insights (2006-28)

Mike Moyers for Chancellor

Mike Moyers is an outstanding candidate for chancellor after serving for the past six years as Knox County Law Director. His experience in that position has made him conversant with the wide range of legal matters to which the county must attend, many of which are relevant to the types of issues that come before Chancery Court.

Until well after the February filing deadline for candidates to qualify for placement on the May 2 primary ballot, Moyers was unopposed. But in early April, Jim Andrews entered the fray as a write-in candidate in the Democrat primary on a note of negativity.

In response to a Knoxville Bar Association candidate questionnaire, Andrews stated his reasons for wanting to serve as follows: “Frankly, I decided to run after several people whom I respect asked me to run. I had thought for some time that my opponent should have sought an answer from the courts as soon as the Shelby County Chancery Court held term limits valid. I also felt that an initiative placed on the ballot two years ago actually tricked the voters of Knox County from removing term limits from the position of law director. I did not want someone who would participate in that exercise sitting as chancellor in a court that I use with some frequency….”

In fact, on the day following the Shelby County Chancery Court ruling, Moyers issued a memorandum to county commissioners apprising them of its import. He went on to say that, “All things considered, we continue to opine… that the terms of Constitutional officers are governed by the state Constitution and cannot be locally limited, in agreement with the opinion of the Tennessee Attorney General. If the Bailey [Shelby County] case is appealed however, and if the Supreme Court rules that the Shelby County term limits provision is valid, then such a ruling would in our opinion be binding upon Knox County.” On March 29, when the Supreme Court finally upheld Shelby County’s term limits, Moyers expressed the same opinion to the Knox County Election Commission. However, by that time it was too late to remove term-limited candidates from the May 2 primary ballot.

As for the applicability of term limits to the elected law director, a Charter Review Committee appointed by county Mayor Mike Ragsdale recommended the following amendment to the charter (among others) to be voted on in the 2004 county election: “The Knox County law director shall be subject to the term limits provision of this Charter to the same extent as any Constitutional officer of Knox County government as that term is defined by Article VII, Section 1 of the Tennessee Constitution.” Perhaps the ballot proposition could have been less legalistic, but media coverage of the issue made clear that it meant the law director, who is not a constitutional officer, would be exempt from term limits to the same extent as other county elected officials who are.

Where the frequency of Andrews’ use of Chancery Court is concerned, court records show that Andrews was only involved in three cases before the court in the past five years.

In sharp contrast with Andrews’ negativity, Moyers responded to the bar association’s questionnaire that he wanted to serve as chancellor because: “There is nothing more important to the proper functioning of the judiciary than competent and professional jurists who have the ability to apply the law in a reasoned and neutral fashion. …I have spent 18 years as a public lawyer and have often been called upon to balance or decide the interests of the public, the government, and a broad cross-section of the Knoxville Bar. These experiences have taught me the importance of never pre-judging an issue, waiting to hear all sides of an issue before coming to a decision, and perhaps most importantly, setting aside personal issues and agendas in favor of a strict but sensitive adherence to the law.”

Andrews’ solo law practice has consisted primarily of: 1.) serving as an administrative law judge for the state Department of Education in matters pertaining to student entitlements under the Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act; and 2.) bringing class action suits on behalf of consumers alleging damage or injury from defective products.

Andrews’ license to practice law was suspended for two months in 2004 for failure to meet continuing education requirements set by the state Board of Professional Responsibility. When asked about the suspension, Andrews initially said it resulted from tardiness in paying the state’s $400 annual privilege tax on professionals, because the notice didn’t reach him in a timely way. When advised it involved a continuing education lapse, Andrews ascribed it to a bureaucratic snafu.

Reaching Andrews, at least by telephone, is by no means easy. He has two office numbers listed in the 2006 telephone directory. One produces a recorded response that “this number has been disconnected.” The other reaches a law firm in West Knoxville which advises that Andrews hasn’t been associated with the firm for more than three years.

These lapses hardly seem like traits of someone who can be relied upon for jurisprudence. It’s doubtful whether many other lawyers were aware of them when they responded to a recent Knoxville Bar Association survey of candidate qualifications. Andrews received a slightly higher ranking of 2.96 to Moyers’ 2.68 on a scale of 4.

In my view, Mike Moyers is the clear choice in the only contested chancellor’s contest in the Aug. 7 election.

Editor’s note: Joe Sullivan contributed $500 to Mike Moyers’ campaign.