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Ramsey On Judicial Elections

For those following our coverage of the Tennessee legislature’s consideration of the bill to popularly elected state appellate court judges including Tennessee Supreme Court justices, here is an open letter Lt. Gov. and State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has posted on his Facebook page.

This is a topic our legal community has discussed and debated extensively for years.

This is Ramsey’s unedited statement in full:

“This week I cast the tie-breaking vote to advance a bill requiring the election of all judges in the State of Tennessee, including appellate and Supreme Court justices.

I would like to share with you the reasons for my action and ask you to join me in a call for constitutional reform.

As a conservative, I place great trust in our state constitution. I see the document as a product of the accrued wisdom of our forebears. It should not be ignored just because its requirements may be seen as inconvenient or out of fashion. I honor it, not only because it contains great wisdom, but because it places limits on government and prevents the more dangerous whims of temporary majorities.

Every person elected to an office of public trust in this state takes a solemn oath to defend the constitution. I have taken that oath and I take it seriously.

Our Tennessee Constitution is unambiguous on the subject of judicial elections. Article VI of the Tennessee Constitution states elegantly and concisely that Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state” and that appellate court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of their district.”

In 2009, I led the charge to change the way judges are chosen in our state. In the past, under the original “Tennessee Plan,” special interest groups and trial lawyers held a stranglehold on the process virtually forcing the governor to pick from their approved candidates. During the last legislative session, we passed a modified version of the plan that removed the influence of special interests.

The plan in place now is a good system. It takes the special interests out of the equation and puts the power to select and appoint judges back in the hands of the people you elect. Those appointed judges then stand after every term for what is called a “retention” election, voting yes or no on whether a judge should be retained or replaced.

This is a fair, equitable and efficient way to make sure only the very best judges are interpreting our laws and sitting in judgment of the people of Tennessee.

In fact, there is only one problem with the plan – it is unconstitutional.

While our Supreme Court has twice found retention elections fulfill constitutional requirements, many legal scholars dispute those rulings. I concur with those scholars. Just as every reasonable adult knows what the word “is” means, I think we all know what the word “election” means. Retention elections are not really elections as understood by most citizens.

Again, my decision to move a bill forward that acknowledges the truths self-evident in our constitution does not mean I believe contested judicial elections are in the best interest of Tennessee. I do not.

If I was able to wave a magic wand and decide a new process, I would not choose open election. But I do not get to wave that magic wand.

The constitution is the constitution. Words mean things. For years our federal government has simply ignored the constitutional limitations placed upon it. We now see the whirlwind such a practice reaps.

This is Tennessee — not Washington, DC. We take our word seriously. We take our constitution seriously. We either need to amend the constitution or abide by it. There is no acceptable middle ground.

I challenge you to join with me on this issue. However you think judges should ultimately be chosen, we must agree that the process be constitutional.

Stand with me and demand that the constitution of the state of Tennessee is either followed or changed – but not ignored.”

‘Shadow Inventory’ Shrinks Slightly to 1.8 Million

In November, I wrote a cover story for The Memphis News about the city’s estimated amount of “shadow inventory,” or backlog of properties that are 90 days or more delinquent, in foreclosure or bank owned but haven’t yet hit the market.

At that time, shadow was estimated at about 7 million properties nationally and 3,200 locally. Experts are now predicting that number will continue to drop as the economy improves.

The U.S. had 1.8 million distressed homes in January that had yet to be listed for sale – that’s down slightly from 2 million homes in January 2010, market researcher CoreLogic reported Wednesday.

The states with the highest shadow inventory are New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland, where it’s estimated it will take 21 months (nearly 2 years) to sell the pending supply.

While Shelby County’s consistently high foreclosure rate caused the area to never endure the bubble that other cities did, shadow inventory will likely grow by 100 to 150 units per quarter due to fewer takers of foreclosed inventory, said Corky Neale director of research for RISE.

And despite the slowly improving shadow trend, the current level and distressed months’ supply remain very high, said Mark Fleming, CoreLogic chief economist.

“The short-term weakness in prices and longer-term weakness in the drivers that affect the housing market imply that excess supply will remain high for an extended period of time,” he said.

Rusty Hyneman files bankruptcy

Memphis real estate developer William “Rusty” Hyneman filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for West Tennessee that lists assets of $3.7 million and liabilities of $69.3 million.

The nearly 60-page petition filed by Hyneman, who in the past has been a controversial backer of several figures on the local political landscape, identifies close to 50 creditors. It also lists around 2 dozen lawsuits and administrative proceedings Hyneman has been involved with during the 12 months prior to the bankruptcy filing

In a Chapter 7 – or “liquidation” bankruptcy – debtors often get to wipe away much of what they owe. Assets are sold to repay creditors.

Hyneman and his family’s associated companies once represented the largest homebuilders in Shelby County.

A $70,000 Rolex watch Hyneman allegedly gave to former state Sen. John Ford was among the items seized by the government in the Tennessee Waltz federal corruption case against Ford.

Timberlake Honored for Charitable, Environmental Work

Pop superstar, actor and Millington native Justin Timberlake will be honored for his work as a philanthropist and environmentalist Saturday during Nickelodeon’s 2011 Kids’ Choice Awards, hosted by Jack Black at USC’s Galen Center in Los Angeles.

Timberlake will be presented with The Big Help Award, which recognizes individuals who take actions to better the world and inspire children to do the same. Previous recipients include actor Leonardo DiCaprio and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Timberlake’s ongoing charitable work includes a partnership with Shriners Hospitals for Children. A supporter of the organization since 2008, Timberlake hosts the annual Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, a PGA Tour golf tournament featuring a week-long series of events that raises money for the organization’s programs and services for children in need.

“I was inspired at a young age by my parents and family to do everything possible to give back to the world around us,” Timberlake said in a statement Tuesday. “And it has become a mission of mine to help kids of all ages understand the importance of getting involved in their communities and local charities and doing their part to preserve the planet. I couldn’t be more thankful to Nickelodeon for their recognition.”

Timberlake’s Mirimichi Golf Course in Millington, just 20 minutes from Downtown Memphis, is the first course in North America to receive Golf Environment Organization certified status, and the first in the nation to be designated a Certified Audubon International Classic Sanctuary. Mirimichi is the only golf course in the world to hold both designations. Throughout the golf course, ecologically responsible methods are used to enhance water quality and wildlife habitat, and to reduce water and energy consumption.

Fortune Names Memphis in Top 10 Cities for Home Buyers

Here’s one for the record books, folks. In addition to exceptional tap water, tasty barbecue and a rich musical heritage, Memphis is turning heads as a top city for home buyers this year, according to Fortune magazine.

The average sale amount for homes in Shelby County was $124,278 in 2010, according to the real estate company Chandler Reports. Add a low cost of living and no state income tax for individuals into the equation, and you’ve got a buyer’s paradise.

For more on Memphis’ prime assets, read what industry professionals are saying here, here and here.

Dansette

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