In a story being followed by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, two judges who had denied the newspaper access to job applications for the county’s Clerk and Master position reversed course and released the documents.
The judges had originally told the Times Free Press that even if the applications were public records, they thought the privacy of the applicants “outweigh the public’s right to know.” They then sealed the records by issuing a court order in a highly unusual move considering there was no current litigation before them in which they had jurisdiction to issue an order.
Late last week, however, the judges changed their mind after talking with Attorney General Robert Cooper and told the newspaper they would make the documents available.
Excerpts from the Times Free Press:
Chancellors Frank Brown and Jeffery Atherton unsealed Fields’ application and 16 others Friday, after they said Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. told them he would have a hard time defending their decision to seal public documents.
…”Although our opinion concerning the operative law and analysis differs from that of the attorney general, because the attorney general would defend us in any lawsuit, we have agreed to follow his recommendation to make the applications public,” the chancellors wrote in a letter to (Times Free Press) attorney T. Maxfield Bahner.
The clerk and master is clerk of Chancery Court and writes opinions for the chancellors. It is the only constitutional office in the county whose occupant is appointed by two elected officials rather than elected by the public. According to county budget documents, the job pays $103,795 a year.
A Hamilton County Commissioner is one of the applicants for the post.