Alternate Judicial Endorsement Ballot from Former Democratic Chairs

Amid continuing discontent over official party list, group of lawyers headed by Turner, Cocke come to different conclusions

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Judges Gomes (l), Donald
  • Judges Gomes (l), Donald
Amid continuing discontent in local Democratic Party ranks regarding the party’s official list of endorsees for judicial positions, the Flyer has learned that a committee of Democratic lawyers headed by two former party chairs has prepared an alternate list of judicial endorsees.

The list, prepared under the aegis of former chairs Van Turner and David Cocke, will be published and distributed as the “Former Democratic Party Chairmen’s Ballot.” The names on it overlap to some degree with those on the Shelby County Democratic Party’s official ballot, also being readied for publication and release.

But there are several divergences. Notable names of incumbents who were not included on the official party list but will appear on the former chairmen’s list include:

*Mark Ward, Criminal Court Judge, Division 9

*Kathleen N. Gomes, Probate Court Judge, Diviiion 1

*Phyllis B. Gardner, General Sessions Judge, Civil, Division 2

*John Donald, General Sessions Judge, Civil, Division 3

*Bill Anderson, Jr., General Sessions Judge, Criminal, Division 7

*Larry Potter, General Sessions Judge, Criminal/Environmental, Division 14

Other names known to be on the former chairmen’s ballot that also appear on the official Democratic Party ballot include:

*Rhynette Northcross Hurd, Circuit Court Judge, Division 5

*Walter Evans, Chancellor, Part 1

*Jim Kyle, Chancellor, Part 2

*Danny Kail, Probate Court Judge, Division 2

*Lonnie Thompson, General Sessions Judge, Civil, Div. 6

*Tim J. Dwyer, General Sessions Judge, Criminal, Div. 8

*Gwen Rooks, General Sessions Judge, Criminal, Div. 12

*Tarik Sugarmon, Juvenile Court Judge

This is a preliminary list, and further names might also be included before the former chairmen’s ballot is formally released.

Turner, Cocke, and their associates were moved to prepare their list after several names approved by a Democratic Party screening committee were overlooked when party executive committee members voted for a judicial list in a rowdy endorsement session in which, for whatever reason, some candidates were present and able to speak for themselves, while others were not.

The party’s executive committee reconvened several times to hear complaints about inclusions and omissions on the official party list of endorsees but in the end retained the original names.

It should be noted that a few of the names on the former chairmen’s ballot did not appear on the original Democratic Party screening committee’s list because they were deemed insufficiently Democratic on the basis of which party primaries, Democratic or Republican, had been predominant in their prior voting history.

One of the controversies that raged during several of the party executive committee’s follow-up meetings to the original endorsement sessions concerned the uneven way in which the party-loyalty litmus test had been applied.

As one example that would receive ample mention, Lee Coffee, incumbent Criminal Court Judge in Division 7, was approved in the original executive committee endorsement session despite his several votes in Republican primaries over the years, while candidates with overwhelmingly Democratic backgrounds like Gomes (who had not been present at the endorsement session) were overlooked.

Coffee was challenged at least three times in as many meetings but was able to hold his position on the official party ballot on the basis of forceful speeches in his own defense as well as general recognition of his judicial credentials.

His case was a clear exception to the pattern in most instances, whereby several candidates with exceptional legal credentials were declined on the basis of their prior party-primary histories, either GOP-leaning or mixed. Ward, highly regarded by his peers and the author of the standard Tennessee guide to criminal court procedure, was frequently cited in this regard.

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