In a curious sequence of events last week, embattled General Sessions Judge Penny Harrington, who had picked up qualifying papers for 11 different elected positions in Metro, ended up deciding to run against one of her popular colleagues on the bench.
Since the news has gotten out that Harrington will be running against fellow General Sessions Judge Bill Faimon in Metro’s May primaries, the political and judicial community has wondered simply, ”Why him?“
Harrington now says she chose to challenge Faimon because she is reform-oriented, while, at least in her opinion, he tends to maintain the status quo.
”I don’t have anything against Bill except that he’s for doing things the way we’ve always done them,“ Harrington says. ”Bill Faimon has given lots of years of good service to Metro, and I’m very appreciative of that. But we need changes in a lot of places in General Sessions courts, and we need to have people who are in favor of changes.“
As an example of the reforms she favors, Harrington cites a proposal to schedule some court dockets for Saturdays to allow options for people who would have to miss work if they were required to show up in court during the regular work week.
Harrington also says that, if elected, she’d like to create a youth offenders program to address crime among Nashville teens. She says she envisions a strict, privatized probation program in which young offenders are either required to finish high school or its equivalent or to get a job and keep it.
”Instead of offering them a 30-day suspended sentence for a marijuana charge or whatever, I thought how much better it would be if we could offer them a serious probation program,“ Harrington says. She maintains that the program wouldn’t cost Metro any money if, for example, fees for private probation services were paid out of the wages probationers earn at their jobs.
It was the youth offenders plan, Harrington says, that led her to enter this spring’s primary. ”I was really not going to run again, but I was getting excited about this idea,“ she says, adding that she was tired of handling the environmental court docket.
But Harrington has also created her share of enemies in the legal community. When members of the Nashville Bar Association were polled late last year, 74.5 percent of those who expressed an opinion did not recommend her to fill the criminal court judge post left vacant after the death of Thomas Shriver.
By contrast, a more recent poll of bar members showed that Faimon’s popularity is substantial. Ninety-one percent of lawyers who expressed an opinion in that poll, which rated incumbent judges and other officials, recommended that Faimon be retained as a General Sessions judge. Only 9.2 percent did not recommend him.
Harrington theorizes that she may be unpopular among local attorneys because she requires lawyers to justify their standard practice of adding 33 percent in attorney’s fees to certain judgments. In some cases, Harrington says, she only allows attorneys to add 25 percent to the amount plaintiffs win in law suits. ”[The attorneys] have to stand up and tell me why they deserve it,“ she says. ”There ought to be some proof that the attorney has done something more than filing a piece of paper.“
Less than a week after qualifying to run against Davidson County Juvenile Court Clerk Kenny Norman, Metro Council member-at-large Vic Varallo has dropped out of the race.
Varallo’s name had surfaced weeks ago in connection with the juvenile court clerk election, but many were surprised when he actually filed to run against Norman. When Varallo filed his qualifying papers last Thursday, deadline day for the county’s May primaries, the race immediately became one to watch. After all, Varallo captured more votes in the last Metro Council election than any other member-at-large did. And although he suffered a humiliating defeat in 1996 when he ran as a Republican against popular state Sen. Joe Haynes, a Democrat, Varallo was seen as a formidable opponent for Norman. Varallo had let it be known that he planned to contribute his salary to worthwhile causes to benefit juveniles.
Norman, who is Haynes’ brother-in-law, still has some competition, despite Varallo’s withdrawal. Two Democrats and one independent have also filed to run against Norman, who is not one of Nashville’s most popular elected officials. In a recent poll, 60.5 percent of Nashville Bar Association members who expressed an opinion recommended that Norman be allowed to retain his job. But nearly 40 percent of the lawyers did not recommend that he stay on as juvenile court clerk.
Vic Varallo isn’t the only one this week to withdraw from a countywide race. Democrat Julia C. Stewart has also backed out of a race against Davidson County Clerk Bill Covington, leaving him with no opposition.
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