Chancery Follies of 2010 – a farce in one act
Scene: Wilson County Chancery Court
BAILIFF: All rise! Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Chancery Court of Wilson County is now in session, the Honorable C.K. Smith, Chancellor presiding.
JUDGE SMITH: Call the first case.
BAILIFF: City of Mt. Juliet vs. City of Mt. Juliet
JUDGE SMITH: Bailiff, quit horsing around. Call the first case.
BAILIFF: That is the first case your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: Don’t be ridiculous.
BAILIFF: That’s the first case, your honor – see, right here in the suit – City of Mt. Juliet vs. City of Mt. Juliet
JUDGE SMITH: This is not another one of those cases where the City of Lebanon is suing Wilson County and the Mayor of Watertown is the attorney for both sides is it?
BAILIFF: No, your honor. The case is “the City of Mt. Juliet vs. the City of Mt. Juliet.” Each side has a different lawyer.
JUDGE SMITH: Alright, will counsel please identify yourselves?
FRANK LANNOM: Frank Lannom, esq, your honor, representing the plaintiff, the City of Mt. Juliet
KATHRYN SASSER: Kathryn Sasser, esq, your honor, representing the defendant, the City of Mt. Juliet
JUDGE SMITH: Mr. Lannom, why is your client suing itself?
FRANK LANNOM: Well, your honor…
JUDGE SMITH: And before you go any further, I see the City Attorney for Mt. Juliet sitting in the courtroom. Mr. Holleman, aren’t you counsel for the City of Mt. Juliet?
JASON HOLLEMAN: Your honor, the city commission decided to engage these two attorneys to bring the action to the court.
JUDGE SMITH: Mr. Holleman, please approach the bench. [whispering loudly] Why didn’t they ask you to do it?
JASON HOLLEMAN: Your honor, my bringing an action in the court would require me to actually form an opinion and express it – and I believe the city commission did not want to press me to take an action that I have no experience with…
JUDGE SMITH: hmpph… Sit down Mr. Holleman. Alright Mr. Lannom, you may resume. Please explain to me why the city is suing itself.
FRANK LANNOM: Your honor, last July, the Mt. Juliet City Commission passed an amendment to the City Charter which was submitted to the voters and approved by them In November. But the City Commission does not know what the amendment that it passed means. They have filed this action asking the chancellor to tell them what they meant when they passed the amendment.
JUDGE SMITH: The city commission does not know what an amendment that they wrote and passed means?! Really?
FRANK LANNOM: That is correct your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: And I’m supposed to tell the City Commission what they meant by the amendment that they wrote?
FRANK LANNOM: Yes, your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: What does the charter amendment say?
FRANK LANNOM: I believe you have a copy, your honor…
JUDGE SMITH: Summarize it for me.
FRANK LANNOM: The charter amendment forbids members of the Mt. Juliet city commission from holding any other elected office.
JUDGE SMITH: Very well done Mr. Lannom. But now I really am baffled. You clearly understand what the amendment means. I believe the voters understand what the amendment means. It seems the only people who don’t know what it means are the Mayor and commissioners of the City of Mt. Juliet. And they’re the ones who wrote it!
FRANK LANNOM: Objection Your honor! The question before the court is, “when does the amendment take effect?”
JUDGE SMITH: Mr. Lannom, this is a court of equity. You do know what a court of equity is don’t you?
FRANK LANNOM: Yes, your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: I don’t think you do. A court of equity hears cases where one party alleges that it has been treated unfairly, or inequitably by another party. Now, in what way does the City of Mt. Juliet feel that it has been treated inequitably, or unfairly by the City of Mt. Juliet?
FRANK LANNOM: It’s not clear to the City Commission when the amendment that they passed takes effect.
JUDGE SMITH: Does the city commission read the newspaper?
FRANK LANNOM: I beg your pardon?
JUDGE SMITH: Does the city commission read the newspaper? Did they notice that there were several stories a week or so ago reporting on something called an election. It occurred on a Tuesday in November, I believe.
FRANK LANNOM: Your honor, the city agrees that the charter amendment passed in the election, but it’s not clear when it takes effect.
JUDGE SMITH: Does the city commission know when their terms of office begin?
