Once again, it’s time to participate in one of the more bizarre rituals of democracy, voting for judicial candidates. We vote for them, yet somehow they’re supposed to be impartial to the point they won’t fold to public pressure. We vote for them, but, except for the unfortunate few of us summoned to court, we have no idea who they are. And most attorneys, who have the most access to candidates in the races involving chancery, criminal and circuit courts, don’t want to talk to the media, even on background, since they’ll probably be facing judicial candidates they slam in print. “It’s not good for my clients. It’s not good for me,” one of them tells the Scene
before ending a phone call.
Thankfully, judicial races come around only once every eight years. And most of the races are uncontested. That leaves incumbent Carol Soloman facing a relative unknown, Jefre Goldtrap, in Division 8’s Circuit Court. And a group of three, led by Metro Council member Amanda McClendon and prominent attorney Matt Sweeney, jockeying for an open seat in Division 2’s circuit.
Soloman is coming off her first eight-year term on the bench armed with a fistful of endorsements, mostly unions and the Tennessean
newspaper. She handles divorce and family issues, so she has some enemies. More than 300 attorneys voted “Do Not Recommend” in a poll of 900 lawyers conducted by the Nashville Bar Association, the most negative votes among all judicial candidates this election cycle.
The knock on Soloman is that she belittles attorneys in her courtroom. She’s the only candidate with a website devoted to her professional demise (www.removesoloman.com
). One attorney we spoke with, who argued a complicated corporate case in her courtroom, says Soloman is brighter than people give her credit for and shows no hostility during proceedings. Another calls her a “piece of work” because of her quick temper.
Her only opponent, Jefre Goldtrap, doesn’t appear to be a formidable candidate. He’s raised a paltry $7,700, as of by April 1, and is dogged by a checkered past. In May 2003, the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility fined Goldtrap $50 for missing a filing date in a marijuana distribution case. The amount is small, but the censure is severe. Goldtrap blamed the late filing on a change of address and a visit he made to Alaska.
In any event, the slap isn’t the only blemish on his résumé. A flyer announcing a Jan. 17 campaign kickoff at the Old Spaghetti Factory on Second Avenue told contributors they would be eligible for a door prize. But political candidates aren’t permitted to hold raffles or lotteries. In another flyer, dated Jan. 5, he told contributors that political donations were tax deductible, but, in fact, they are not. Goldtrap didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
In the Division 2 race, Metro Council member Amanda McClendon has a lot of name recognition but is still seen as the challenger. She has a range of experience having been involved in women’s and environmental groups and employed as a private-practice attorney since 1984. Some of her fellow council members whisper that they hope she loses because the council has lost four members, for various reasons, since last year and they don’t want to lose another.
The frontrunner is Matt Sweeney, a shareholder in the high-end, downtown firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. Some pundits have pitted the race as the blue-collar, South Nashvillian McClendon versus the corporate-loving, elitist Sweeney, but Sweeney will have none of it. He says he’s represented plaintiffs from all socio-economic levels and has owned several small practices—even for a short period in the early 1990s with Bob Tuke, now head of the state Democratic Party.
Sweeney received the most “highly recommended” votes in the Nashville Bar poll, more than judicial incumbents like Gloria Dumas and Public Defender Ross Alderman. McClendon, on the other hand, received 200 “Do Not Recommend” votes, or about the same number as the other attorney in the race, relative unknown Jim Duncan. Sweeney’s strong showing is probably a result of his previous tenure on the bench, from 1986 to 1990, when at 34 he became the youngest Circuit Court judge in the state.
Sweeney says he stepped down because he needed more money to put his three kids through college. His critics say he quit public service to search for the golden goose in the private sector. In any event, he’s ready to return to the bench. Unless McClendon’s popularity is enough to carry her to victory, expect to see a Sweeney swearing-in ceremony next fall.