Any doubt about the city’s referendum to allow the East Ridge Municipal Court Judge to hold another part-time judge’s position in another city was put to rest this week, as two legal opinions upheld the stance.
Kevin Wilson, who was appointed to the bench in East Ridge and is asking voters for an eight-year term, said he asked for both the Tennessee Attorney General’s office and the Administrative Office of the Court to render a legal opinion on Ordinance 1166. The ordinance would remove a provision in the East Ridge City Charter that prohibits an individual from holding a judgeship in two cities.
“This is important for both East Ridge and Collegedale,” Wilson said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “In (East Ridge’s) instance, the local charter amendment should be consistent with judicial canons and statutes.”
Wilson, who has been the municipal court judge in Collegedale for 30 years, recently received a letter from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office stating that the proposed charter change in East Ridge would not conflict with Article II, Sec. 26 of the state’s Constitution. The constitutional provision prohibits a judge from being a member of the General Assembly and holding two lucrative state offices. Neither element would be present by a person holding two part-time municipal judgeships.
A written statement from an official with the Judicial Ethics Committee of the General Sessions Judges Conference, said in part: ” … we can find no prohibition against being a part-time judge for two different cities.”
Wilson said in a written statement to East Ridge News Online that both opinions support the opinion of the East Ridge City Attorney who advised the City Council that it was appropriate to amend the City Charter to allow the City Court Judge to hold another part-time elected judicial position.
If Wilson is to be elected to a full eight-year term, Ordinance 1166 must be approved by the voters of East Ridge. If the measure fails and Wilson wins in the field of four (Tracy Cox, Chris Dixon, and Rich Heinsman) candidates, the City Council could appoint the new judge.
Scott Allen, Hamilton County’s Administrator of Elections, said it is rare that an ordinance pertaining to an election is on the same ballot as candidates it may effect. He said in Hamilton County, commissioners would appoint a person to the elected commission until the next August election, which would be in 2024. Allen said he would not know how East Ridge officials may handle it.
A text to City Attorney Mark Litchford concerning this issue was not answered.
Early voting for this race continues through July 30. Election day is August 4.