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VOL. 124 | NO. 9 | Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Judgeship Applications Due Jan. 21

By Bill Dries

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LIFE GOES ON: The processes to fill two judicial vacancies are under way. Judges Rita Stotts and Anthony Johnson both died Jan. 2 of unrelated causes. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners began the process this week of filling one of two judicial vacancies.

The commission is accepting applications through Jan. 21 for General Sessions Criminal Court judge Division 10. Judge Anthony Johnson died of a heart attack Jan. 2.

Commission chairwoman Deidre Malone said commissioners will interview applicants during committee sessions that day. The commission’s process will include background checks.

The commission could opt to leave Division 10 vacant until voters pick a successor to fill out the remaining four years left in Johnson’s term in the August 2010 county elections. Malone said the commission is likely to choose a successor at some point who would serve until then.

Retired General Sessions Court Judges Bernie Weinman and Arthur Bennett will preside over Division 10 in the interim. The commission approved funding Monday for the two temporary positions already allocated in the General Sessions court budget.

As the commission established the procedure for filling that vacancy, the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission opened the process to apply for a vacancy in Shelby County Circuit Court Division 4. Judge Rita Stotts also died on Jan. 2 after a recurrence of cancer.

The selection commission will take applications through Feb. 3. The background check process by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation now requires applicants to include a sealed official transcript from all colleges attended. The transcript must be sent directly from the colleges to the TBI. The TBI will also fingerprint applicants.

Application forms and information on the filing requirements are posted at www.tncourts.gov.

The selection commission will recommend three finalists to Gov. Phil Bredesen, who can pick one of the three or none and request three more finalists from the commission.

The appointee will also serve until the special election in August 2010 to decide who will serve the remaining four years of Stotts’ term of office.

The County Commission has the authority to fill a General Sessions vacancy because the judgeships are considered county offices instead of state offices, according to a memo to commissioners from Assistant County Attorney Christy L. Kinard, who serves as parliamentarian to the commission.

The state statute dealing with General Sessions Court vacancies, passed by the Legislature in 1959, originally gave the governor the power to make such appointments.

But in a 1980 ruling, the Tennessee Supreme Court held the 1959 law was invalid, citing a section of the state Constitution. The 1959 statute was amended in 1993 to reflect the Supreme Court ruling.

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