I was summoned last August and served jury duty in Shelby County. It was a criminal case that involved aggravated robbery and the process took nearly a week. TV court show myths were debunked, debates were waged in the courtroom (and in the jury chambers), and lots of clarification was provided by our presiding judge: James Beasley, Jr.
The incident that the case recounted happened in 2011, two years prior to the trial. It was evident that hours upon hours of preparation went into the trial on behalf of the prosecution, the defense, and the head jurist.
If there’s one thing that I took away from the experience, it’s the appreciation and faith I have in our local judicial system. In order to have a safe and effective city, citizens are forced to rely on the expertise of elected officials who must adeptly understand the Tennessee Code.
This leads into my “Be Prepared to Vote” public service announcement for Thursday, August 7, 2014. This election will feature Federal and State Primaries and the FINAL Shelby County General Election.
What might surprise you in addition to voting for Shelby County mayor and commissioners will be the 40 judicial races on the ballot. That’s a LOT of lawyers to parse through (81 to be exact). As you may be aware, judges are restricted from campaigning on platforms in Tennessee, so there’s less public information about them.
Since I’m not an attorney, I’ve sought out help from the Memphis Bar Association who has taken the time (and has the expertise) to rate each candidate.
The MBA tasked 1,383 active Shelby County attorneys to rate each candidate’s experience and qualifications. The resulting Judicial Qualification Poll has been immensely helpful to me as a layman.
I read the document and noticed that some candidates received less than a 10% vote of confidence. How ALARMING! I also read that some have little to no trial experience. One is campaigning to be the “Youngest Elected in History.” (Despite being a millennial, this race should be based on wisdom and experience.)
I have no connection to the courts or bar association but as a citizen of Shelby County, I have a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of our local justice system. Further, these judges are elected to 8-year terms. It’s one thing to elect a silly legislator for two years but entrusting someone to oversee dockets of civil/criminal cases for nearly a decade is a decision worth debating.
Please take the time to at least consider and read up on the candidates. I’m more than likely going to go with the convenient “cheat-sheet” provided by the MBA, which I’ll print and take to the voting booth.
Yes, there are always exceptions to lists and ratings – for instance, I’ve heard great recommendations about Danny Kail. Yet for the most part, the comprehensive picks seem sound.
Consider this a friendly and nonpartisan heads up.
- MBA’s Judicial Qualification Poll (a.k.a. the cheat-sheet)
- Judge James Beasley, Jr. of the Shelby County Criminal Court published this article in the Memphis Flyer about the importance of selecting experienced judges in the August 2014 Shelby County election.
- The Commercial Appeal’s 1A, above-the-fold article from Sunday, July 13, 2014 that digs into the questionable ethics of some sitting and aspiring judges