Anonymous people behind website urging support for TN Supreme Court justices

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Nobody seems willing to come forward and admit they are behind a Facebook page actively campaigning for the retention of three state Supreme Court justices in an upcoming election.

A mystery person behind the page called Keep Tennessee’s Supreme Court Fair communicated very briefly with Tennessee Watchdog Thursday, but gave no clue as to his or her identity.

The only possible connection to the page Tennessee Watchdog could find was through a nonprofit website called Fair Courts TN, which advocates for nonpartisanship in the judiciary.

The top of the website links directly to the Facebook page. Fair Courts TN administrator Jay Watson told Tennessee Watchdog he is not officially connected to it.

LINK: Jay Watson with Fair Courts TN says he is not affiliated with the Tennesseans for Fair Courts Facebook page.

“I’m not affiliated with that Facebook page, I just link to it,” Watson said in an email sent via Facebook.

Watson didn’t respond to any of Tennessee Watchdog’s other emails with additional questions.

Tennessee Watchdog asked the mystery person behind the Facebook page if someone pays them to maintain it, what entities are behind fundraisers advertised on the Facebook page and if it was tied to fundraisers in any way.

“This is support page maintained by volunteers, and no one is paid,” the mystery man or woman wrote. “Really don’t know anything about how the fundraising is done.”

As was the case with Watson, this unknown individual stopped responding to Tennessee Watchdog’s subsequent questions.

One question concerned whether and if the three justices, Cornelia Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade, are directly tied to the Facebook page.

Lee, for instance, apparently went on the page and shared one of its photos directly on her personal Facebook page.

SHARE: TN Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee evidently shares material from the Facebook page onto her own personal page.

Additionally, the administrator or administrators posted behind-the-scenes photos of an interview News Channel 5’s Phil Williams conducted this week with all three justices — six days before it’s scheduled to air.

Tennessee Watchdog could find no evidence of anyone with News Channel 5 posting the photos on its website, official Facebook page or even Williams’ Facebook page.

As previously reported, the Keep Tennessee’s Supreme Court Fair Facebook page has photos of a fundraiser from last week that show lawyers socializing with the three justices — one of the lawyers was Lew Conner, a Republican.

In a prior report, Williams held up Conner as a Republican disgusted with fellow party member Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and his efforts to portray the justices as soft on the death penalty.

Conner and News Channel 5 carried the narrative that big business is trying to buy the election with $1 million, although, when approached by Tennessee Watchdog, Conner said he had no proof.

JUSTICES SPEAK: Phil Williams of Nashville's News Channel 5 greets Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justice Cornelia Clark for an interview the station plans to air next Tuesday.

JUSTICES SPEAK: Phil Williams of Nashville’s News Channel 5 greets Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justice Cornelia Clark for an interview the station plans to air next Tuesday.

About 300 lawyers attended the Nashville fundraiser and raised $200,000 on the justices’ behalf, according to the Facebook page.

Former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed all three justices.

If voters choose not to retain even one, Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, likely will appoint another Republican, shifting the political balance of the five-member majority Democrat court.

Watson, meanwhile, posts stories on Fair Courts TN about big business buying elections and the dangers of a poorly informed electorate involving themselves in judicial elections.

Tennessee Watchdog found nothing about Fair Courts TN in state PAC registrations or on the secretary of state’s website.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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