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Justices' fair calls have earned them retention

Johnson City Press • Jul 29, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Earlier this month, Chief Justice Gary Wade of the state Supreme Court told the Press his job is much like that of a baseball umpire. Wade said he and other members of the court are required “to call balls and strikes” based on the rules of the game.

To do the job right, Wade said, requires that the umps exercise fairness and impartiality toward both teams. Following the rule book is the only way to officiate an honest game.

Calling a fair game, however, is not always going make the umpire popular with fans who see a different strike zone.

Wade’s umpire analogy strikes a chord given the circumstances he and two of his colleagues on the Supreme Court now face in their bids to return to the bench. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and other top Republican leaders are asking state residents to vote “no” on whether to retain Wade and Justices Sharon Lee and Cornelia Clark.

Ramsey believes the three have not been fair to his home team — the business interests of Tennessee. He thinks the voters should allow the Republican governor to replace the three justices.

It’s not unusual for fans to grumble about the calls made by the umpires. Occasionally, you might even hear an angry fan shout “kill the ump” after a called strike. But you rarely see an umpire replaced in the middle of the game.

Big league and most college-level umpires are routinely examined by experts in the field to rate their competence behind the plate. They are evaluated for consistency and the competence of their calls.

Good umps remain. Umpires with bad evaluations are asked to go.

The same is true for state judges in Tennessee, who are periodically evaluated for their performance on the bench. The latest Tennessee Judges Evaluation Report, available online at www.tncourt.gov, shows Wade and his two colleagues on the Supreme Court have done a good job of calling balls and strikes.

In fact, the evaluations for the justices were much more than good. The overall averages of the justices were all near excellent. Wade scored 4.71, Lee scored 4.52 and Clark scored 4.43. A score of four indicated an “above average” rating.

This report was prepared by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission — a nine-member panel (some of whom were appointed by Ramsey himself) that includes attorneys, non-attorneys and state trial court judges. Despite Ramsey’s claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that Wade, Clark and Lee have done anything other than fairly call balls and strikes.

That’s why the Tennessee Bar Association and leading prosecutors and police officials across the state have endorsed the three for retention.

We, too, believe the three justices have tried to call a fair game and see no reason why they should not be returned to the Supreme Court.

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