NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court finally has a full complement of justices with the Friday addition of former Court of Appeals Judge William Koch Jr.
Months of controversy surrounded the position, and Gov. Phil Bredesen has put all of it behind him with the appointment.
“Bill Koch is a highly qualified judge who has proven himself in the practice of law and in his service on the Court of Appeals,” Bredesen said. “While I have expressed concerns about the judicial selection process in our state, there is no question that Bill Koch will be an excellent Justice on our Supreme Court.
“His reputation for fairness and consistency, his strong commitment to the law and his dedication to the faithful dispensation of justice will serve the Tennessee Supreme Court and the citizens of our state well.”
Chief Justice William Barker was happy to have another full-time justice to join himself, Janice Holder, Gary Wade and Cornelia Clark.
“We are now complete. I am looking forward to Judge Koch’s service on the Supreme Court,” Barker said. “The governor has made an excellent selection who will serve the people of Tennessee with distinction and good judgment.”
In April, the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission selected three candidates from a field of 16 to submit to Bredesen. Those chosen were Circuit Judge D’Army Bailey of Memphis, Koch, 59, of Nashville and Circuit Judge C. Creed McGinley of Savannah
It was the third group of three sent to Bredesen. Bailey was on the previous panel, which Bredesen rejected because it also included George Lewis and Houston Gordon, two men who were rejected by Bredesen from the first panel.
They were rejected from that panel because it did not feature a black candidate, on which Bredesen insisted. The original third candidate withdrew for family reasons. The Supreme Court then decided that Bredesen had not discriminated against the two white applicants by refusing to consider them for the opening.
Lewis and Gordon argued that Bredesen’s refusal to allow them to be considered on a second three-person panel of candidates after the first one was refused because the lone black candidate dropped out violated the Tennessee Human Rights Act.
When the third candidate – Davidson County Chancellor Richard Dinkins — withdrew his name, Bredesen asked for a new list of candidates because he wanted one with a minority on it. Dinkins was the lone black person on the first panel.
The second panel that was submitted again featured Gordon and Lewis and added D’Army Bailey, who is black. However, Bredesen refused the list, claiming candidates who were already rejected (Lewis and Gordon) could not be resubmitted.
Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle agreed with Bredesen, and the Judicial Selection Committee planned a Jan. 24 meeting to pick the new third candidate, who would join Bailey and Judge William Koch (of the state’s Court of Appeals).
That left out Gordon and Lewis, who decided to ask that the appointment be stayed until their discrimination claim could be worked out. Gordon is an attorney practicing in Covington, and Lewis, nicknamed “Buck,” is the vice president of the Tennessee Bar Association.
The Court also decided that Gordon and Lewis may not apply for the job again.
Wade recused himself from hearing the case because, “My own nomination and eventual appointment as an associate justice is a part of the history of this litigation.”
Wade filled one of the two spots last year that were created when justices Riley Anderson and Adolpho Birch retired. Anderson took Wade’s spot during the hearing.
Tennessee’s Supreme Court has the unique power of appointing the state’s attorney general rather than having voters decide. In November, the Court chose Robert Cooper for an eight-year term to replace Paul Summers. Cooper represented Bredesen in the case.
Koch, meanwhile, began his career as a staff member at the Attorney General’s office in 1972 and became a Deputy Attorney General in 1977.
He was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1984, and in 2006 was the only state judge named to The Lawdragon 500 Leading Judges in America. He also was named Appellate Judge of the Year in 2002 by the American Board of Trial Advocates.
“I am profoundly grateful to Governor Bredesen for providing me this opportunity to continue to serve all the citizens of Tennessee,” said Koch, who graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., before receiving his legal degree from Vanderbilt University. He earned his Masters of Law in Judicial Process from the University of Virginia.
“I appreciate his confidence in me, and I accept with much humility. I am excited about the challenge, and I look forward to serving with the other outstanding jurists on the Tennessee Supreme Court.”