Felonies and criminal charges from past Knox County trustees are preventing the interim trustee from obtaining the bonding she needs to fully operate, according to the News Sentinel. The Hartford, the bonding company for the Knox County Trustee’s Office, notified the county that it wouldn’t bond Kristin Phillips, the county’s acting trustee, until the county provided more information on the position.
“That causes great consternation,” Tony Norman, chairman of the Knox County Commission, said. “That affects their daily practices there.”
The lack of the $18.5 million bond for the seat keeps the trustee from investing the county’s tax money and similar jobs. The bond, required for the officeholder, is intended to protect the public from failure to perform duty or malfeasance.
…Phillips became acting trustee after the resignation of the previous officeholder, John J. Duncan III. Duncan pleaded guilty on July 2 to a low-level felony for paying himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses he knew they didn’t earn.
Before him, Mike Lowe, who was trustee from 1994 until being term-limited by the state Supreme Court in 2007, surrendered to authorities in April 2012 following grand jury indictments on multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000. The grand jury indicted four others who worked in the county’s tax collection department. Lowe’s trial is set for 2014.
The maximum fine for committing bigamy would be doubled – from $2,500 to $5,000 – under legislation approved by the Senate and awaiting a House committee vote.
As originally filed by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the legislation (SB542) would have elevated bigamy from a misdemeanor to a felony. That provision was dropped after legislative staff estimated that there are 18 convictions of bigamy per year in Tennessee and that the cost to the state for incarcerating them as felons would total more than $368,000 per year.
The bill also changes current law to allow prosecution for bigamy for a longer period after a person already married maries again. Under the current “statute of limitations,” a bigamist can be prosecuted for two years after the second marriage takes place.
In some cases, Bell said, the spouse of a bigamist does not discover the previous marriage, with no divorce, until “several years later.” With the change of law, he said, bigamy is treated as “a continuing offense” so the statute of limitations does not begin until the prior marriage is discovered “so even if it’s discovered later, it can be prosecuted.”
Tennessee legislators have been fighting over cockfighting for decades and, as with many morality matters in our state and elsewhere, the squawking boils down to whether traditional values or emerging values prevail in the pecking order of our collective consciousness.
That collective consciousness, of course, is reflected in the people we elect as our state representatives and senators, and what they can agree upon without ruffling too many feathers. It does not involve a question of which came first, as with the chicken or the egg.
The traditionalists came first. Andrew Jackson raised fighting roosters. He also had slaves. There’s an obvious and monumental difference, of course: human beings versus animals. The fate of chickens is irrelevant, inconsequential trivia in comparison to slavery.
And remember that Andy Jackson relied upon a well-armed state militia, composed of citizens with a right to bear arms, in defeating the Creek Indians and, later, the British at New Orleans. In that respect, his traditional view prevails somewhat today in our state’s collective consciousness as reflected by our pro-gun Legislature.
But, well, cockfighting is a matter of debate. Maybe as high up there as such major controversies as whether wine can be sold in grocery stores or whether guns can be kept in cars, just to pluck a couple of issues from among many wherein lobbyists are spurred into what passes these days for mortal combat in Legislatorland.
The 2013 version of legislation to increase penalties for cockfighting in Tennessee on Wednesday cleared a House subcommittee where it has died in previous years – though not without opposition.
Under the bill by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, cockfighting would remain a misdemeanor on first offense, but the minimum fine would increase from $50 to $500. On second offense, cockfighting would be a felony punishable by one to six years in prison.
Last year’s version called for a felony classification on first offense and set the minimum fine at $2,500. The measure cleared a Senate committee, but died in the House Agriculture Subcommittee.
The House Agriculture Subcommittee, with a somewhat changed makeup from the previous legislative session, approved the bill on voice vote Wednesday. Two members, Republican Reps. Andy Holt of Dresden and Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, had themselves recorded as voting no. (Note/Update: Also, Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, voted no — though he had not been listed as doing so when the roll call was initially checked.)
