It will be a case of winner take all at the March primaries for the judge’s seat.
In the Coffee County full commission meeting Tuesday, Mayor Gary Cordell introduced a new resolution that would appoint the winner of the General Sessions Judge, Part 1, seat in the March Republican primary as the interim judge. The seat is open due to the sudden death of long-time Judge Tim Brock who passed away this past November while attending a judicial conference in Reno, Nevada.
Cordell let Coffee County attorney Robert Huskey explain the reasoning and research behind the resolution to the county’s governing body.
Huskey explained that the situation of the judge’s seat is unique, as normally the primary elections were in May, way past the 120 days given to find someone to fill the seat. However, because of the presidential Super Tuesday primaries, the primaries are in March this year.
The candidates, Jason Huskey, Stacy Lynch, Greg Perry and Jess Stockwell, are all qualified to run under the Republican Party. There are no candidates running in the Democratic Primary or seeking the office as an independent candidate. This means whoever wins the primary would run unopposed in the general election in August. The only exception to an uncontested August election would be if a write-in candidate were to announce his or her intentions.
Huskey said Judge Damron’s appointment was for temporary help with the general sessions caseload since he wasn’t a resident to the county.
Huskey also said he asked the general counselor if it was possible for the county commission to pass the resolution where the winner of the primary election would be the interim judge and be sworn in for duty until he or she is officially takes off Sept. 1. According to Huskey, the counselor from the Supreme Court couldn’t officially approve it but she believed everything was appropriate regarding the idea.
Huskey said if the resolution didn’t pass; however, then the commission would have to vote in someone to fill in as interim judge, pending the official installation of the new judge Sept. 1.
When opened to discussion, County Commissioner Michael Ray asked if voters would have to vote specifically in the Republican Primary to get to vote on the judgeship. Both Huskey and Cordell said voters wishing to vote for judge would have to vote in the Republican Primary. Voters who appear to vote in the primary election are given the choice to vote in either the Republican or Democratic Primary. They cannot do both.
While the idea was set forth to pass a resolution to make the March election winner take all, the process was complicated by rules of procedure. One county commissioner pointed out the commission was breaking its own rules by diving into a vote on the resolution without going through committee.
County Commissioner Joey Hobbs asked Cordell, given the rules and procedure, had the resolution gone through any committees to be approved and who sponsored the resolution? Hobbs reminded Cordell he emailed these questions and concerns to him Monday but Cordell said he was busy with other tasks to answer them.
“We’re breaking our own rules by not following Section K [of the procedure], right?” asked Hobbs. “It clearly states that two people have to sign it, and then it gets a number, and then it goes to a committee. It can’t get to the floor until those two things happen.”
Cordell responded and said the resolution did get two sponsors to sign on the night before even though it was not brought to a committee. Hobbs asked if any committees have seen the resolution.
Executive Administrative Assistant Roxanne Patton said she did send the resolution to Budget and Finance and it wasn’t signed. This led to a back and forth exchange with Hobbs and Patton.
“We can either do the rules or we can amend them. I’m okay with either one. I just saying at the end of the day it’s good to know what we’re supposed to be doing and I would just like to do them,” said Hobbs.
Hobbs said this was the first time he was seeing the commission procedure, but both Patton and Cordell said procedure is read to everyone when they first come on. Hobbs finished by saying the resolution shouldn’t been presented until it followed procedure as stated.
Commissioner Ashley Kraft, trying to mediate the situation, asked Coffee County Parliamentarian Joe Pedigo if the resolution could be postponed until the March full commission meeting so it would go through the proper procedure and amendments could be added. Pedigo said it wouldn’t be an issue if the commission decided to do so.
Huskey mentioned if the commission chose to postpone the resolution, the next commission meeting wouldn’t be until after the primary.
Commissioner Lynn Sebourn said due to the time crunch and that the commissioners were still learning the rules, he suggested they suspend the rules so they could vote and make amendments to the resolution if needed. Pedigo made clear that the vote will require a two thirds majority vote to suspend the rules to vote on the resolution and make any necessary amendments. He also said there wouldn’t be discussion until the vote was finished.
The vote to suspend the rules to vote on the resolution passed 15-2.
After a brief discussion about any amendments to be added to the resolution the final vote for the resolution passed unanimously with 20 for Yes, meaning the winner of the March Primary will be installed as interim judge. Early voting in the primary begins Feb. 12.