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McFarland-Pemberton judge-race feud expands

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By Damon Lawrence

Circuit court judge candidate Mike Pemberton and his supporters suspect Willis Hall didn’t act on his own when he filed a complaint with the Roane County Election Commission.

“The issue is as clear as a bell,” Kingston attorney and Pemberton supporter Pat Cooley said. “This was generated by Tommy McFarland from the beginning.”

Pemberton and McFarland are running to replace Russell Simmons as 9th Judicial District Circuit Court judge.

Simmons is retiring.

“The 9th Judicial District needs a circuit court judge who will carry on the tradition established by Judge Russell Simmons of honesty, competence and hard work; not one who will play backroom political games and then try to hide in the shadows,” Pemberton said.

Roane, Loudon, Meigs and Morgan counties make up the 9th Judicial District.

Hall filed a complaint with the election commission alleging Pemberton didn’t live in the district.

“Mr. McFarland didn’t have a thing to do with this,” Hall contends.

“I’ve not filed a complaint against Mr. Pemberton,” McFarland said. “They (Pemberton and his supporters) need to get their facts right before they accuse me of anything.”

Court records show that McFarland represented Hall in two civil cases and one criminal case in the 1990s.

“Tommy McFarland represented him in the ’90s’, so he’s got Willis running over here doing this,” Cooley said about the complaint.

“To run a sleazy campaign like that, what kind of judge is he going to be?” Cooley added. “I think that’s a direct reflection on his character.”

The Roane County Election Commission voted 5-0 on April 28 to put Pemberton on the ballot. Cooley sat beside Pemberton at the meeting.

“What does Mr. Cooley have to gain by attacking me?” McFarland said. “Let’s ask that question. Does he see himself benefitting from Mike Pemberton being judge?”

Pemberton owns a home near Rockwood, which is in the district. He also owns a home in Knoxville, outside the district.

“The fact is, Mike Pemberton grew up in Rockwood, but he’s lived in Knoxville for at least since 2002,” McFarland said.

Pemberton said his home on Kirkham Drive in Roane County is his primary abode.

“When I have free time, and every night that we can get home, which is about 64 percent of the nights or so, we’re here,” he said.

Election Day is Aug. 7. Early voting is July 18 to Aug. 2.

“Mike Pemberton, Brillo Miller, that whole bunch, I don’t back down to people like that,” McFarland said. “Never have and never will. If they want to talk about this issue, let’s meet at the courthouse and debate it. Let’s talk about where Mike Pemberton lives and where he doesn’t live.”

Miller is the former mayor of Rockwood and a county school board member.