Matheny said “a lot of people in my area – I don’t know that they’re cockfighting – raise roosters” and that he generally believes the Legislature “has better things to worry about than what to do with the lowly chicken.”
State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, was in Greene County Criminal Court Friday and waived his arraignment, according to WCYB-TV. He was indicted by the Grand Jury on Monday and faces a felony reckless endangerment charge after an incident in March involving his estranged wife, Crystal Goans. “This has been a nightmare,” Hawk said. “I strongly maintain my innocence in this situation.”
Judge John Duggar removed himself from the case because he knows Hawk and works with Goans.
In court, Duggar mentioned this is an unusual indictment because on the paperwork, the section code listed doesn’t match the charge that Hawk faces. The indictment states Hawk recklessly caused bodily injury to his spouse, but the code is for a reckless endangerment charge. “It’s a very bizarre process in this whole scenario,” Hawk said.
He said the case is takings its toll on everyone involved. “It’s stressful, especially on my family more than anything.”
Hawk was re-elected in November and will head back to Nashville in January for the new legislative session. He said despite the court case, he plans to continue working for the people of Greene County. “I enjoy the challenged of my service. I’m honored by the number of votes on election day. And I’m looking forward to continuing the work we do in Nashville,” said Hawk.
He is due back in court on May 30. The Tennessee Supreme Court will decide which judge will hear the case.
See also WJHL-TV’s interview with Hawk: “I’m not sure why it’s happening. I’m not sure what’s happening…. In the meantime, I’m going to keep on doing my work, keep on being a daddy and do what I need to do.”
A once-famed Knox County judge who spent 19 years sending criminals to prison now faces his own stint behind bars, reports Jamie Satterfield. A 10-woman, two-man jury in U.S. District Court on Friday deemed already disgraced former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner guilty of five of six federal charges of lying to cover up his pill-supplying mistress’ role in a drug conspiracy.
The convictions immediately cost Baumgartner his state pension.
He faces a March 27 sentencing hearing at which federal prosecutors are expected to seek the maximum three-year sentence he faces on each count, although U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said Friday it is unlikely U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer would stack each of the five sentences onto the other.
ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Hawkins County General Sessions Judge James “Jay” Taylor has received an additional one-year sentence in exchange for guilty pleas to six felony theft charges.
The Kingsport Times-News (http://bit.ly/SSDiXu) reports that a judge on Friday also ordered Taylor to pay $71,783 in restitution to victims in Hawkins County and serve 600 hours of community service.
Taylor is already serving a three-year jail sentence stemming from guilty pleas last month to similar charges in Davidson County.
The newspaper reports the charges in Hawkins County stem from money he took from clients in his private practice and from funds he raised to put a display in the courthouse lobby that contained the Ten Commandments.
When former state senator John Ford returned to Memphis last week after four years in federal prison, his TV news cameo raised the unlikely prospect of a political comeback, according to The Commercial Appeal. “You watch what I do,” Ford told reporters before disappearing into a halfway house where he’s banned from media contact. “I am not down. I am not out. I am way out in front.”
There’s a state law that says people convicted of a felony involving a political office can never run for public office again. The law change marks the end of an era in Tennessee, where politicians once could return to offices they’d disgraced.
Yet, Ford might have some wiggle room.
One of the law’s primary sponsors, former state Rep. Frank Buck, said last week he’s unsure if the law applies to Ford, who was convicted in April 2007, just weeks before it took effect July 1.
“It may or may not apply to him,” said Buck, a Smithville, Tenn., attorney. “You’d have to ask the attorney general on that one. I had some questions, too. You get always into the ex post facto situation.”
Previously, disgraced officials found plenty of opportunity to reinvent themselves.
