Jury Set For Sunshine Trial

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) -- Three days into jury selection, the Knox County Chancery Court is now set to hear opening arguments in the lawsuit against the county commission.

Jury selection ended just before noon when an alternate was finally picked.

It took so long because there were many issues at stake.

The key is whether they can put aside their opinions and whether they have the patients to stick it out.

When it started on Monday, the chancellor and lawyers told the jury it could take awhile.

More than four dozen witnesses are subpoenaed or will be summoned

They include elected officials, former officials, and those appointed to replace them.

The jurors must decide if Knox County's commissioners violated the letter and/or the spirit of the open meetings law when they appointed a new sheriff, clerk, trustee, register of deeds, and eight commissioners to replace folks the Tennessee Supreme Court forced out through term limits.

Otherwise known as the sunshine law, the open meetings law defines a meeting as "the convening of a public body for which a quorum or voting majority is required in order to make a decision or to deliberate."

There is no question that the January meeting had a quorum.

Nothing was official till the vote, but some commissioners insist their colleges had cut deals before hand in secret.

"Evidently from what I am hearing, they were already cut before I walked in the door," said Larry Smith, an elected commissioner. "Family members were there waiting for people to be sworn in."

So was the sunshine law circumvented before the January meeting?

"Evidently," said Smith.

"When does deliberation start and at what point does it stop being information gathering?" asked appointed commissioner Lee Trammel.

This case could well hinge on three key questions.

Do discussions equal deliberations?

Deliberations in secret would violate the open meetings act.

Did the public votes simply rubber stamp a bunch of backroom deals?

Or is the sunshine law vague or contradictory?

If so, that might make it unenforceable and even unconstitutional.

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