Knowledgebase-Election of Municipal Judges with Concurrent General Sessions Jurisdiction


Information Product

Title:Election of Municipal Judges with Concurrent General Sessions Jurisdiction
Summary:MTAS was asked whether the City can provide for the election of the city judge in
the April city election.
Original Author:Hemsley, Sid
Co-Author:
Product Create Date:11/18/98
Last Reviewed on::06/26/2017
Subject:Courts--Judges; Home rule
Type:Legal Opinion
Legal Opinion:

Reference Documents:

Text of Document: Can the City provide for the election of the city judge in the April city election? The answer is no, for at least one of the following two reasons:

1. Your City is a home rule municipality. Title 3, chapter 1, of your City Municipal code provides for a judge with concurrent jurisdiction, for the election of the city judge for an eight year term in accordance with Article VII, Section 5, of the Tennessee Constitution, and for the judge to take office on September 1, following his or her election.

Tennessee Code Annotated, section 16-17-101 et seq. prescribes for, among other things, the election of the city judge in home rule municipalities. Tennessee Code Annotated, section 16-17-102, provides that:

The judges of the city court hereinafter established by the governing body of home rule municipalities shall be appointed on the nomination of the mayor or chief executive officer, concurred in by the city council or other legislative body, but the judges so appointed shall run for election in the next general election. [Emphasis is mine.]

The phrase “general election” in that statute probably refers to the general state election. Under Tennessee Code Annotated, section 2- 1-104, the elections held in even-numbered years on either the first Thursday in August, or on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November are the general state elections.

Tennessee Code Annotated, section 16-17-102, does not prescribe a term for the city judge in home rule municipalities, but under Town of South Carthage v. Barrett, 840 S.W.2d 895 (Tenn. 1992), a city judge that exercises concurrent jurisdiction must meet the qualifications prescribed for judges of Inferior Courts in Article VI, Section 4, of the Tennessee Constitution. Article VI, Section 4, prescribes a term of eight years for such judges.

The judges of Inferior Courts are elected in the general state election in August, for terms of eight years. It can be argued that city judges who exercise concurrent jurisdiction are not actually judges of Inferior Courts, and for that reason are not required to be elected in the general state election in August, but that argument appears to me to cut too fine. In addition, and even more compelling, Article VII, Section 5, of the Tennessee Constitution requires that:

Elections for Judicial and other civil officers shall be held on the first Thursday in August, one thousand eight hundred and seventy, and forever thereafter on the first Thursday in August next preceding the expiration of their respective terms of service. The terms of each officer so elected shall be computed from the first day of September next succeeding his election....

Consistent with that Constitutional provision, Tennessee Code Annotated, section 2-3-202, provides that elections for various offices, including “Judges of all courts” shall occur at the regular August elections when the election immediately precedes the commencement of a full term. [Emphasis is mine.]

2. There is a possibility that the City judge is elected under Tennessee Code Annotated, section 16-18-201, instead of under Tennessee Code Annotated, section 16-17-101 et seq. That statute provides an alternative method for “any” municipality, apparently including home rule municipalities, to elect the city judge. It also requires that such popularly-elected judges must meet the requirements of Article VI, Section 4, of the Tennessee Constitution, one of which is that the judge be elected for a term of eight years. In addition, Tennessee Code Annotated, section 16-18-203, specifically requires that popularly-elected city judges be elected to a term of eight years, and provides that after the initial appointment made between terms, such judges be elected in accordance with Article VII, Section 5, of the Tennessee Constitution. As pointed out above, both that constitutional provision and Tennessee Code Annotated, section 2-3-202, require the election of all judges in the general state election in August, and their taking of office on September 1, following that election.

For either one or both of those reasons, it appears that the popularly-elected judge of your city is required to be elected at the state general election on the first Thursday in August of even-numbered years immediately preceding the expiration of his term of office. The expiration of his term of office should be September 1, 2006.

Please remember that these legal opinions were written based on the facts of a given city at a certain time. The laws referenced in any opinion may have changed or may not be applicable to your city or circumstances.

Always consult with your city attorney or an MTAS consultant before taking any action based on information contained in this database.