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VOL. 129 | NO. 124 | Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bell Holds Hearing Over Chief Justice Complaint

AP

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NASHVILLE (AP) – A Republican panel has spent four hours questioning top judicial officials in an inquiry over the handling of a complaint against the chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the investigation, headed by Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, has stalled after officials with the state Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission and the state Board of Judicial Conduct said no laws were broken and no judicial rules violated.

Bell wanted Chief Justice Gary Wade disciplined for allegedly violating rules about judges lobbying and endorsing candidates. Wade has denied wrongdoing, and the Board of Judicial Conduct declined to take up Bell's complaint.

Wade voiced concerns about negative evaluations of other judges becoming public last year. He defended their professional performance in a newspaper interview and said evaluators should give them another chance.

Senate Republicans said Wade's comments were akin to an election endorsement, which the law prohibits.

But judicial officials disagreed.

"If the statement had been 'everyone needs to get behind these judges on August 7th,' that would be an absolutely clear statement of an endorsement in an election rather than an implied endorsement," said Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft, a Republican and chairman of the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct.

The hearing on Tuesday was held in the midst of a campaign to unseat Wade and two other justices who are up for election in August.

Bell says he doesn't anticipate any further hearings before the election, but hopes to get ideas for tightening the law.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said later that the hearing was partisan "and is totally about personalizing the retention election ... and the decision was made to go after the chief justice on an issue."

Bell denied the accusation.

"We would never have been here if Justice Wade hadn't made those comments that were reported back in October or November. That's why we're here."

Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, www.timesfreepress.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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