Supreme Court to hear contested Roane judge’s race arguments
Bob Fowler of the Knoxville News Sentinel
KINGSTON — Kingston attorney Tom McFarland has won a hearing for the crucial battle of last resort in his years-long legal war over a judge's race that he lost to a man he said wasn't eligible to run.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted McFarland's appeal of a Roane County Election Commission vote to keep Mike Pemberton on the ballot in the race for 9th Judicial District Circuit Court judge.
That commission vote came after resident Willis Hall filed a complaint questioning whether Pemberton lived in Roane County as required, or was instead a Knox County resident.
Pemberton in August 2014 won the Circuit Court judge's post for the district, which consists of Morgan, Meigs, Loudon and Roane counties.
McFarland has appealed and lost his legal arguments from the trial level through the state Court of Appeals.
He contends Pemberton didn't live in Roane County at the time of the election but instead resided in a large house in Knox County, where he had a law office and where his son attended school.
Pemberton countered, saying he bought a lakeside home in Roane County and had moved in there in July 2013. State law requires that a candidate must live in the district for at least a year before the election.
The state Supreme Court has ordered arguments prepared by both sides in response to four questions its justices have over the issue:
Did the Election Commission have the authority to convene the hearing?
Was the commission's decision a quasi-judicial act — having a partly judicial character — that's subject to review according to state law guidelines about appealed decisions?
Was McFarland qualified to be an "aggrieved party" to seek a review of the Election Commission's decision, even though someone else filed the complaint?
Did the Court of Appeals make a mistake in saying McFarland is barred from contesting the election because he didn't seek a timely review of the Election Commission's vote?
"I'm very pleased that they saw the seriousness of the issues here and agreed to hear the case," McFarland said Thursday.
He said he will likely serve as his own attorney when arguments are heard by the Supreme Court and said the court may hear the case this summer.
Pemberton had no comment.
"As a sitting judge, last thing I want to do is have any comment on a pending case," he said.
Pemberton said he will continue to be represented by Jennifer Raby and Pat Cooley, with the Kingston law firm of Cooley McFarland Raby & Reynolds.
John McFarland, Tom McFarland's brother, is a member of that law firm.