A Davidson County chancellor who has been at the center of several controversial cases for more than two decades is stepping down.
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle announced this week that she would not seek re-election in 2022.
She was first appointed to the bench in 1995 by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist and was later elected to the post as a Democrat.
Though she has at times ruled in favor of the Republican-led state government during her long career on the bench, she triggered fury among Tennessee Republicans when in 2020 she ruled that the state must allow mail-in ballots for all voters due to COVID-19.
When the state legislature reconvened in 2021, some Republicans sought to remove her from her elected post, an effort that triggered outrage among the Tennessee legal and business communities and ultimately failed. Still, the legislature did move in other ways to partially limit the power of the Nashville chancery court, which traditionally has handled initial consideration of lawsuits challenging state statutes.
In a letter to the Nashville Bar Association, Lyle said she made the decision in 2020 and told her staff then, only to be faced with the removal effort the following year.
“Little did I know then that before I would make this announcement I would be faced in 2021 with holding onto my job,” she wrote. “As has always been the case with me, life is unpredictable, and 2021 has been true to form. Leaving close ties here at the Davidson County Courthouse is counterbalanced for me by the excitement and anticipation of what lies ahead.”
A graduate of the University of Tennessee and the University of Tennessee College of Law, Lyle practiced with a firm in Houston and then as a partner at Nashville firm Trabue, Sturdivant & Dewitt for a decade before joining the court.
During her time on the court, the Nashville native oversaw in collaboration with the Tennessee Supreme Court a business court pilot program and ruled on cases related to the state’s death penalty protocol, Fisk University’s art collection, public records disputes and a recent effort to overhaul Nashville’s tax policy.
In announcing her decision not to seek re-election, Lyle wrote to thank court staff, fellow judges, Metro leaders and others, including the attorneys who practiced before her. She also said that she would spend her last year on the bench working on “a number of cases that have been years in preparation whose trials have been delayed by the pandemic.”