Last week, Mark Rose at Right Minded posted
that he had been sent information from unnamed sources complaining about the conduct of 6th Circuit Court Judge Clara Byrd, who is up for re-election. Those complaining alleged that Byrd conducted her courtroom in a manner that was abusive toward litigants that she found disagreeable and that her decisions have frequently been overturned. Rose also posted a list of appellate court cases
that had originated in Byrd's court, with almost half of those cases being overturned, at least in part. Rose passed this along as information, but added
that he did not have the time or resources to do any follow up research that would be necessary to verify the information he had received. Those who worry about bloggers not having editors should applaud Rose's restraint, as I am fairly certain, given the level of indignation by some of his commenters, that he was given much alleged and incendiary information about Byrd that he refused to post without having verified it.
Because I enjoy reading case law, I decided to read some of the cases in the list that Rose posted in order to see if some conclusions could be drawn about Byrd's capability as a judge. Those appellate court opinions do not in any way verify the complaints made about Byrd's conduct of her court room. However, they would not be expected to, as that is not usually the subject matter for a successful appeal. In the opinions I read, only two references were made to Byrd's conduct. In Halliburton v. Larson
, the Court of Appeals, while ruling that Byrd had misapplied laws related to grandparent's rights, said that comments made by Byrd prior to the trial did not constitute bias, though they were "close to the line." In Fain v. CNA
, a workers' compensation case, the court criticized Byrd for personally examining the plaintiff's hands and declaring that she saw swelling that she attributed to the compensable injury; however, the court also emphasized that this action was not determinative in its decision to reverse the ruling of the trial court.
Perhaps the most controversial of the appellate cases that have originated in Byrd's court has been Keisling v. Keisling
, a nasty divorce and custody case that has continued on for years and from which Byrd ultimately recused herself. Parties in that case appear to be behind much of the present campaign to defeat Byrd. During and after the divorce proceedings, Mr. and Mrs. Keisling exchanged numerous charges and countercharges of child abuse and parental misconduct. At a custody hearing requested by Ms. Keisling during which she alleged that her former husband had sexually abused their children, Byrd evidently decided, based on contradictory evidence, that the children were being manipulated by their mother and maternal grandparents to bring those charges, and she gave custody of the children to Mr. Keisling. The problem was that Mr. Keisling had not filed a petition for custody(his attorney said that he "intended" to) and Ms. Keisling had no notice that this would be an issue in the hearing. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Byrd did not have sufficient cause to deny Ms. Keisling her right to due process of law.
In other cases in which appellate courts determined that Byrd made mistakes in applying the law:
In Nipper v. Axtrom
, the court found that Byrd had incorrectly ignored the statute of limitations for the issuing of a summons of an amended complaint.
In Pykosh v. Earps
, the court found that Byrd denied the defendant's right to "fundamental fairness" by refusing to order a physical examination in order to make a determination about which of two accidents caused the injuries in question. The plaintiff had already obtained an examination.
In Lourcey v. Estate of Scarlett
, the court ruled that Byrd had improperly dismissed the case for lack of a cause of action. The case involved a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress brought by a postal worker who had been flagged down by a man who proceeded to shoot his partially nude wife and then kill himself.
In Engel v. Young
, the court said that Byrd had "no authority" to violate a mother's rights by awarding visitation to her child's stepsisters in the absence of any finding of significant emotional harm.
In Sanford v. UMC
, the court ruled that Byrd should have sustained a motion for a directed verdict because the plaintiff had not properly qualified its expert witnesses. The court said that Byrd had correctly outlined the elements of qualification, but she had not applied them properly.
In H&M Enterprises v. Murray
, the court held that Byrd had improperly held a husband responsible for the embezzlement of funds by his wife from her employer, absent any evidence that he had any knowledge of her activities (the husband is presented more or less as a deadbeat who drank and remained unaware of life around him).
In Adams v. The Tennessean
, the court ruled that Byrd improperly issued a protective order denying access to public information of a settlement by the city of Lebanon that had never been before her court. Many will remember the background of this case, which resulted from the shooting by police of a homeowner after they had entered the wrong house on a drug bust.
In Milliken v. Crye-Leike
, the court ruled that Byrd had erred by refusing to award discretionary costs to the prevailing party without stating any reasons for doing so.
In Brenneman v. Brenneman
, the court ruled that Byrd erred by not awarding any alimony to the divorcing wife, who had dropped out of high school to have their child. In their over 30 years of marriage, she had never made more than 12k per year, while he made over 50k.
These are not the only cases on which Byrd was reversed; they are merely the ones I had time to read that I also found interesting and that, in my judgment, revealed serious errors by the trial court. Are these errors sufficient to show a pattern of incompetence significant enough to remove a judge from her position? In Tennessee, judges are elected (not a good thing in the opinion of this Oracle), so I suppose that will be up to the voters to decide.