Thursday, July 3, 2014

Brooks Gets a Temporary Win in Chancery Court — One Likely to Become Permanent

Judge Armstrong halts the replacement process, ruling that only the County Commission, not the County Attorney, can determine the facts about the embattled commissioner's residence.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 3, 2014 at 4:42 PM

A delighted Brooks and her lawyers with the media after Armstrongs ruling
  • JB
  • A delighted Brooks and her lawyers with the media after Armstrong's ruling

It took a while, but the climactic hearing Thursday in the courtroom of Chancellor Kenny Armstrong ended with the result that almost everyone foresaw after Tuesday's initial hearing.

Armstrong had unmistakably signaled his disbelief on Tuesday that embattled County Commissioner Henri Brooks had not been definitively demonstrated to live outside the area, the now-obsolescent multi-member District 2, that she was elected to serve eight years ago — only that Shelby County Attorney Marcy Ingram had concluded so.

And so, after a little more than an hour of back-and-forth Thursday about case law and precedent and legal theory with attorneys for the County Commission, principally Ginny Bozeman, and Brooks' own lawyers, Andre Wharton and Michael Working, Armstrong issued some version of what the Brooks camp had petitioned to get — a declaratory judgment setting aside the Commission's plan, approved by a majority on June 25, to initiate a process to replace Brooks on the Commission.

Ingram, the Chancellor established, had no determinative authority. But neither was it necessary, as Brooks' lawyers had suggested as part of their argument, to convene a popular referendum so as to amend the county charter and establish a proper tribunal that could determine where it was that Brooks did or did not live.

The solution was much simpler, Armstrong said: The Commission had to decide if Brooks lives outside District 2 and has therefore made her Commission seat automatically "vacant." The Commission was the only tribunal necessary, and it could reach a verdict on formally vacating Brooks' seat on Monday that would, the Chancellor assured Wharton and Working, provide Brooks with "remedies" in the form of judicial review.

Bozeman deferred comment afterward, but a smiling Brooks, flanked by her lawyers, gladly met the press afterward and expressed gratitude that due process had been invoked and she could go back to work for her "constituents" — a word she intones so often that it is almost certainly the proudest term in her vocabulary, and one she presumably uses to denote the residents of District 2 and not those in the environs of Cordova, where she is widely suspected of domiciling with her daughter.

Of course, Brooks just now is the Democratic nominee for Juvenile Court clerk — and it remains to be seen how badly her quest for that office has been damaged by a series of recent events that began with an angry stand-off with an Hispanic witness and a colleague or two at a Commission meeting, continued with a charge of misdemeanor assault for an altercation with a fellow motorist over a contested parking lot, and seemingly culminated in a TV newsperson's discovery that Brooks apparently does not physically occupy the Crump Avenue dwelling she has listed as her legal residence.

That last circumstance prompted Commissioner Terry Roland to cite the charter against Brooks' being a legal Commission member and ended with Commissioner Mike Ritz, anxious to see his version of a tax-rate — as against one advocated by Heidi Shafer — approved for fiscal 2014-15, suggesting the ongoing, and now aborted, process to advertise a vacancy and replace Brooks with a legally voting member.

It all seems moot now, and probably always was. It is obvious that Brooks can run the clock out with this or that legal strategem and will still be occupying her Commission seat after the forthcoming tax-rate vote and right up until her term-limited tenure has run its natural course, with the close of the current election season.

She will get to vote on the tax-rate and her vote will probably legally stand. Moreover, she will probably vote the same way that a Commission majority does and the same way that any given replacement, elected by that Commission majority, would have.

This issue is now the virtual dictionary definition of moot, and there don't seem to be many good reasons why the Commission will even bother trying to do anything more with it.

Anyhow, Joe Brown has now replaced Brooks as a media cynosure of the Inside Edition sort.

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