Appeals Court Judges Opt Not to Seek Re-Election; Commission to Interview Candidates for 2014

May 24, 2013

Court of Appeals Judge Patricia J. Cottrell and Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Joseph M. Tipton have notified Gov. Bill Haslam that they will not be seeking retention in the August 2014 election.

The announcements create vacancies on the two appeals courts as of September 1, 2014 and the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) has elected to complete the nominating process for these two openings prior to June 30, 2013.

The urgency in completing the process has come about because statutory provisions for selecting trial and appellate judges expire on June 30, 2013 and no replacement procedure has been established by the legislature.

“This is an extraordinary situation and we are dealing with it in a fashion that meets the constitutional and statutory challenges,” said Tom Lawless, chairman of the JNC.

He added that “the JNC is working in concert with the governor’s office and legislative leaders to craft a solution in this unusual situation. After June 30, no mechanism exists to replace judges in Tennessee without action by the legislature.”

Appellate judge candidates apply for openings on the court by submitting an application to the JNC. Commission members review the applications and conduct a public hearing and interviews of each candidate. The commission will conduct the interviews and select three candidates prior to June 30, then submit the names to the governor for consideration.

Although both judges have indicated their intention to step down August 31, 2014, if they were to leave office earlier, the governor’s appointees could take office at that time.

In another rare move, the commission will submit two panels to the governor for each appellate opening, so a total of 12 names will go to the governor. With appeals court openings, the governor has the option to reject the first panel of names and request a second panel from the JNC. Because of the time constraints in the current situation, the commission will submit both panels immediately following the meeting.

By statute, Tennessee appeals court judges, which includes the 29 judges and justices on the Court of Appeals, Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court, are subject to a retention election every eight years.

Prior to the election, the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission conducts an evaluation of each incumbent appellate judge and recommends each judge for retention or replacement. The deadline for requesting evaluation by the commission for the 2014 election was May 23.

Judge Cottrell has been a member of the Court of Appeals since 1998. She has a B.S. with honors from the University of Tennessee and is an honors graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. Prior to her appointment to the bench, Judge Cottrell practiced law in a variety of roles, including with the attorney general’s office and as Director of Law for Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

Judge Tipton was appointed to the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1990 and has served as Presiding Judge of the Court since 2006. He received both his B.S. and J.D. from the University of Tennessee, where he graduated first in his law school class. In addition to his work as a criminal defense lawyer, he served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the UT College of Law.

The Judicial Nominating Commission is a 17-member panel of attorneys and non-attorneys that volunteer their time to review applications for judgeship openings, conduct public hearings and interviews of the candidates, and select a panel for consideration by the governor. The JNC has met 10 times in the past 10 months to fill judicial openings.

Candidates interested in applying for the opening on the Court of Appeals or Court of Criminal Appeals can find the application and more information here.