KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A case before the state Supreme Court could help determine when and how residency challenges for judicial candidates can be lodged.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/2cNrQQ8) reports that the case heard by the high court relates to a challenge filed by Roane County attorney Tom McFarland, who lost a circuit judge election two years ago and wants to renew a challenge of winner Michael Pemberton’s qualifications to run for the seat.
The Tennessee Constitution requires circuit court candidates to live in the district for at least a year before the election. Pemberton had bought a lakefront home in Roane County the year before the vote, but still had a home and business in Knox County, where his child also attended school.
The 9th Judicial District includes Roane, Loudon, Meigs and Morgan counties.
McFarland decided not to challenge Pemberton’s residency during the campaign, but another resident did file a complaint with the Roane County Election Commission. The panel decided to uphold Pemberton’s candidacy after holding a hearing on the matter.
Lower courts have ruled that McFarland doesn’t have the legal right to file a challenge following the election because the challenge to Pemberton’s residency was rejected during the campaign.
Justices Cornelia A. Clark and Sharon Lee during Thursday hearing seized on the question of whether McFarland’s legal options should be decided by the a complaint filed by someone else.
“Isn’t this the best way in the world for a candidate to put a citizen up to filing a sham complaint?” asked Clark.
Lee noted that McFarland had no way to prevent a resident from seeking an election commission, and both justices said that banning lawsuits prevents taking action to correct errors that might be made election commissions.
Pemberton’s attorney Jennifer Raby argued that McFarland must live with his choice not to mount a legal challenge before the election.
It could take several months before the Supreme Court rules in the case.
Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com