Survey: State's lawyers overwhelmingly recommend keeping targeted justices

Critics question objectivity of survey, lawyers

Nine out of 10 lawyers responding to a poll by the Tennessee Bar Association recommend voters retain three sitting Supreme Court justices targeted in a partisan campaign pushing for their removal.

The survey released Friday is the first-ever organized by the TBA, which is publicizing the results in an effort to inform the public of lawyers' opinions before voters head to the polls for the August election. The association says the poll reflects the opinion of its members and the TBA itself is not getting involved.

“The association’s concern is always for the justice system over all, which again comes back to why we don’t take sides in any particular judicial election," said outgoing TBA President Cindy Wyrick in a conference call with reporters Friday while at the group's annual conference in Gatlinburg. “For our varying members, I think our poll results tell you their interest in this probably is in keeping the current justices because they have, through their opinions, expressed that they’re doing a good job.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, one of the state’s leading Republicans, is pushing for voters to decide against retaining three of the Supreme Court’s Democrat-appointed justices, including Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee. He accuses the justices of letting convicts off death row and ruling against businesses.

Respondents to the survey conducted in the last two weeks included approximately 2,100 lawyers belonging to the association, according to TBA officials. The association's membership includes some 12,000 lawyers out of the state's 17,000 resident attorneys.

The results from the survey are “predictable,” said Grant Everett Starrett, president and co-founder of Tennesseans for Judicial Accountability, a group formed in 2013 to represent conservative attorneys. 

“Considering the survey source, questions, and respondents, the poll results are irrelevant. Do you really think you’ll get a fair view of the warden from the official prison guard poll of prisoners?” Starrett said in a statement Friday.

The TNJA argues lawyers cannot be objective about the judiciary because they have a special interest in the result of the elections given the court decides on their cases and regulates their ability to practice law. The association also takes issue with the survey questions, which offered one choice for lawyers who not recommend retention and two options for those who would.

Here’s a breakdown of the results reported by the TBA. According to Executive Director Allan Ramsaur, fewer than 200 people surveyed in each category responded with no opinion on the retention of the justice.

Justice Connie Clark   

Highly Recommend: 74.4%   

Recommend: 18.4%

Do Not Recommend: 7.2%

Justice Sharon Lee  

Highly Recommend: 75.9%   

Recommend: 17.3%   

Do Not Recommend: 6.8%

Chief Justice Gary Wade   

Highly Recommend: 76.7%   

Recommend: 17.0%   

Do Not Recommend: 6.3%