JACKSBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A Campbell County judge has been indicted on four felony counts of official misconduct and temporarily suspended from performing judicial functions.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/2aNo1G0 ) reports that a county grand jury indicted General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons on Wednesday in connection with two cases in which she was accused of lying and misusing her authority. The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct issued a temporary suspension order Wednesday evening.
Sammons’ lawyer, Wade Davies, said in a statement that Sammons is innocent and can show she hasn’t committed any offense. He said Sammons will plead not guilty.
Sammons is expected to be booked Thursday and arraigned next week.
UPDATE/NOTE: Related Tennessee Supreme Court news release below. Continue reading →
ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — A judge has dropped six official misconduct charges against former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris.
The Johnson City Press reports that Judge John Kerry Blackwood ruled there was insufficient evidence to proceed with Harris’ trial, which started Monday.
It would have been Harris’ third trial. Two previous trials ended in hung juries.
During opening statements Monday, District Attorney General Tony Clark told jurors that county inmates were taken to property owned by Harris to bush hog it, mow it, cut wood and raze structures there.
Harris’ attorney said in court that Harris did not know the inmates were working on the property.
A grand jury in October 2011 indicted Harris on felony charges, including official misconduct, theft, criminal simulation, attempted aggravated assault and tampering with evidence.
Knox County Trustee John Duncan III pleaded guilty today in Criminal Court to a felony charge of official misconduct and resigned from office, reports the News Sentinel. He entered the plea by information, which means he agreed to skip a grand jury review.
He received a one-year probation and may apply for diversion.
He must cooperate with “this” and “any other probes,” according to his plea agreement taken by Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz.
His father, U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, said after the hearing, “We can rely on our faith to get on with our future.”
He declined further comment.
Prosecutor Bill Bright said that Duncan had then-attorney Chad Tindell file a salary lawsuit on Sept. 30, 2010, approving bonuses of $3,000 each for himself and five others, and a $2,000 bonus for a sixth staffer for completing a training program that none of them had, in fact, completed.
Duncan, as part of the plea, is specifically agreeing to participate in the probes of the other employees who received bonuses who have not yet been charged.
Bright alleged that Duncan lied to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation by saying that no one ever told him that it was improper to collect bonuses before completion of the training program.
However, three employees told the TBI that they had, in fact, warned Duncan against trying to collect bonuses without having completed the training.
In February, Tindell received judicial diversion on a misdemeanor charge connected to his participation in the bonus program that let some employees in the Trustee’s Office receive extra money for educational studies they never completed. Tindell worked more than two years as the tax attorney for the Trustee’s Office before leaving early this year. He can seek to wipe his record clean if he abides by the terms of his probation.
The chief of staff to Knox County Trustee John Duncan III and his office attorney pleaded guilty this morning in Criminal Court to facilitation of official misconduct, reports the News Sentinel Joshua A. Burnett, 32, and attorney Chadwick B. Tindell, 48, were both sentenced to 11 months, 29 days probation on the misdemeanor charge by Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Liebowitz.
Both will be eligible for judicial diversion.
Duncan’s status was not immediately available. His attorney, Jeff Hagood, was out of town and said he could not comment.
Burnett and Tindell both resigned from the Trustee’s Office, according to a statement this afternoon from Duncan.
Bill Curtis will become the office’s chief deputy, and resumes will be sought for the delinquent tax attorney position, according to the statement. Tindell will assist with pending matters.
Appearing with his attorney Tommy Hindman, Burnett agreed to cooperate in “any way requested” by prosecutors.
Hindman said the plea is connected to bonuses handed out by Duncan three months after he took office in September 2010.
It’s “a very unfortunate circumstance” and “he took some very bad advice,” Hindman said.
“He is pleased to have this matter concluded and looks forward to the opportunity to move on with his life.”
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.
News release from Comptroller’s Office:
A Lauderdale County deputy sheriff repeatedly spent undercover funds for unauthorized purposes and falsified documents to cover his tracks, a report by the Comptroller’s Division of County Audit has found.
The same deputy, Jason Winchester, used his county cell phone for personal business and overstated the amount of compensatory time he had earned. Winchester’s actions resulted in a cash shortage of more than $4,000, although the total could have been higher because the records of undercover fund expenditures were falsified.
As a result of the investigation by the Comptroller’s office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Winchester was fired last year and later indicted on charges including official misconduct, theft of property, tampering with governmental records, forgery, fabricating evidence and misrepresenting information to a state auditor.
The audit, which was released today, can be found online at http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/ca/CountyAudits.asp?C=49.