FRANK LANNOM Your honor I’m not sure I understand…
JUDGE SMITH: They do know when their terms of office begin, don’t they? A new city commissioner or a new mayor is elected as soon as the vote is certified, are they not? What’s unclear?
FRANK LANNOM: The problem is that one city commissioner already holds an office on the county commission and the mayor has just been elected to the state legislature.
JUDGE SMITH: Ah, so it is really the Mayor and a city commissioner who want to know if the amendment will apply to them.
FRANK LANNOM: That is correct, your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: Well, where are they? Where is their counsel?
FRANK LANNOM: Your honor the action before you has been brought by the City of Mt. Juliet. Mayor Elam and Commissioner Bradshaw are not parties to the lawsuit.
JUDGE SMITH: I see Linda Elam and Jim Bradshaw sitting in the courtroom. Will you both please approach the bench.
JUDGE SMITH: Ms. Elam has the city brought this action on your behalf?
LINDA ELAM: Objection your honor!
JUDGE SMITH: Objection? I was just asking you a question. What could you possibly object to?
LINDA ELAM: Your honor, I insist that you refer to me at all times by my title. I am MAYOR Elam. I worked really hard for that title, I’m entitled to it, and I insist that you use it when you address me.
JUDGE SMITH: Ms. Elam, are you a party to this lawsuit?
LINDA ELAM: OBJECTION! I insist that you refer to me as MAYOR ELAM! Unless you refer to me as Representative Elam. That would be acceptable.
JUDGE SMITH: Are you a party to this lawsuit?
LINDA ELAM: No your honor, I am not. I am here only as a matter of academic interest. Also because I need a field trip for my continuing legal education class.
JUDGE SMITH: Please sit down Ms. Elam
LINDA ELAM: That’s MAYOR ELAM!
JUDGE SMITH: Mr. Bradshaw, are you a party to this lawsuit?
JIM BRADSHAW: I wasn’t invited to any party, no sir.
JUDGE SMITH: Sit down Mr. Bradshaw.
JUDGE SMITH: Mr. Lannom – Who is paying your legal bill in this case?
FRANK LANNOM: The City of Mt. Juliet, your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: Ms. Sasser – Who is paying your legal bill in this case?
KATHRYN SASSER: The City of Mt. Juliet, your honor
JUDGE SMITH: So, all the attorneys in the room on this case today are being paid by the city of Mt. Juliet, is that correct?
CHORUS: Yes, your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: They may need a property tax after all.
I understand why this lawsuit was brought in the name of the City of Mt. Juliet, counselors. I’m sure you’re all aware that it be illegal for a City to file a lawsuit for the personal benefit of an elected official. But it does raise another question.
FRANK LANNOM: What’s that, your honor?
JUDGE SMITH: You do know what a court of equity is don’t you?
FRANK LANNOM: Your honor, please…
JUDGE SMITH: Because, I’m still not sure you do. If Ms Elam…
LINDA ELAM:[shouting] MAYOR ELAM!
JUDGE SMITH: . . . believes she has been treated unfairly by the City then she can bring an action in this court and ask the Judge, as a matter of equity, to require the defendant in her action to do something to correct the inequity.
FRANK LANNOM: Your honor, I represent the City of Mt. Juliet. . .
JUDGE SMITH: Then tell me, counselor, what injury or damages have been suffered by the City of Mt. Juliet? And what action does the plaintiff, the City of Mt. Juliet, wish me to order the defendant, also the City of Mt. Juliet, to take?
KATHRYN SASSER: If I might your honor? [judge nods]. I represent the defendant, the City of Mt. Juliet, and in my brief, answering the complaint of the plaintiff, the City of Mt. Juliet, I have requested that you declare the charter amendment not to take effect until 2012 and to order the plaintiff, the City of Mt. Juliet, to swear in Commissioner Bradshaw for his new term of office and to allow Mayor Elam to continue to serve as Mayor after she is sworn in to the state legislator.
JUDGE SMITH: Well before I start probing your reasons for declaring that the results of the 2010 election should not take effect until 2012, I have a question for you.
KATHRYN SASSER: Yes, your honor?
