Legal Director Bob Cooper to leave mayor’s office

Metro Legal Director Bob Cooper, right, talks to Metro Councilman Bob Mendes during an election commission meeting on May 10.

Metro Director of Law Bob Cooper will leave Mayor John Cooper’s administration in the coming weeks to return to private practice.

Bob Cooper’s departure marks the second member of the mayor’s inner circle to leave this year. Top communications adviser Katie Lentile left in January.

As the former Tennessee attorney general and one of the state’s top litigators, the hiring of Bob Cooper was viewed as a major move by Cooper, the mayor, after he was elected in 2019. Along with Bill Phillips as deputy mayor and chief of staff and Kevin Crumbo as his top financial adviser, Mayor Cooper surrounded himself with seasoned professionals.

Bob Cooper, who is not related to the mayor, is heading to private practice at the Nashville firm Bass, Berry & Sims. He will be replaced by attorney Wally Dietz, who has helmed the Bass Berry’s government investigations division.

Bob Cooper’s hiring provided dividends for Cooper’s administration in the form of a significant legal victory – the successful lawsuit to block the implementation of the controversial voucher law passed by state Republicans and Gov. Bill Lee. Vouchers, or education savings accounts as proponents prefer they be called, allow families to use tax payer money to help pay for private school tuition.

The plan is for Bob Cooper to remain in his post at least through the scheduled oral arguments next month in the Supreme Court appeal’s hearing of the voucher ruling.

“I thank the Mayor and Council for giving me this opportunity,” Bob Cooper said. “It has been an honor to lead the Department of Law and its great attorneys and staff during a uniquely challenging time for Metro.”

The law targeted Nashville and Memphis, a key point raised in the litigation that is pending on appeal. Republicans were so incensed by the legal defeat they pursued legislation this session to curb cities’ ability to file such lawsuits and passed a new law to overhaul how Chancery Court lawsuits are considered.

Bob Cooper also served as the lead attorney in last year’s successful lawsuit to stop an anti-tax charter amendment proposal from appearing on the ballot. He’s been the lead attorney representing the city in its efforts to stop a renewed effort by the anti-government group 4 Good Government.

The latest referendum effort is set for a July 27 election, but the city, led by Bob Cooper, has sued to stop that election. It’s unknown what Bob Cooper’s role will be in that litigation as it advances in the coming weeks.

“Nashville has had the benefit of a great legal mind and a committed public servant, working on our behalf at a pivotal time,” John Cooper said. “His leadership helped us chart an equitable and sound public health response to the pandemic. He led the legal fight to defeat a charter amendment last fall that would have destroyed Metro’s financial recovery. And he enabled Metro Police and our Community Oversight Board to successfully establish their formal working relationship.”

Outgoing Metro Legal Director Bob Cooper. Photo provided by Mayor John Cooper’s office.

Prior to working for Metro, Bob Cooper served as attorney general during Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.

All eyes will be on Phillips in Metro circles, since stakeholders have wondered if he would remain with the Cooper administration as the mayor’s top adviser for the entire first term. Phillips also served as the top adviser during Mayor Bill Purcell’s administration, which ended in 2007.