Judge’s race again headed to courtroom

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By Damon Lawrence

Tom McFarland filed a complaint in Roane County Chancery Court on Wednesday contesting the Aug. 7 election.

McFarland ran for circuit court judge of the 9th Judicial District and was defeated by Mike Pemberton.

Pemberton, the Roane County Election Commission and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins are named as defendants in the complaint.

McFarland is asking that the election be voided. Pemberton said he hadn’t seen the complaint, but wasn’t surprised one was filed.

“It’s Tommy McFarland,” he said. “What do you expect?”

Roane County Administrator of Elections Charles Holiway said he was disappointed that McFarland, who is county attorney, filed the complaint.

“I really am,” Holiway said. “I thought that we had resolved the issue, but evidently not to his satisfaction.”

McFarland’s complaint raises issues that Kingston resident Willis Hall raised in his attempt to keep Pemberton off the ballot.

The 9th Judicial District is comprised of Roane, Loudon, Meigs and Morgan counties.

Hall filed a complaint with the election commission on March 31, alleging Pemberton shouldn’t be on the ballot because he didn’t live in the district. The commission heard Hall’s complaint on April 28 and voted 5-0 to put Pemberton on the ballot.

Hall responded by challenging the decision in Roane County Chancery Court. Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell dismissed Hall’s complaint in June.

Hall is a former McFarland client, and the attorney who represented Hall, Wes Kliner of Chattanooga, went to law school with McFarland.

Pemberton and his supporters have long contended that McFarland was behind the effort to prevent Pemberton from being on the ballot.

McFarland and Hall denied those claims.

Hall’s unsuccessful complaint and the one McFarland filed on Wednesday both allege Pemberton didn’t meet the one-year residency requirement to run for judge.

“I’m surprised that he waited until after the election,” Holiway said about McFarland’s complaint.

On multiple occasions before the election, McFarland said he thought voters should decide the residency issue at the polls.

McFarland won three of the four counties, but lost to Pemberton by 1,131 votes in Roane County. McFarland’s margins of victory in the other three counties couldn’t overcome that.

Current Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons Jr. is retiring on Aug. 31.

Pemberton is set to take office on Sept. 1. He’s spent this week at the Tennessee Judicial Academy, which is sometimes referred to as judge school.

Pemberton has steadfastly denied the allegations about his residency. He expressed confidence the latest complaint will end up like all the others.

“We won in the election commission, we won in court, we won the election — and we’ll win this one, too,” he said.

A hearing date for McFarland’s complaint has not been set.

Nashville attorneys Wm. Ritchie Pique and Matthew C. Pietsch are listed as attorneys for McFarland.

“I appreciate your inquiry, but we prefer not to comment on matters currently in litigation at this time,” Pietsch said, when asked for comments on the complaint.