JUDGE SMITH: If the defendant, the City of Mt. Juliet, wants the plaintiff, the City of Mt. Juliet to swear in Commissioner Bradshaw for a new term, why don’t they just do it?
FRANK LANNOM: Your honor, if I might respond? The Plaintiff, the City of Mt. Juliet, asks this court to declare that the charter amendment took effect upon the certification of the referendum approving it and to order the defendant, the City of Mt. Juliet NOT to swear in Commissioner Bradshaw for a new term and NOT to allow Mayor Elam to continue to serve as Mayor after she is sworn in at the legislature.
JUDGE SMITH: Mr. Lanom, I’ll ask you a remarkably similar question. If the plaintiff, the City of Mt. Juliet, wants the defendant, the City of Mt. Juliet NOT to swear in Commissioner Bradshaw for a new term, why don’t they just do it? Or not do it? (as the case may be)
FRANK LANNOM: Your honor, the effective date of the amendment is not clear.
JUDGE SMITH: You keep saying that. Mr. Lannom, am I correct to assume that Mt. Juliet still has the City Manager Commission form of government?
FRANK LANNOW: Yes your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: Mr. Holleman, would you approach the bench.
JASON HOLLEMAN: Yes your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: How long have you been a City Attorney, son?
JASON HOLLEMAN: Almost 4 years.
JUDGE SMITH: Do like the work?
JASON HOLLEMAN: Yes, I do.
JUDGE SMITH: Have you ever read section 6-21-202 of Tennessee Code Annotated? It is the section that covers the duties and compensation of a city attorney.
JASON HOLLEMAN: Yes I have your honor.
JUDGE SMITH: I have, too. Let me read from (a)(4). “The City Attorney shall advise the board and committees or members thereof, the city manager, and the heads of all departments and divisions, as to all legal questions affecting the city’s interest.” Mr. Holleman, do you think you have fulfilled your duties as city attorney with your advice on this issue?
JASON HOLLEMAN: Yes, your honor. It was my advice to hire two opposing attorneys to present this case for you to decide.
JUDGE SMITH: Mr. Holleman, in these times you are extremely lucky to have a job. Especially a job where no one compels you to do the work associated with the job. I’m sure these Lebanon Attorneys are grateful that the City of Mt. Juliet is willing to spend taxpayer dollars to stimulate the Wilson County Bar Association, but I’m not particularly amused to have so much of this court’s time taken up with a matter you ought to have settled yourselves. You may sit down Mr. Holleman. I have heard enough to reach some conclusions about this case.
JUDGE SMITH: Let me preface my remarks by saying that I think you’re all wasting the court’s time. Let me remind all of you. This is a court of equity. I could understand how Linda Elam…
LINDA ELAM: MAYOR ELAM!
JUDGE SMITH: . . .or Jim Bradshaw might feel they had been treated unfairly by the city – if the city had actually made a decision to not swear them in. I could understand how the citizens of Mt. Juliet might feel THEY had been treated unfairly by the city – if the city had made a decision TO swear them in. what I DON’T understand is how the City of Mt. Juliet has been unfair to the City of Mt. Juliet!
JUDGE SMITH: Here’s my opinion:
1. The City of Mt. Juliet has no standing to bring an action in chancery court because they haven’t been injured by anyone.
2. The relief requested by both sides renders the lawsuit frivolous, if not downright ridiculous. The City is requesting that the Court order the City to do something. The court’s response is, “Make up your own damn mind!”
The case is dismissed. And now I am going to render a solomonic decision. The costs of this action are to be apportioned 50% to the plaintiff, City of Mt. Juliet and 50% to the defendant, City of Mt. Juliet.
And gentlemen (and ladies). . . do not waste my time in this fashion again.
FL & KS: No your honor. We promise. Next week we’ll find a new way to waste your time!
JUDGE SMITH: Oh, and Mr. Holleman? The idea that you can fulfill your obligation as City Attorney to give the City of Mt. Juliet legal advice by advising them to hire two more attorneys and seek legal advice from Chancery Court. . .
LINDA ELAM: That was MY idea!
JUDGE SMITH: Well, whoever’s idea it was. . . it’s too smart by half.