Honorable Michael Meares
Circuit Court Judge
5th Judicial District, Division II
948 E.Lamar Alexander Parkway
Blount County Justice Center
Maryville, Tennessee 37804
Dear Judge Meares,
Many years ago, your brother, Rom, following a particularly contested case, told me that lawsuits are won or lost not on the basis of truth but on the basis of a perception of truth. That theorem may be excused under our concept of the adversary system of putting on evidence and proof. However, it is a concept that I cannot endorse even in that setting. I have even greater difficulty with perception rather than real truth in a political context. History is full of examples of the perception of the “perception of truth”, i.e., the invasion of Iraq, our involvement in Vietnam, the gun boat ads against John Kerry, and on and on.
Rom’s theorem cannot be applicable to judges and should not be applicable to lawyers.
Consequently, I believe there has been a concerted effort to create a “perception of truth” with regard to the recent innuendo related to the adoption of the Local Rules of the Court. Your campaign has created a public perception that our local judiciary was corrupted, that lawyers are not being truthful and that the judges have manipulated the rules to somehow prejudice you in management of cases. The position taken by your campaign created rifts in friendships, loss of confidence in the judiciary, further tarnished the reputation of lawyers in general and members of our Bar in particular.
Prior to the Bar meeting on the first Wednesday in May 2008, your advocate and my friend, Rom, requested that I address an issue that he wanted to raise at the Bar with regard to your letter requesting the alternative assignment of cases to your court. Your letter requested a change in the Local Rules and intimated that Judge Young and Chancellor Forgety concurred. As we now know, Chris Gallagher’s letter to the editor along with your letter precipitated a response from Judge Young.
At the Bar meeting, both Rom and Martha (Meares) to my knowledge were the only two lawyers who spoke at length regarding the proposed amendment to the Local Rules. Carl McDonald moved to table the issue until after the election and the motion carried.
At that same meeting, my comments related to a story involving our joint friend, Delmar Caylor. Delmar was involved in a group discussion where he said little or nothing until the discussion got out of hand. At that point, Delmar cleared his throat and said simply, “My daddy and my brother and I were building a barn and my daddy got a great big splinter right in his behind. My brother and I didn’t spend much time talking about how it got there, we just wanted to get it out.” That splinter has not been extracted, but instead continues to fester and impacts the well-earned reputation of our Bar and our Judiciary.
During the approximate forty (40) years that I have been practicing law in Blount County, the Blount County Bar Association has been known throughout the state as one of integrity and respect. Likewise, its Judiciary is above reproach and always has been during my tenure in the Bar. The Blount Judiciary and the Bar has during that time elevated a judge to the Court of Criminal Appeals – Judge Wayne Oliver; a judge to the Court of Appeals – Judge Houston Goddard, and a lawyer and trial judge to the Federal District Court – Judge James Jarvis (a former law partner of Rom Meares; and most recently Judge Kelly Thomas to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
I dictated this letter on Friday and followed the Art Burne rule of putting it in my drawer. However, I cannot in good conscience fail to call my prospective on these matters to your attention.
As you know, I attended Court on Friday, June 13, 2008, as a colleague and friend of my partner, Melanie E. Davis. Ms. Davis had been directed by you to appear in Court pursuant to a Court Order directing her to come and give testimony regarding the Court’s adoption of the Local Rules of the Court.
Ms. Davis served on a Committee of the Blount County Bar Association voluntarily in response to a July 2007 request from Judge W. Dale Young of the Circuit Court of Blount County to update the Bar rules. The rules were in fact outdated and had not been updated since 1984 when I served in a similar capacity at the request of the Court.
The Blount County Bar Association formed a Committee to revise and update the Local Rules. According to testimony, the Committee met and divided the work load in accordance with the experience of Committee members in the following areas:
(a) Criminal Rules: Judge K. Kelly Thomas and W. Phillip Reed.
(b) Civil Rules: Melanie E. Davis and Robert Goddard.
(c) Domestic Rules: Martha Meares and Mike Hickman
Ms. Davis was selected to Chair the Committee.
The Civil Rules Committee composed of Ms. Davis and Mr. Goddard promptly rendered their report on the Civil Rules in September of 2007 and submitted their proposal to the Judges. A report of the Domestic Rules from Ms. Meares and Mr. Hickman was not completed and submitted to the Court and the proposed update of the Criminal Rules likewise was not submitted to the Court. In January of 2008, Judge Young dispersed the Civil Rules to the known Members of the Blount County Bar Association by e-mail. The e-mail was provided by Matt Haralson, the then President of the Blount County Bar Association, and was pursuant to an adopted procedure of the Bar that Members would be notified by e-mail. You apparently failed to provide your e-mail address to the Bar. Accordingly, you were not listed as a recipient of the Local Rules from Judge Young.
At the Bar meeting in May, Rom presented a partial Order addressing the Civil Rules. The Committee was asked by a lawyer (I believe it was Phil Reed) to determine whether the Order conformed to the Committee’s submittal.
In due course, the Local Rules were published by the Administrative Office of the Courts and according to e-mails between Judge Young’s secretary and the Administrative Office of the Courts, the AOC was to publicize for any public input.
