Court of appeals dismisses complaint

Defeated circuit court judge candidate Tom McFarland failed to convince the Tennessee Court of Appeals to reverse the decision that threw out his election complaint.
In an 11-page opinion filed on Monday, the court affirmed Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood’s ruling in the case and taxed McFarland with the court costs.

“Costs on appeal are assessed to the appellant, William Thomas McFarland,” the court said.

“The case is remanded for the collection of costs assessed in the trial court.”

Mike Pemberton defeated McFarland in the Aug. 7, 2014, election for 9th Judicial District circuit court judge.

McFarland filed a complaint in Roane County Chancery Court two weeks later.

He alleged Pemberton didn’t meet the one-year residency requirement to run for judge and asked for the election results to be voided.

Blackwood was assigned to the case after Chancellor Frank V. Williams III recused himself.
Blackwood determined McFarland’s complaint was time-barred and dismissed it.

McFarland then appealed to the Court of Appeals.

The 9th Judicial District is made up of Roane, Loudon, Meigs and Morgan counties.

Willis Hall, a former McFarland client, filed a complaint with the Roane County Election Commission on March 31, 2014.

Hall claimed Pemberton shouldn’t be on the ballot because he wasn’t a resident of the district.

The commission held a public hearing on Hall’s complaint on April 28, 2014.

After listening to Pemberton, Hall attorney Wes Kliner and multiple citizens, the commission voted 5-0 at the hearing to put Pemberton on the ballot.

“During the time in question, Pemberton, though originally from Roane County, maintained a law office in Knox County, and his kindergarten-age son attended school in Knox County,” the Court of Appeals said.

“He owned a 2,500-square-foot home on the lake in Roane County that he and his family moved into in July 2013.”

McFarland didn’t take part in the April 28, 2014 hearing.

However, the Court of Appeals determined he was an aggrieved party to the commission’s decision and had 60 days to appeal.

He did not.  

“McFarland was not a party to Hall’s complaint, but this does not disqualify him from bringing a challenge to the commission’s decision,” the court said in its opinion.

“McFarland and Pemberton were the sole candidates in the election for circuit judge. The commission’s decision regarding Pemberton’s qualifications, in effect, would determine whether McFarland was the only candidate in the election and, thus, the default winner. Therefore, he had a ‘special interest in the agency’s final decision.’”

The court also found that McFarland, who held the elected position of Roane County attorney at the time, was well aware of the allegations surrounding Pemberton’s residency months before he filed his post-election complaint.  

“It is undisputed that McFarland had knowledge of Hall’s complaint and the commission’s decision to keep Pemberton on the ballot,” the court said.

“He was quoted in local newspapers as making comments concerning the hearing, Pemberton’s residency, and the commission’s final determination.

“He also recused himself from representing the commission at the hearing due to his obvious conflict of interest,” the court continued.

“Still, he waited to challenge Pemberton’s qualifications until after the election.”

Pemberton, all five members of the Roane County Election Commission and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins were defendants in McFarland’s complaint.

Monday’s decision came more than four months after the Court of Appeals heard arguments from the parties in Knoxville on July 1.  

“The judgment of the trial court that the complaint in this case is time-barred is affirmed,” the court ruled.