By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts officials might use state equipment and state employees Thursday night to immediately monitor real-time results of that evening’s judicial elections, according to various emails evidently sent from that office.
Granted, AOC officials will need to know who the winners are, especially if Tennessee Supreme Court justices win retention.
But why can’t they just get the results from the media, like the rest of us Thursday night, instead of using resources on the taxpayers’ dime?
Barring that, why can’t they wait until the very next morning to get the results or even days later when state officials certify election results?
Getting results, AOC Administrative Director Bill Young told Tennessee Watchdog in a letter Tuesday, has to do with a great sense of urgency, especially considering newly elected judges will take office Sept. 1.
“This year we anticipate the largest turnover in the state’s judicial ranks in recent memory, with at least 40 new judges assuming positions in the state judiciary,” Young said in his letter.
“Thus, with this extremely short timeframe between the election and occupancy of office, the AOC wants to know at the earliest possible moment who these judges will be so that we can expeditiously and efficiently perform our aforementioned responsibilities in training, equipping, and staffing these new judges.”
AOC officials, Young said, will need time to train newly elected judges in various procedures and secure office space, equipment and staff for them.
Ann Lynn Walker, the AOC’s Technology Division Director, evidently requested that Joni Kies, director of the Secretary of State’s Information Systems Division, provide specific information on real-time results in a July 28 email.
Tennessee Watchdog showed the emails to AOC officials and asked about their authenticity, but Young did not comment.
As of Tuesday, officials with the Secretary of State’s office had not returned requests for comment on whether they agreed to provide the information.
Young also did not comment on whether there was any precedent for state employees using state equipment to monitor election returns in real time in the evenings.
Young, however, did tell Tennessee Watchdog that he and his staff members will likely put in overtime to properly prepare the new judges for their new jobs. Young did not say if working outside of normal operating hours Thursday night is part of that overtime.
Also, by the same emails, AOC Conference Coordinator Stephanie Etheridge appears to have asked Andrew Dodd, attorney for the Secretary of State’s Division of Elections, for a list of all individuals running for a judge position.
As before, Young didn’t comment on whether there was precedent for this, and no one from the Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office responded to requests for comment Monday or Tuesday.
As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, state Supreme Court Justices Gary Wade, Connie Clark and Sharon Lee, all Democrats, are among those candidates up for a vote Thursday.
The election has engendered major controversy.
Many Republicans blame the justices, all up for retention, for a softness of crime and for appointing Attorney General Bob Cooper, who did not join 27 other states in fighting Obamacare.
Pro-retention forces, meanwhile, say big business interests and the Koch brothers are trying to force the justices out with a big money campaign.
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