Senator wants judicial discipline panel to investigate Nashville judges

State Sen. Randy McNally has asked the Board of Judicial Conduct to investigate whether two Nashville judges had “too close a relationship” with a lawyer involved in getting a client released from jail without spending a 12-hour “cooling off” period he was charged with domestic assault.
The Oak Ridge Republican said he was inspired to send a letter to the BJC by newspaper reports of General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland moving to promptly release Nashville contractor David Chase when Chase was charged with assaulting his girlfriend, whereupon Chase returned to the woman’s home and brutally beat her again, authorities allege.

Current state law allows a judge to order someone charged with domestic violence to spend 12 hours in jail as a “cooling off” period before release. But Moreland waived the requirement at the request of Chase’s attorney, Brian Lewis. Another judge, Night Commissioner Thomas Nelson, waived the 12-hour rule after Chase’s second arrest.

The Tennessean reported that Lewis and his wife had donated $3,000 to Moreland’s re-election campaign last November. Moreland also told the newspaper the two were close friends and had vacationed together. (Note: Previous post HERE)

McNally, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent the letter Friday to the BJC Chairman Chris Craft and the board’s chief attorney asking an investigation into whether Moreland violated judicial ethics rules. Under standard BJC procedure, such a letter would be treated as a complaint and investigated, though Craft says he cannot comment on any such matters – even to confirm that a complaint exists – under BJC rules.

Newspaper reports on Moreland and Nelson’s handling of the two arrests, McNally wrote, “could lead one to believe there is too close a relationship” between the judges and the defense attorney. He cited “pay to play” cases in Chicago and New Mexico of judges taking money from lawyers in exchange for favorable rulings on cases.

“These cases … continue to remind us of the importance of judicial accountability in our own court system,” he wrote. “It is important that our Board of Judicial Conduct functions appropriately to ensure that Tennessee judges are meeting the highest ethical standards and that judges who violate the people’s trust are disciplined.”

McNally has been a frequent critic of the board, saying there are cases where it appears to “whitewash” complaints against misbehaving judges. The senator said he plans to attend a Tuesday hearing on the board before the Senate Government Operations Committee.

Note: A copy of McNally’s letter is available by clicking on this link: BJCletter