Davidson County Trial Courts Administrator Tim Townsend hopes to gather judges for a meeting this week or next to remove the cloud of uncertainty that has settled over the handling of divorces and other family law matters in Nashville. The discussions could result in one of the city’s most controversial judges no longer hearing the domestic relations docket.
Joe P. Binkley Jr., presiding judge of Davidson County trial courts, said Judge Carol Soloman may no longer hear domestic relations cases for health reasons. But the effect is one litigants have sought for different reasons over the years.
Soloman has been rebuked by the state Court of Appeals for creating the appearance of partiality and treating litigants inappropriately. On more than one occasion, the Court of Appeals has not only reversed Soloman’s decisions, but also required that a new judge take over her cases because of questions about her neutrality.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Tracy Rose Baker, whose Sumner County divorce case was presided over by Soloman for 15 months. “She screamed. She yelled. She put me down. She told me what a horrible mother I am.”
Soloman was assigned to the case in February 2010 by the Tennessee Supreme Court after Sumner County Chancellor Tom Gray recused himself. A month later, Baker’s attorney asked the judge to recuse herself, but Soloman refused.
Baker’s ex-husband’s attorney, D. Scott Parsley, represented Soloman in her own divorce in 1999.
In 2003, Soloman and then-Circuit Court Judge Muriel Robinson issued an order preventing Soloman from hearing cases involving Parsley.
Later, in 2006, Parsley served as Soloman’s treasurer in her re-election campaign and contributed to the campaign.
In September 2010, 10 months after taking the Baker case, Soloman rescinded the 2003 order that prohibited Parsley from practicing before her in Davidson County.
But in June, Soloman stepped down from the case for unspecified reasons.
Soloman declined to be interviewed for this story.
Binkley said he could not speak to the numerous complaints that have been leveled against Soloman, saying only, “If we can solve more than one problem at once, that’s great.”
Remarks draw fire…
More than once, the appeals court has directed Soloman to curtail inappropriate remarks being made from the bench.
In a 2004 case, Soloman referred to a man appearing in her courtroom as “one of the most disgusting humans” she had “ever met” and said that if she “had a magic wand” she “probably would make (him) disappear.” In a 2006 opinion, the Court of Appeals overturned some of Soloman’s rulings in the case and ordered it transferred to another judge.
“We do this because of the trial court’s intemperate remarks pertaining to Husband and his conduct,” the opinion says. “Both parties are entitled to a judge who can resolve their differences in a calm, unbiased, neutral manner. Justice requires nothing less.”
In a 2007 case, Soloman referred to a wife in her courtroom as “a bad woman” and an “alley cat.” She stated, “I don’t think (wife is) dumb. I’m almost convinced of it,” and said the woman “bores me.” In a July 2010 opinion, the Court of Appeals overturned some of Soloman’s rulings in the case, remanded it to her and instructed her to “conduct further proceedings and resolve the remaining issues in a manner that will instill confidence in both parties that the case has been determined in a fair and impartial manner.”
The Court of the Judiciary never has disciplined Soloman publicly since she took the bench in the newly created Eighth Circuit Court in 1998. Other records of the Court of the Judiciary are sealed, however, so it’s not clear whether any complaints have been filed against her or whether she has been disciplined privately.
Many defend her…
Soloman and Judge Philip Smith are the two Circuit Court judges who hear domestic cases in Davidson County.
Whether that arrangement will continue has been unknown for a number of weeks after Smith and Soloman called a meeting of local family lawyers to discuss a realignment of their caseload. The meeting was scheduled for two weeks ago but canceled, leaving local attorneys — who tailor cases to the particular judge hearing them — wondering how to proceed. Adding to the confusion, an additional 800 to 900 cases a year will have to be absorbed by the Circuit and General Sessions courts because of cuts to the Juvenile Court budget that will force it to give back a category of cases it took over in 2005.
Many local family law attorneys defended Soloman.
“I’ve never had a problem getting what I think is a fair hearing,” Nashville attorney Jeffrey Levy said. “There are some judges whom I’ve had very serious questions about even their qualifications, and Judge Soloman is not one of them.”
Cynthia Bohn said Soloman cares deeply about children, which causes her to get emotional when she hears about their mistreatment. Bohn said Soloman can get so worked up that she cannot focus on other matters and sometimes resorts to name calling.
“Judge Soloman is a fine human being. She never said it out of meanness or malice. I know that. I know her,” Bohn said. “I like her. I may not like how she does certain things in court, but that doesn’t change the person she is.”
The cantankerous and emotional nature of the family court docket has begun to take a toll on Soloman’s health, Bohn said.
“I agree something needs to change. The system’s not working right now,” Bohn said. “I think Judge Soloman needs to take care of her health, and the other judges need to figure out how to accommodate that.”
Caseload is heavy…
A January report from the state comptroller found that Davidson County needs 2.41 domestic relations judges to effectively manage the caseload, and a recently completed audit of Nashville’s trial courts said the courts should investigate the feasibility of hiring an additional special master to help hear child support, paternity and other family cases. Smith and Soloman each have about 2,500 pending cases, according to the trial courts administrator.
Lawyers say Smith can’t possibly handle all the domestic cases.
“I think the volume is just so great, and personally, I can feel the intensity growing,” said Nashville attorney Edward Gross. “I really feel there will have to be at least one or two other judges to take that load.”
If Soloman transfers away from domestic cases, Levy said, he will be interested to see whether she takes pending cases with her and simply stops taking new ones, or if her entire caseload will be transferred to other judges.
“That’s possibly of more interest and more concern,” Levy said. “Whatever changes are, or are not, going to be made, we’d certainly like to hear what they are.”