Davidson County judge appointed to mosque cemetery case

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Senior Judge Paul Summers of Davidson County has been appointed to hear a case over a county-approved cemetery at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, according to court documents.

After all other judges in Rutherford County recused themselves from the matter, the Administrative Office of the Courts appointed Summers to adjudicate the matter between a group of residents and the Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals, the order shows.

Chancellor Robert Corlew, who heard previous matters regarding the mosque, recused himself in late March after ICM attorney John Green asked that he step down from the case after state and federal courts reversed him on other rulings he made connected to a four-year battle over the mosque’s location on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike.

Green contended that the chancellor’s previous decisions related to the ICM “resulted in great cost” to the county government and that he permitted and encouraged evidence on “extraneous” issues such as whether Islam is a religion.

Corlew was to hear a petition by residents seeking to turn back a January BZA decision approving the ICM cemetery.

Duncan Cave, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said afterward he wants to have the case heard no matter which judge handles it.

The courtroom hallway erupted in near conflict that day between local Muslims and opponents of the cemetery and mosque.

Opponents contended, among other things, that the cemetery site is too close to nearby homes and sits in a low-lying area prone to flooding. They also say it will create extra traffic congestion in the area.

In December, the county BZA asked that the ICM come back with information about the construction of a turning lane on Bradyville Pike onto Veals Road and with soil samples.

In January, the BZA approved the burial site after looking at information from a geotechnical study taken before the county planning commission approved a site plan four years ago and a traffic analysis by the state Department of Transportation done after site plan approval.

The county BZA also placed five stipulations on the ICM cemetery: 1) that grave sites be limited to 1,500; 2) that no monument be taller than a foot; 3) that no grave be deeper than 5 feet; 4) that the special exception would expire if the property were sold to a non-religious entity; and 5) the cemetery layout and gravesite records would have to be kept by the ICM.

Initial planning commission approval in 2010 led to a protracted lawsuit in which mosque opponents challenged whether the county provided adequate public notice of the planning commission’s vote. Corlew ultimately ruled against the county, but a federal judge reversed his decision and allowed the ICM to occupy its building.

Lou Ann Zelenik, a spokeswoman for mosque cemetery opponents, called the request for Corlew’s recusal a “sad” situation, saying the chancellor is highly respected and had been fair throughout the court process. Federal judges, on the other hand, took away the mosque opponents’ due process, she said.

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