County attorney withdraws application for judgeship

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Marshall County Attorney Bill Haywood has withdrawn his name from consideration by county commissioners on Thursday night when the panel is to name a successor to recently resigned General Sessions Court Judge Steve Bowden.

That leaves Cecilia Spivy, attorney for the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities, and Lewisburg-based attorney Lee Bussart Bowles as the remaining applicants for the position, unless another steps forward during the commissioners' 6 p.m. meeting.

Bowden resigned because the county's population grew enough to require a full-time sessions judge and he didn't want to give up his private practice of law.

Bowles confirmed her interest after a Tribune story was sent to the press reporting that she and the other two attorneys were recognized by close observers as the applicants.

Haywood withdrew Wednesday.

"While I may consider running in the next election," Haywood wrote to County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett, "I have determined that based upon the current volume of my private practice cases, and my association with another local attorney, it may be too quick of a transaction to undertake in such a short time.

"In addition, as you know, I am currently county attorney, and very pleased with my position as such," Haywood wrote to the county mayor.

The appointee will face a difficult political situation if there's a desire to maintain the seat on the bench.

The commissioners' appointment lasts until the next general election in the county that is August next year. The term won by a candidate in August 2012 for judge would then have a position with a term that expires two years later. At that time, 2014, the judgeship goes back on the ballot in August to resume the normal schedule for election to an eight-year term, the longest elected term in county politics.

There's another scheduling problem for those interested in becoming judge at this time.

Six months after the appointment, the judge would have to have closed his or her private practice of law, the very situation faced by Bowden who has a client-base that's more lucrative than the salary of a sessions judge: $126,400 annually.

That would mean someone who is appointed Thursday this week would have to be without private practice clients by the second week of April and then, assuming they want to continue in office, campaign for election in early August -- about four months after closing a law office.

Bowles and Spivy have law partners. Bowles' father is the senior attorney in the firm where she works. Spivy's law partner is Barbara G. Medley. It was unclear Wednesday night whether the two applicants' partners could begin to represent all of their firms' clients within six months.

Regardless of the commissioners' appointee, it would appear that there could be a three-way race for judge in August since Haywood indicated an interest in the position then, as did Quinn Brandon Stewart, a fourth local lawyer whose name was circulated as a likely applicant to the commission for its vote Thursday night. Stewart, however, didn't apply to the commission. Last week she said she might be interested in being a candidate in a year or three.

Another situation surrounding the selection process reflects continued discontent among county residents after commissioners voted to prevent public comment on applicants for an open seat on the school board. A former commission chairman was appointed over a former school board chairman.

Yet another question has been discussed since Sam Smith was appointed to succeed Dee Dee Myers over Jerry Campbell who's also been a Cornersville police chief: Will commissioners vote immediately, or after hearing publicly stated reasons to vote for one applicant or another?

A third question raised among conversations conducted on a condition that other participants not be named is: Will election of a judge without public deliberation by commissioners be an indication that commissioners deliberated between themselves outside the public meeting called to reach such a decision. If it's proved that the decision was reached in such a way, then it's a violation of the state's open meetings act. Such a violation results in nullification of the decision and raises questions about the legality of decisions by the individual appointed as judge.