Lt. Gov. Randy McNally is asking questions about Davidson County Election Commission Chair Jim DeLanis’ recent departure from law firm Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz.
DeLanis said recently that he was fired after decades at the firm because of “threats and pressure” from two firm clients related to his actions as chair of the election commission. There, he has in recent months been trying to force an anti-tax ballot referendum to a countywide vote, despite repeated decisions by judges agreeing that the proposal is unconstitutional and was improperly submitted. The firm countered that the lawyer had retired.
McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has his eyes set on at least one of those potential clients. His office submitted a records request to Metro Nashville Public Schools, which has been represented by Baker Donelson in multiple cases in recent years, asking for documents and correspondence related to DeLanis, Baker Donelson, the election commission and 4 Good Government, the group pushing for the referendum.
An MNPS representative provided McNally’s letter and said the district has not yet processed his request. The representative declined to comment further. Baker Donelson representatives also declined to comment other than to point back to their earlier statement, in which the firm said it disagrees “with his characterization of the circumstances of his departure from the firm but will not engage in a public debate about them.”
Specifically, McNally’s July 23 request asks for all MNPS documents and correspondence dating back to September 2020 that “expressly or implicitly” references DeLanis related to the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, his status at Baker Donelson, his status as a member and chair of the commission as well as information about other members of the commission and the groups 4 Good Government and Save Nashville Now.
“Lt. Governor McNally was deeply disturbed by allegations that agents of Metro government may have conspired to exert pressure on Jim DeLanis’s private employer for the purpose of influencing his vote,” McNally spokesman A.C. Kleinheider tells our sister publication, the Nashville Post, via email. “Whatever you may think of the referendum or Mr. DeLanis’s actions, he was acting as a private citizen in public service. The prospect of a government agency attempting to subvert the democratic process in this manner smacks of authoritarianism.”
Jamie Hollin, an attorney representing the Nashville Business Coalition, speculated that conflict of interest was the cause of DeLanis’ departure.
“This is a classic conflict of interest," says Hollin. "If another one or more of the firm’s clients had a conflict with the things DeLanis was doing, then it would be very appropriate for the client to notify the firm and how the actions of the firm’s employee was materially adverse to the interests of its employee. When that happened, and with notice of the conflict, the firm did what was responsible: get him to stop acting adverse to the firm’s client or termination, if failing to resign.”
DeLanis said the law firm claimed his alleged dismissal was because of a business conflict, not a legal or ethical conflict.
He added that he was not aware of McNally’s request but that, “I support anyone trying to bring the truth out.” DeLanis declined to name the two firm clients who he claimed pressured the firm to oust him, saying that Baker Donelson officials told him that would be revealing privileged communication.
Asked whether he’s considering suing the firm, DeLanis says, “There are various aspects of this that I think need to be pursued by somebody, and I am considering pursuing some avenue.”