In all, the audit had 11 findings and recommendations for improvement. Several of the findings highlighted issues that were identified in previous audits, but never properly addressed.
For example, expenditures for the Office of Director of Schools exceeded the office’s approved budget by almost $150,000 because officials failed to properly account for costs related to school renovation contracts.
Also, the Offices of the Highway Commissioner and Director of Schools had accounting records that were incorrect and had to be adjusted at the end of the fiscal year.
Some non-governmental employees, including lawyers and title researchers, were given keys to the Office of the Register and allowed unsupervised access to the office after business hours.
And the Office of the Trustee did not have adequate safeguards in place to protect its information resources.
“I applaud our investigators and those from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for their work in uncovering the activities that led to the firing and indictment of the sheriff’s deputy,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “However, this audit raises a number of other areas of concern. It is troubling to me that issues identified in previous audits have not been addressed. When that happens, I think it’s fair for the taxpayers of Lauderdale County to wonder why reasonable steps aren’t being taken to help safeguard public dollars.”
To report suspected cases of fraud, waste or abuse of taxpayer dollars, call the Comptroller’s hotline at 1-800-232-5454.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), January 19, 2012 — State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) and Representative Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville) today announced they have filed legislation to disqualify elected or appointed officials from receiving judicial diversion for crimes committed during their term of office.
Judicial diversion is the process in criminal law when a person pleads guilty to a crime and can later have the charge removed (or expunged) from their record following a period of probation. It is granted by the judge, hence its name “judicial.”
“The public office is a public trust,” said Senator Yager, who is Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. “Public officials ought to be held to a higher standard.”
A person is eligible for judicial diversion in Tennessee if they do not have a previous class A misdemeanor, felony conviction, or never received diversion or had their record expunged before. Those charged with a class A felony, a class B felony, a sexual offense, or a DUI are not eligible for judicial diversion under state law. Senate Bill 2566 would simply add a criminal offense committed by an official in the executive, legislative or judicial branch to the list of those which are ineligible for judicial diversion, if the crime was committed in their official capacity or involve the duties of their office.
“Accountability is a term that is thrown around a lot in public service these days. Unfortunately, not many take it seriously and that has to change,” said Haynes. “A law like this would go a long way towards restoring the faith Tennesseans once had in their elected officials. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard and I think this is a strong first step towards raising the bar in Tennessee.”
“Criminal acts conducted by public officials during the course of duty should not be eligible for judicial diversion. We must hold our public officials accountable for the trust they have been given. This legislation helps ensure that,” Yager concluded.
Nearly three months after a Unicoi County grand jury indicted Sheriff Kent Harris on 10 felony charges, the county is maintaining a “wait-and-see” approach on what to do about the sheriff, reports the Johnson City Press. County officials are still waiting on action from the state attorney general’s office before making any moves of their own regarding Harris’ position, according to County Mayor Greg Lynch.
“It’s not anything that’s dead in the water,” Lynch said. “It’s on hold right now.”
In late October, the County Commission heard from County Attorney Doug Shults who, at that time, told the commission that he had received information from District Attorney General Tony Clark that the state attorney general’s office was looking into civil actions relative to Harris’ removal from office.
On Oct. 14, a grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, theft over $1,000, criminal simulation and attempted aggravated assault.
Ouster proceedings can be initiated by the state attorney general’s office, the district attorney general’s office or the county. Should the County Commission seek the ouster, the costs associated with the proceedings would fall to the county.
MILLINGTON, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Shelby County District Attorney’s office investigators are raiding city offices in Millington.
District attorney spokesman Vince Higgins said the officers were serving warrants Wednesday morning after an investigation into a complaint of official misconduct.
Higgins said the complaint was made with the district attorney’s office last December and centered on activities in Millington. He declined to elaborate on what type of misconduct was involved or to say exactly who was being served with the warrants.
Higgins said the warrants were being served at several locations in Shelby County.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner has pleaded guilty to buying drugs from a felon under his jurisdiction in the county’s drug court. According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, Baumgartner has been the subject of a probe by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation since at least January. That’s when he abruptly stepped down from his post to take an indefinite medical leave.
Baumgartner appeared in Criminal Court on Thursday morning. He is seeking judicial diversion as part a plea agreement with prosecutors. If the judge grants diversion, Baumgartner could avoid a conviction on his record if he stayed out of trouble for two years.
The 63-year-old judge has handled some of Knox County’s most high-profile trials, including the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsome. UPDATE: Jamie Satterfield has multiple details in Friday’s News Sentinel.