Former Memphis city councilman Rickey Peete did just that, going to prison in 1989 for bribery only to win re-election and return to prison in 2007 — again for bribery. In so doing, he earned a nickname — ‘Rickey Re-Peete.’
Politicians such as Peete became eligible to retake office after getting their voting and civil rights restored in a court of law. They can still get their rights restored under the new law — they just can’t hold elected office.
The law says the ban applies to state government as well as “any political subdivision.” Cities and counties are considered political subdivisions of the state.
“They ought to be eternally banned from office,” offered Buck, who said his bill was motivated by repeated scandals he witnessed over his 36 years in the legislature. “Something needed to be done.”
Whether Ford, now 70, even wants back into politics is an uncertain question.
His brother, Joe Ford, thinks not.
“I doubt it. They passed that law where you can’t go back,” said Ford, a former Shelby County commissioner and one-time interim county mayor. “When we’re together we don’t talk about politics. I don’t want to speak for him. But that would be something he would have to decide.”
Greg Johnson, who is in his third term as mayor of Pikeville, is free on $10,000 bond after being arrested Wednesday on charges of official misconduct and felony theft in the wake of a months-long investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Office.
Further from the Chattanooga TFP: Officials at Pikeville City Hall said Johnson had not come into the office on Thursday. City Hall staff also said he has not submitted any correspondence regarding his plans as mayor.
Johnson, 50, was first elected to the Pikeville Board of Aldermen at age 19.
Mike Taylor, district attorney in the 12th Judicial District, said Thursday that Johnson is charged with four counts of official misconduct and one count of theft in excess of $60,000 on grand jury indictments issued Monday.
Among the accusations is that Johnson spent more than $100,000 on used cars never put in the city fleet, cashed a check for $16,000 for his own use and took a monthly stipend from the city to pay for health insurance when he already had health insurance elsewhere.
The investigation, which covered the period between July 2010 and February 2012, arose from complaints made to the prosecutor’s office around the first of the year, Taylor said.
“Back in the late winter, I started receiving complaints initially about the purchase of some used vehicles that had been stored at [a] building at the industrial park there in Pikeville,” Taylor said.
Soon after, other complaints were made that the mayor “was using public monies for his own use,” Taylor said, so the district attorney contracted the state Comptroller of the Treasury Office.
Bledsoe County Sheriff’s Investigator Ricky Seals said Wednesday that Johnson surrendered at the jail after having his attorney contact local authorities.
Johnson could not be reached for comment, and messages could not be left on his home phone.
Johnson’s legal counsel, Dunlap, Tenn., lawyer Steve Greer, said Thursday he couldn’t comment until he sees the formal indictment and that his comments would be limited even then.
He did say, though, that Johnson probably will keep his mayor’s post for now.
A Johnson City man who is running for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Bob Corker is also facing a felony charge in one of those counties, according to the Johnson City Press. Thomas Kenneth Owens, 36, was indicted by a Carter County grand jury on May 14 on a charge of solicitation of a minor. Owens was arraigned in Criminal Court on May 31.
When asked about his employment and financial status, Owens informed the court that he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate. He then filed an affidavit of indigency and Judge Robert Cupp appointed a public defender for Owens.
Cupp also ordered a mental evaluation. When he was contacted Monday afternoon about the criminal charge against him and what impact it would have on his candidacy, Owens said “Those charges are false charges and there should not be any publication.”
The telephone call was then disconnected. The charge stems from an investigation by the Carter County Sheriff’s Department into allegations that a 7-year-old girl was riding her bicycle in front of the apartment where Owens lived on May 21, 2011.
The girl told her mother and later Lt. Randy Bowers that Owens came out of his apartment and asked the girl if she wanted a “twisty tie” ring that he had made. When she entered Owens’ apartment, she said he gave her the ring and asked her for a hug. After she hugged him, he allegedly unzipped his pants and exposed himself, asking her to perform an inappropriate act.
The girl told Owens she had to go home and finish her chores. She then ran home.