Bailey criticizes governor's comments on courts' diversity

MEMPHIS , Tenn. (AP) - The black Supreme Court candidate whom Gov. Phil Bredesen passed over in favor of a white Republican criticized the Democratic governor for recent comments about a lack of diversity in the state's appellate courts.

Circuit Court Judge D'Army Bailey, who said he was never told why he was wasn't chosen, said the governor shouldn't blame the Judicial Selection Commission alone.

"It is disingenuous for this governor who had the opportunity with my nomination in June to maintain diversity on the state's highest court to now point the finger of blame at the Selection Commission," Bailey said in a statement released Wednesday.

Bredesen, who filled the high court vacancy with Judge William C. Koch of the Court of Appeals, said he doesn't feel the need to elaborate on his decisions not to select certain candidates.

"I don't really feel like it's appropriate to explain why you didn't pick somebody," he said. "Each time I try to pick the best of the available choices."

"Obviously (Bailey) feels aggrieved that he was not chosen, but it was my judgment that there was a better candidate in that particular case and stand by the decision," he said.

There are no black judges on either the Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court, after Justice Adolpho A. Birch retired last year. Judge J.C. McLin is the only black member of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Bredesen made the comments critical of the Selection Commission after being sent a panel of three white candidates for the Court of Appeals seat Koch had held. Under the Tennessee Plan for judicial selection, it is the job of the commission to narrow appellate court applicants to three-person slates for the governor to choose from.

Bredesen last year ignited a legal battle with the commission after he rejected the first panel following the withdrawal of the only black candidate.

In a letter to the commission, Bredesen urged members to select a new panel that included qualified minority candidates.

But the governor was also unhappy with the next panel that included Bailey, a Memphis Circuit Judge, and Koch.

"Their job is to give me the three most qualified nominees," Bredesen said of the commission in April. "I don't think you can look over that list and say that's what I got."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)