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.”

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.

‘Memphis Heat’ Debuts

We’ve talked on this blog before about the Memphis identity and the need for Memphians to step up in shaping that identity.

More than a few steps in that direction are on display this weekend and into next week with the documentary “Memphis Heat.”

The documentary about the golden age of professional wrestling in Memphis is about as Memphis as you can get.

Executve producer Sherman Willmott told the crowd at the film’s Thursday premiere at The Malco Paradiso Theater that even the music used in the film was made in Memphis.

The film opens a week long run starting tonight (Friday night) at Malco’s Studio on the Square and Desoto Cinema 16 in Southaven. Willmott is hoping for an extended run with good box office at both locations in the next week.

We’ll have more on the film next week in The Daily News. It’s a real behind the scenes look at the regional wrestling company that put on the best wrestling matches anywhere, certainly in the U.S., possibly in the world.

Wrestlers who have made it to Madison Square Garden talk, in the film, about being more thrilled about coming to the Mid-South Coliseum and wrestling before a deafening sell out crowd.

The intriguing part is told for the most part by Jerry Jarrett who was responsible for the rise of Memphis in a wrestling circuit that was Nashville-based and centered.

The portrait of wrestling as a business told by him and other wrestlers is compelling. Not to play with the wrestling analogies too much but, they don’t pull any punches about the realities of wrestling for a living.

Jarrett’s role in the Memphis wrestling scene was unique. He was a teen age promoter in the smallest most remote parts of the circuit before moving up. He became a wrestler and then went back to being a promoter. WIllmott tells us that Jarrett hasn’t had a lot of interest about talking about wrestling in the past. But when he found out the documentary was going to be more than a surface look, he cooperated and the film is all the better for it. Jarrett even attended the Paradiso premiere.

Paul Stanley Speaks

On his blog, former State Sen. Paul Stanley has posted a long noted about the scandal that led him to resign from the legislature. Here it is, his post titled “The Extortion of Forgiveness,” in full:

“Two years ago my life was quite different. Compared to today it is dramatically different. Back then, I was serving my ninth year in the Tennessee legislature and my third as a State Senator. I chaired of one of the Senate’s most powerful committees, was a husband and father and held a bright political future. All that came crashing down as a result of a series of unfortunate circumstances, brought on by many poor decisions that began with me.

The political life I coveted began unraveling when a guy, Joel Watts, attempted to extort $10,000 from me saying that he was the boyfriend of McKensie Morrison and he had a disk with pictures of McKensie and me. McKensie was one of my interns, the one I was having an extramarital affair with. Watts threatened to turn the disk over to the press if I didn’t give “them” money. There were no pictures of Morrison and I and I knew it – just a handful of pictures of McKensie she had asked me to take of her. One of many regrettable decisions I made.

Within hours of their initial demands, I contacted the state’s top law enforcement agency and agreed to wear a wire in a sting operation to obtain information from Watts and Morrison. It was an intense thirty-three hours of text messages, phone calls and recorded conversations. It ended with the exchange of the disk and marked money from the TBI, with Watts being thrown to the ground by a dozen TBI Agents, guns pointed at this head, and arrested in the finale.

TBI agents had been watching Morrison all day, too. At the time of Watts’ arrest, she was smoking a cigarette behind the legislative cafeteria, cell-phone in hand, waiting to hear from him. That call never came, and it was her last day as an intern.

I drove to my home in Germantown later that afternoon, fully realizing what had transpired; the danger I had been in and the damage I had caused. The next day, Good Friday of 2009, I sat down with my wife and told her everything. The story would not become public until three and a half months later when Watts’ was brought before the judge for a preliminary hearing on July 20. Neither Watts nor Morrison expected me to show up and testify; it wasn’t the first time they had underestimated my actions nor would it be the last.

Joel Watts was indicted by a grand jury in the winter of 2010 and charged with Extortion, a Class D felony under Tennessee law. Yesterday, he pled guilty to “Facilitation of Extortion”, a Class E felony. He received a sentence of one-year probation. I did not attend the hearing; I trusted the Assistant District Attorney to handle the matter as he and his office best saw fit. Yet the story doesn’t end there.

* In a statement read before the court, Joel Watts admitted acting under the direction of McKensie Morrison. I had no idea the statement would be included in the court record. In my heart, I had known this was the case from the moment I received the first text message from Watts on the morning of April 8, 2009.
* Watts and Morrison are apparently still together. I’ve been told he is living in a structure behind her house, getting his electricity from an extension cord. If true, I find that both odd and sad. I hope he can successfully move on with his life.
* It is my understanding from others intimately connected to the case, that Morrison and Watts indicated they did not act alone. Was there someone within or connected to the state legislature that was financially encouraging and strategically helping Morrison and Watts develop their plan? That is difficult for me to wrap my mind around. I certainly hope not and if true, I would prefer not to know.

People ask me lots of questions about the issue, one of the most common being, “Do you believe you were set up?” Even my former spouse feels she knows the answer to this question. We talked about it as recently as last weekend. Until now I have only discussed the issue with close friends and family. In one sense it does not matter because the outcome is still the same. However, in McKensie Morrison’s first interview after the Watts’ arrest, she denied having any knowledge of the extortion attempt; contradicting Watts’ initial statement to investigators after the arrest and the statement read in court. http://www.wsmv.com/video/20243095/index.html

There are only a few who have seen the series of text messages and heard the phone calls; TBI investigators, attorney’s in the DA’s office and of course, Watts, Morrison and me.

Will McKensie Morrison be charged and indicted? I don’t know. That is a decision the District Attorney will have to make. Where is she now? From what I understand, she is Mary Kay sales representative and resides in Middle Tennessee.

Since December 2009, I’ve been writing a book of this story. I was waiting until the conclusion to the Watts case to complete the manuscript. But the story still isn’t finished yet.

I’ll follow up with more details on the book in a later post – but is has a lot to do with forgiveness; received and denied.”

Dansette

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