The work on the Civil Rules by Ms. Davis and Mr. Goddard was modified in two respects:
1. An introductory paragraph was added to the Rules, which stated “Pursuant to the recommendation of the Local Rules Committee of the Blount County Bar Association…”
2. A paragraph with regard to the duties of the presiding judge was included by Chancellor Forgety and Judge W. Dale Young and the Civil Rules were accordingly adopted in May of 2007. (The addition of this paragraph was discussed by Judge Young with Ms. Davis and approved. Furthermore, the designation of Presiding Judge rotates annually.)
On Friday, May 9, 2008, Rom requested to meet at my office with regard to some
of the statistics that had been cited by Judge Young in a previous Letter to the Editor
critiquing a supporter’s statements that your Court had reduced the criminal case load to “zip”. Rom presented to me some figures from the AOC indicating that you had disposed of more cases than had been filed. He requested to examine Ms. Davis’ folder regarding the Local Bar Rules which she had provided to me regarding a difference between the rules as provided to Judge Young and as finally adopted. She subsequently advised, and I so advised Rom, that the change had been discussed with her by Judge Young and that she had had no objection to the addition to the rules. Rom requested a copy of our file folder regarding the local rules and I advised him that I was uncertain as to whether that was Ms. Davis’ folder, our folder, or the Bar’s folder, but certainly there was no problem with him examining the contents. I requested that he request either from Ms. Davis or the President of the Bar Association a copy of any documents that he wished to copy.
I also advised him that we should go on Monday and discuss the issues with Judge Young to determine if there was a scrivener’s error or otherwise determine the reason for the difference.
Instead, Rom apparently influenced you to issue an Order the next day (a Saturday) directing Mr. Goddard, Ms. Davis, Stephen Ogle (the President of the Blount County Bar Association) and myself to appear at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning, May 12, 2008. Ms. Davis was served with a copy of the Order on Saturday night, May 10, 2008, at her home at approximately 10:00 p.m. She was in her night clothes. She advises that her young children were fearful that she was being arrested.
The only reason I can fathom for the urgent issuance of that Order was:
1. A desire to create a political issue before all of the facts were fully determined.
2. A desire to attempt to embarrass the Bar and/or Judge Young.
3. A concern that the file which Rom had read in full would be destroyed.
Each of the foregoing reasons are clearly without merit and offensive to us as officers of the Court.
Although there is a substantial question as to whether or not the Court has the authority to issue the Orders issued, one of the four lawyers ordered into Court resisted the Order and all appeared at 8:00 a.m. on the following Monday (May 12, 2008) as directed and provided the documents ordered to be produced.
Thereafter, without any further discussion, the Court issued a second Order directing Mr. Goddard and Ms. Davis to appear for questioning on Friday, June 6, 2008. A “courtesy copy” of said Order was forwarded by facsimile to our firm’s offices and o the offices of Mr. Goddard. I am advised that Mr. Goddard appeared on June 6, 2008. I am also advised that unbeknownst to him, his responses and the Court proceedings were video taped and subsequently appeared on a blog “BlountTalk.com”.
Upon learning that Ms. Davis was to be on vacation with her children on June 6th, her directive was extended until Friday, June 13, 2008. Our managing partner, John T. McArthur, and I attended Court with her.
I am deeply saddened and disappointed by the procedure buy which Ms. Davis was examined by the court. She was interrupted in her responses; she was cross examined; she was interrogated with leading conclusory questions; she was subjected to intimations that she was not candid; she was challenged by suggestive questions regarding her integrity and all without cause or recourse or opportunity for any rebuttal or explanation. She respectfully answered all questions asked, except where her answers, when contrary to the court’s position, were interrupted or cut off.
Several months ago, you were sworn into office in a ceremony attended by Governor Phil Bredesen. The ceremony was apolitical and I had the honor of serving as the master of ceremonies. The ceremony was attended by some 16 or 17 judges from the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals, trial judges, Judge Gallegos, Judge Duggan and other attorneys and dignitaries from adjoining counties. The appointment and ceremony was made in a manner and with the respect, which our governor and court deserved. Lawyers, litigants and witnesses deserve comparable treatment.
While I respect all of our judges and the difficult job they perform each and every day in maintaining an orderly society, I am appalled that the current political environment suggests that there is a bias or prejudice in the administration of justice in Blount County. Fortunately, that is untrue. Even more fortunately, that is why we have a constitutional right to an unbiased jury system. Even more fortunately and thankfully, the attacks on our respected judiciary and bar association will end with the election in August.
It is not the bar’s role nor is it our firm’s role to be involved in distasteful political spin. However, when the judiciary is concerned, we do have a duty to defend our state’s system of justice and not countenance the perception of truth but to support real truth.
It is my sincere hope that the real truth will be recognized, the splinter removed and our judiciary and bar restored to the respect it deserves from our fellow citizens. This has been a painful episode and I sincerely apologize to the bar and the judiciary for any contribution that I may have inadvertently made to the conflict.
David T. Black