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The case for retaining the lone African-American on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

  • Written by Tony Jones
On the second page of the full August 7th ballot voters will find the name of the sole African American on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
Her name is Camille McMullen. Appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2008 to fill a retirement vacancy, and after 12 years as a state and federal prosecutor, McMullen became the first African-American woman to fill such a vacancy. Judges serve eight-year terms.
Voters are asked to either “retain” or “reject” judges on the state level. The process has become a stinging issue in the 2014 election due to a controversial campaign led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to reconstitute the state Supreme Court.
Of the partisan tampering, McMullen says, “Politics have no place in the judicial process. As judges we simply have the obligation to uphold the United States and state constitution and see that it is equally applied to every one that comes before us.”
Though McMullen faces no opposition, she says it is important for voters to know she is qualified to earn their highest level of trust.
“I prosecuted every kind of case from domestic violence to white collar criminal crime. On the local level, we simply didn’t have the resources to allocate to prosecute white collar crimes, but on the federal level we were able to dedicate time, investigators and resources to truly developing cases that needed to be developed.”
She is one member of a three-judge panel on the appellate court.
“We first consider the law of a case, then after considering the briefs (filed by the attorneys) we come to a disposition on a case after we consult among the three of us. One judge is assigned to write the opinion of the agreement concerning a case. As well, sometimes a judge will write a dissenting opinion when we cannot come to an agreement on a case.”
The decisions come strictly from the transcripts of the trial, removing personalities from the cases. Likewise, she cannot comment on decisions reached by the appellate court, but sees the position as a crucial part of citizen rights. 
The appellate panel does not try cases. 
“We make sure that the defendant was given all of the rights that are due to them, that there are no legal errors in the trial. Every criminal defendant in the State of Tennessee is entitled to an appeal to the Appeals Court,” said McMullen. “That is what is exciting about it to me, ensuring that we have that second level of assurance that we on the appellate level are making sure they are given their Constitutional rights.”


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