemblies have enabled an insular culture of cronyism and obfuscation at the BJC and JPEC by insufficiently engaging those boards and commissions," he wrote to Craft.

"I assure you lack of engagement will not be a problem in upcoming legislative sessions."

Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.