On Tuesday, Hamilton County Sessions Judge Ron Durby announced that he is stepping away — temporarily, he hopes — to address an unspecified medical condition. We wish Durby nothing but the best in his recovery and hope he returns to the bench.
But he won't.
Not because he won't be able to, but because Durby's decision to step aside is seemingly part of a carefully orchestrated scheme by Hamilton County insiders to ensure that former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey and other local power brokers can determine who holds the seat going forward.
Apparently Durby's exit has been months in the making. If he left too early, his seat would've filled during the August election. If Durby officially retired, his seat would've been filled by the Hamilton County Commission.
By leaving after the August election and claiming he plans to only step aside temporarily — despite the fact that there is no compelling evidence that he expects, or desires, to return to the bench — state law allows the governor to appoint the temporary replacement.
So what's the big deal?
Well, commonsense dictates that Gov. Bill Haslam will defer to his deputy governor on the issue of appointing a judge in Hamilton County. After all, Haslam's deputy governor happens to be former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey. Since Ramsey has been a powerful ally to Durby during his career as a judge, could it be that an agreement was struck between Ramsey and Durby to ultimately empower Ramsey with the opportunity to decide who will fill Durby's post in Sessions Court? It seems logical.
It also seems logical that Ramsey will use his sway in the process to encourage Haslam to appoint another of his cronies to the bench. The name most commonly mentioned is Collegedale Municipal Court Judge Kevin Wilson.
If Wilson, or another Ramsey ally, is named temporary Sessions Court judge and Durby does not return to the bench, the temporary judge would have the advantage of running as an incumbent in the 2014 judicial elections — making election to a full term as Sessions Court judge an easy proposition.
Sure, none of this could happen. But this is Hamilton County, and if a back room deal can be made to benefit friends and political allies can happen, it generally will happen.