TN legislators could remove Nashville judge

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — If the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct does nothing about a Nashville judge accused by three state legislators of abusing his authority, then legislators might take action instead.

They might even try to kick him off the bench.

As previously reported, Nashville Sessions Court Judge Casey Moreland’s friendship with an attorney might have resulted in him endangering the safety of an alleged victim of domestic violence.

According to Monday’s Tennessean, State Sens. Mike Bell, Randy McNally and Brian Kelsey have submitted an official complaint about Moreland to the BJC, specifically saying that Moreland’s reported actions do nothing but promote distrust of the judiciary.

BJC spokeswoman Michele Wojciechowski said Monday she could not comment on whether anyone has filed a complaint against Moreland.

Moreland, a Democrat, is running unopposed next month for a third, full, eight-year term.

Judge Casey Moreland

McNally, R-Oak Ridge, told Tennessee Watchdog that he’s more than likely already made up his mind on what he would do if called upon to decide Moreland’s fate.

“If he is re-elected, at this point I believe I’d show him the door,” McNally said.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported last month, Moreland has admitted to a close friendship with Nashville attorney Bryan Lewis.

According to media reports, Lewis called Moreland on June 8 with a request to release domestic violence suspect David Chase before he completed a 12-hour cooling off period, which the law requires.

Moreland complied but, police said, Chase immediately went home and violently attacked the woman a second time.

Tennessee Watchdog left a message with Moreland’s office seeking comment, but neither Moreland nor his representatives replied.

Bell, R-Riceville, said Monday that he won’t make a snap judgment.

“All I know so far is what I’ve read in the media, and what I’ve read in the media is pretty damning,” Bell said.

“I think any action done by the Board of Judicial Conduct or the Legislature there would have to be an independent investigation conducted and it would have to be confirmed that what I read in the media was true before I can answer that.”

The Tennessee General Assembly is majority Republican.

If state legislators try to force Moreland off the bench, the Tennessee Bar Association will not take a public stance on the matter, said its executive director Allan Ramsaur.

“That’s just not our job,” Ramsaur said.

“There are fact-finding processes set up and there are independent processes the General Assembly has that they can pursue.

Members of the Tennessee House and Senate can only remove a sitting judge through separate two-thirds majority votes from each body, said Chip McConkey, who serves as McNally’s research analyst.

Randy McNally

The judge in this situation would receive formal notice at least 10 days in advance of the General Assembly taking action, McConkey said.

McNally told Tennessee Watchdog legislators wouldn’t necessarily have to wait until the next legislative session — in January — to remove Moreland.

“Technically it could take place earlier, but that would mean the governor or two speakers would have to call the Legislature back into session,” McNally said.

Unlike an impeachment trial, legislators don’t need a high burden of proof to remove a sitting judge, McNally said.

Despite the low burden of proof, attaining a two-thirds majority vote might prove difficult for legislators, Ramsaur said.

“It’s a pretty high threshold that has to be met.”

In 1993 state legislators removed west Tennessee Judge David Lanier after a court convicted him of sexually molesting five women in his Dyersburg courthouse, according to the Associated Press. They also removed a judge in 1987.

Legislators also tried, unsuccessfully, to remove Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Charles Galbreath in 1978 after he reportedly wrote a spicy letter to “Hustler” magazine using official stationary, the AP reported.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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