The primary on Tuesday, May 4, marks the first major local election of the campaign season. As such, The City Paper offers its recommendations for candidates in contested party primaries. We believe the following candidates are best suited to carry forward the duties of their respective offices while continuing to advance the best priorities of the city at large.
Circuit Court Clerk
The City Paper endorses incumbent Richard Ray Rooker.
The most essential part of the job of any court clerk is to ensure orderly and efficient management of the files and documents necessary to keep the courts running smoothly. Rooker has achieved this in a way that draws no local parallel.
Rooker has successfully ushered his office into the 21st century by providing a digitized system of court records that makes documents easily accessible to judges, attorneys and their clients, as well as the general public. The office’s subscriber-based Caselink system allows for smooth interaction with a range of legal filings; such interaction can often be a cumbersome time-suck when handled as if we remain in the pre-Internet era. The system reduces the time burden on attorneys, clients and employees of that office, which saves taxpayer money.
Judges and attorneys alike say Rooker’s employees are responsive, easy to work with and helpful, which also suggests the clerk’s management skills. Some in the legal community have said Rooker’s office should be the standard-bearer for its peers in the criminal and juvenile courts, both in terms of access to records and affability of staff.
Meanwhile, Rooker’s opponent, Preston Crim, has run a virtually invisible campaign and done nothing to suggest he would be a reasonable replacement for the incumbent. We discern no viable reason not to re-elect Rooker.
Criminal Court Clerk
The City Paper endorses incumbent David Torrence.
Torrence has endured a flood of criticism from his opponent, Metro Councilman Michael Craddock, in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. Included among the charges leveled by Craddock are the implications that Torrence is lazy and ineffectual (Craddock issued a gimmicky demand for the release of the incumbent’s swipe-card logs to determine how often he works), and that past complaints against him and his office to the human relations commission are grounds for disposal from office by vote.
It comes as little surprise that such attacks would emanate from Craddock, whose boisterous and overtly political nature has been on public display since his election to the council in 2003. During that time, Craddock has supported regressive English-only legislation and voted against protecting gay and lesbian government workers under anti-discrimination protections.
While we do not believe such history or antics would necessarily hinder his ability to manage a judicial office — in fact, Craddock has developed bipartisan respect on the council — they do suggest an inclination toward politics over substance, and that is dangerous in this context. It should also be noted that Craddock boasts his council credentials, including details about certain votes, on his campaign website as supporting evidence for this candidacy.
To be sure, the charges against Torrence are worthy of consideration. But we believe the advances of the Criminal Court Clerk’s office under his guidance outweigh such criticisms.
Foremost, the office uses a digitized system of file maintenance that allows for easy searches of public record. As we’ve stated, such a system should be standard at this point.
As well, the office has just released a Web application on which anyone with Internet access can produce a map of crimes committed in the past week. That’s a big step in the right direction in terms of transparency and public access to useful information.
Finally, attorneys contacted by The City Paper offered good marks for Torrence’s staff, saying members are typically helpful, responsive and competent. That suggests good office management skills, which are part and parcel of a court clerk’s duties.
Juvenile Court Clerk
The City Paper endorses David Smith.
There are 10 candidates in this race — seven Democrats, three Republicans — but less than a handful seem equipped to handle the job.
Incumbent Vic Lineweaver has had eight years to shape up an office that was in disarray upon his arrival. While Lineweaver has made strides during his tenure, the office is not where it should be.
As well, Lineweaver is known for strange antics and scandal: He was arrested for failing to hand over files in a case; he was caught by a television camera lying to a reporter about being at work when he was actually at home in a bathrobe; he attends random funerals of those engaged in civil and military service, and he signs guestbooks out of what he’s described as a respect for the jobs of the deceased.
None of this would be insurmountable were Lineweaver’s office running in top form, but it is not. In fact, we believe the distractions Lineweaver carries with him have led to a dysfunctional office, and that situation would continue were he re-elected.
We offer our support to challenger David Smith for a few reasons. First, Smith seems to be the only candidate who has avoided political grandstanding during the campaign, instead sticking to the facts of this job: It is not about making Nashville a better place for children or breaking up a “good ol’ boy system”; it is about managing court files effectively. Smith has a lucid understanding of this, and he appears to comprehend the importance of streamlining the processes of filing with and obtaining from the office court documents that are of a particular sensitivity, given the confidentiality restrictions on juvenile records.
As well, Smith is clearly dedicated. He has spent 25 months campaigning for this office, and he took a leave of absence from his job as a court officer four months ago to focus full-time on it.
Smith also generates praise among the legal community; on his website, the candidate lists nearly 300 lawyers who have offered their public support.
Smith’s downsides are obvious: He doesn’t have experience managing an office larger than six people; Juvenile Court has a staff of 29. He also doesn’t seem to have a dynamic understanding of current technologies, although he has the initiative and would be surrounded by some who could assist in that area.
Perhaps most endearing is that Smith said he would not begin by firing and hiring employees, particularly former Metro Councilman Julius Sloss, who by all accounts has done a tremendous job managing parts of the office under Lineweaver. We urge Smith to hang on to Sloss if he is elected.
Finally, we believe Smith also has the best chance of defeating Councilman Eric Crafton, who appears to be the frontrunner in the Republican primary for this office, in the general election. Crafton is a crank with a nativist credo who, we believe, would politicize the office far beyond anything it should be.
Also on the ballot
The following candidates are running unopposed:
• Public Defender Dawn Deaner
• Sheriff Daron Hall
• County Clerk John Arriola
• Judge Philip E. Smith, 4th Circuit Court
• Register of Deeds Bill Garrett
• Trustee Charlie Cardwell
• Democratic committeemen and committeewomen