Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Nashville attorney Jim Roberts to the newsmakers line to give updates on the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act referendum litigation that would prevent or allow it to be put on the December ballot.
Leahy: In the studio with me is the original all-star panelist Crom Carmichael. And on our newsmaker line our good friend attorney Jim Roberts who’s going to give us an update on the lawsuit that will be tried next week about whether or not Nashville voters will be able to vote on the referendum and repeal the 34 percent property tax increase. Good morning, Jim.
Roberts: Good morning, sir.
Leahy: Well, what’s the latest twist and turn in this long adventure?
Roberts: Well, it keeps twisting and keeps starting. We had a big hearing yesterday with Chancellor Lyle here in Davidson County. Metro was pulling out all the stops to prevent witnesses from testifying. To keep documents out that are important. Basically engaging in all the sorts of all the shenanigans that you would expect them to try to prevent the people from being able to vote on this.
Carmichael: How successful were they with their tactics?
Roberts: Not really successful at all. Where the court is still taking a few things under advisement. There are more pleadings being filed. I mean what Metro is really trying to do is just overwhelm me and the people by just filing, you know, hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents. The bottom line is they don’t have a case and they know it. There’s no legal basis to keep the people from being able to vote on this ballot initiative.
Leahy: Yeah, and we’ve gone over this many a time. But if you could summarize the lack of legal standing for the Davidson County election commission’s efforts to in my view illegally deprive Nashville’s voters from voting on this referendum on December 5th. Just give us a summary of how we got here.
Roberts: Right. Absolutely. The key to this is that you don’t have judicial challenges. You don’t have court lawsuits over ballot initiatives until they pass because they might not pass. And the only way that the Metro Government would have any basis to litigate this before the election is to claim that this ballot initiative violated the Tennessee Constitution or the Federal Constitution. And it clearly doesn’t. They haven’t even argued that.
What the Metro is trying to do is come in and cry about how much an election will cost. Or you know, all the doom and gloom things that might happen to Metro if they’re actually required to be a little bit more responsible. They don’t have any constitutional violations. There’s nothing about this charter amendment that facially violates the Tennessee Constitution and they know it. They’re just throwing as much as they can up against the wall hoping something will stick.
Carmichael: Now is the plaintiff in the suit the election commission or Metro?
Roberts: Well no. The case that the election commission filed I got dismissed last week. It was not appropriate and it was filed late.
Leahy: The election commission case has been dismissed?
Roberts: Well, yes and no. Hold on. We filed first because right done anything we ask for mandamus to force the election commission put it on the ballot. The election commission then turned around and sued the citizens. That’s not appropriate because there was already a lawsuit pending and so their lawsuit got dismissed. But the court did allow them to bring those same claims up in the litigation. It’s still out there.
Carmichael: So who is the so who is the plaintiff? Is it now Metro? did Metro Sue also?
Roberts: Ten we when we filed suit it was for 4 Good Government former councilman, Dwayne Dominy, and the 27,263 registered voters who signed find Nashville taxpayer protection act.
Leahy: That’s the plaintiff.
Carmichael: So you’re the plaintiff. And is the defendant the election commission or Metro?
Roberts: It is it is both. Truthfully Crom, it’s a very convoluted pleading. And that Metro did this on purpose because hey they wanted it to be as confusing as possible so it wouldn’t look like they were suing the citizens. They were trying to disguise that by making it look like Metro is suing the election commission and the election commission is asking for guidance. But in the end, this is your government suing the citizens to prevent them from voting on a properly verified petition.
Carmichael: I can’t think of a larger local story than this. are you getting coverage from the TV channels on this?
Roberts: Very little I think the election and the President coming into town it sort of sucked up all the media air for the last couple of days. and what’s going on right now is pretty technical stuff. They’re filing, you know hundreds and hundreds of pages of pleadings. They’re trying to create some confusion and fog basically, and none of its particularly effective. The bottom line is our government is trying to stop the people from voting. And this is not just about the people who signed the petition. This is every registered voter in Davidson County that has a right to vote for or against this ballot initiative. And every one of them is being denied their right to vote.
Leahy: What do you expect to happen next? When will the judge make a decision? And if you win what will happen?
Roberts: We do expect to win. The trial starts Monday morning. And they’ll be about three issues. We did we meet the certification and we did. The election commission admitted that. We’re just going to sit there and look at the judges and say alright we met the certification here’s our ballot initiative, put it on the ballot. It will be up to Metro or the election commission to come in and argue that somehow this ballot petition either doesn’t meet the form that’s required or is facially unconstitutional.
Well, there is no form. If you look at the Metro Charter there is no form established. And so there’s no way we could violate the form. And there’s no even allegation that we’ve (Inaudible talk) Tennessee Constitution this is really just a whine-fest. Metro wants to come in and whine about how it will disrupt the budgeting process. How it will cause them to have to make cuts.
The expense of the election. They’ve got a lot of sad stories to trot out and you’re going to hear a lot more by the end of the campaign. They’re going to tell you that dogs will starve in the street and babies will die. And they’re going to use all that normal hysteria. But in the end, there’s nothing in this ballot initiative that violates the Constitution and they know it. And they don’t care.
Carmichael: You know Michaels what may happen to Jim is that the Democrats here in Nashville may take a cue from the Judiciary Committee and they just may show up on Monday with pictures. (Laughter)
Leahy: Jim. Let me ask you this. So do you anticipate a decision by the judge in the next week or two? And if so, if you win what will be the result of that decision?
Roberts: Well, absolutely. I would expect a ruling from the judge by next Wednesday or Thursday. There is an election commission meeting set for the week after next.
Leahy: When you say next Wednesday or Thursday do you mean this coming week?
Leahy: Okay good and then they’ve got a decision the week through the scheduled Election Commission meeting the week after. So tell me if you win what happens.
Roberts: If we win the court will issue an order requiring the election commission to put it on the ballot. They will meet on November I think fourth and they’ll start the process of putting it on the ballot. The case won’t be over because there are still issues of civil rights violations and damages. A violation of the open meetings act and conspiracy to put charges against Metro in the election commission. Those things will still go be out there. But the ballot issue will be over.
Leahy: And if you win when will the voters get to vote?
Roberts: It looks right now on December 15th. Even though the voters asked her to be on December 5th, I think the election wasn’t just simply doesn’t have the time anymore. I think they acted illegally and moving the date originally. But they just may not be legally possible to have an election on the fifth just because of some requirements of military ballots and voting ballots, and just some structural issues. This is a problem of their own making. If they just followed the law on September 25th we wouldn’t have this problem. But just realistically I’m not sure we can get it done by December fifth.
Carmichael: Can you ask the judge to set the date so that they can’t so that Metro can’t claim that the ballot said the fifth? And then it’s the 15th and therefore they don’t have to do anything?
Roberts: That’s a good point. I haven’t really thought of that. Yes, I think I will actually they had they have conditionally moved the ballot to the 15th already. I’m not sure that actually that there’s any legal basis for that. And I guess it was a good idea to probably ask her to make sure they put it on the 15th. We don’t want them gaming the system. They’re at the point now where they’re desperate. My understanding is they know this is going to lose if it’s brought before the people. The traditional scare tactics are just not going to work
Leahy: Jim Roberts. Will you come back next Friday and tell us what happened?
Roberts: Yes, absolutely.
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Background Photo “Davidson Courthouse” by Reading Tom. CC BY 2.0.