Higher court judges placed on ballot to keep or lose jobs

Friday, July 30, 2010

At the very end of the Aug. 5 ballot, citizens will be asked to vote on whether two Tennessee judges should be retained or replaced. Both judges were appointed by Gov. Bredesen to fill unexpired terms, and must now have the voters' approval to stay on the bench for full eight-year terms.

Sharon G. Lee, 56, was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in October 2008 to replace retiring justice William M. Barker. Lee had been on the Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, for four years when she was appointed to the Supreme Court.

John W. McClarty, 62, of Chattanooga, was on the short list with Lee for the Supreme Court position, and replaced her on the Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, a few months later in January last year.

History was made with both their appointments. McClarty is the first African-American state judge serving in East Tennessee, and Lee was the first woman chosen for the Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, since the court was created in 1925. In addition, Lee's appointment to the Supreme Court gave women their first-ever majority on the five-member panel.

Lee was born in Knoxville, and graduated with high honors in accounting from the University of Tennessee College of Business in 1975 and from UT College of Law in 1978. She then established a law practice in her hometown, Madisonville. Positions Lee has held included judge for the town of Madisonville, attorney for Monroe County, and city attorney for the town of Vonore. Lee has two daughters

McClarty graduated from Austin Peay State University in 1971 with a double major in political science and history. After spending two years in the Army, McClarty ranked 5th in his class when he graduated from Southern University School of Law in 1976. During his 32-year law career in Chattanooga, McClarty represented clients in the municipal, sessions, juvenile, and criminal courts of Hamilton County and the surrounding area. He has two sons and two stepdaughters, and is an associate pastor of the Warren Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission unanimously recommends both judges for retention. After interviewing Lee, the JPEC concluded she "is very knowledgeable and experienced in the law, as demonstrated by her experiences both as a legal practitioner and as a member of the Court of Appeals."

"I consider it a high honor and a privilege to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court," Lee said. "It is a responsibility I take very seriously. I will continue to strive for excellence in all aspects of my professional and personal life. The citizens of Tennessee deserve nothing less from me as a judge and elected official."

The JPEC complimented McClarty's "broad range of knowledge and experience in civil law" and his "history of service to the community," as well as noting "his impressive work ethic."