Judicial Misconduct: Board of Judicial Conduct Has Opportunity to Show Decisive Action

Two state senators scheduled a hearing this week to examine whether the Board of Judicial Conduct is vigilant enough in disciplining the state's judges.

The Board of Judicial Conduct has an opportunity to demonstrate that it can move quickly and exact justice and it can do so in a very public and popular way. They can come down hard on Sessions Judge Casey Moreland of Nashville. State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, has asked them to investigate.

The Tennessean and WTVF Channel 5 have laid out the facts.

A prominent Nashville contractor named David Chase was arrested for beating his girlfriend. The law requires that a perpetrator of domestic abuse spend 12 hours in jail for a "cooling off" period. In many domestic violence cases it's time spent sobering up. The police told the woman she had 12 hours to get her stuff out of the home.

But the contractor's attorney, Bryan Lewis, a personal friend of Judge Moreland (they vacation together) and a big contributor to his campaign, called the judge and got Chase released after three hours. Chase is now accused of returning to the house, finding the woman there, and beating her again.

She testified at his bond hearing that he choked her and she thought she was going to die.

The law says a judge can overrule the 12-hour cooling off period if there is no sign of danger to the abused party. Chase was already wearing an alcohol monitor on his ankle, out on bond for drunk driving. News reports say he had alcohol in his system on the day in question.

House Speaker Beth Harwell has announced she and state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, will sponsor legislation next session that will remove a judge's ability to intervene—the 12 hours will be mandatory.

But in the meantime Judge Moreland is running unopposed for re-election.

This case cries out for justice. But the bigger criminal here is not Chase, it's the judge and his defense attorney buddy Lewis.

The Board of Judicial Conduct needs to move quickly and publicly instead of in secret at a molasses-like pace. Something should happen before the August election.

Perhaps they can act in time for Moreland to make his whitewater rafting trip with Lewis and members of his firm. A week-long $2,400 catered camping trip next month in Idaho with members of Lewis' firm—in which it is not clear who is paying for the judge to go.

Getting Moreland out of town and out of office should be the goal.

Nashville is outraged. In addition to Speaker Harwell, the police chief, the district attorney, and council members have condemned the situation. The search is on for a write-in candidate against the judge. As of this writing he has refused calls for him to resign.

But we supposedly have a system in place to punish judges who bring disrepute on the court system. This one is a no-brainer.

Moreland can argue that he made a mistake, that it was a judgment call. But the law says the abuser stays in jail if there is a threat of danger. This suspect had a criminal charge against him and was out on bond. That alone should have kept him in the pokey. That's grounds for punishment.

Attorney Lewis has a restaurant and he often hosts fund-raisers for judges there. He and his wife gave Moreland the max of $3,000 for his campaign—even though he's unopposed.

If this case is swept under the rug or if a decision is so late as to allow him to waltz back into office, it will certainly bring disrepute to the court system.

Most cases of misconduct are done in secret, and many are dismissed. In fact, the board is not even allowed to say whether a complain has even been filed against Moreland.

But this case is one in which the court system itself is on trial. This is no time for secrecy and speed is of the essence.

Corrected: The co-sponsor of House Speaker Beth Harwell's bill removing judge discretion in spousal abuse cases is state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown.