- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Three state appeals judges appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam are among the nine applicants to fill a vacancy on the bench of Tennessee’s highest court.

The opening created by the retirement of Justice Gary Wade in September provided Haslam the opportunity to give the five-member court a Republican majority after decades of Democratic control.

The appeals judges applying for the vacancy are Thomas “Skip” Frierson II of Morristown, Robert Montgomery Jr. of Kingsport and Roger Page of Medina. The governor’s two appointments to the Supreme Court so far - Jeff Bivins and Holly Kirby - previously served as state appeals judges.

Haslam appointed Page to the western section of the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2011; Frierson to the eastern section of the Court of Appeals in 2013; and Montgomery to the eastern section of the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014.

The other applicants are tax and corporate attorney Matthew Cavitch of Eads; commercial and employment law attorney Mark Fulks of Johnson City; Department of General Services compliance officer Ted Hayden of Gallatin; employment and civil rights attorney Robert David Meyers of Memphis; criminal defense attorney Herbert Moncier of Knoxville; and Juvenile Court chief counsel and administrative officer Larry Scroggs of Germantown.

Moncier in 2013 sued Haslam in federal court seeking to prevent the governor from naming judges to appeals court benches. He argued that the state’s judicial appointment system deprived him of his right to stand for election to the criminal appeals judgeship that Haslam had named Montgomery to.

Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan dismissed the case in February 2014.

A judicial appointment panel appointed by Haslam will interview the candidates on Oct. 27, and will then narrow down the field to three finalists for the governor to choose from.

While voters last year voted to give state lawmakers the power to reject the governor’s appointments, the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a mechanism for how to do so this spring. Haslam’s appointment would be considered approved if lawmakers still can’t resolve their differences within 60 days of the Jan. 12 start of next year’s session.

The partisan makeup of the high court has been a subject of heavy campaigning in recent years. The constitutional amendment that gave lawmakers the power to reject judicial nominees also confirmed the state’s system of having judges be appointed by the governor and then standing for yes-no retention votes rather than in contested elections.

Only one justice has ever been defeated in a retention election. An effort bankrolled to the tune of $605,000 by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s political action committee to defeat any of three Democratic incumbents fell far short last year, as most of the legal community rallied behind Justices Wade, Sharon Lee and Cornelia Clark.

But Wade announced this summer that he would retire just a year into his second eight-year term to become dean of the Lincoln Memorial University law school.

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