A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga alleges that a Polk County judge and assistant district attorney allowed a private lawyer to serve as special prosecutor in a criminal case against the same man he was battling in a civil court custody case.
Plaintiff Jeremy Hopkins said he was “absolutely astonished” in the December 2008 hearing when General Sessions Judge Bill Baliles allowed divorce attorney Randy Sellers to prosecute a criminal case against him.
“I had never seen such a gross misconduct and injustice as the day I saw a local judge and attorney hand all the powers of the state to the lawyer for my wife in a divorce case,” Mr. Hopkins said.
Mr. Sellers was representing Mr. Hopkins’ then-wife, Elisabeth Hopkins, in their divorce and custody case. According to Mr. Hopkins’ complaint, the criminal charge was custodial interference and he was accused of violating a court order setting parenting time in November 2008.
There was no such order, according to the complaint.
Judge Baliles, Mr. Sellers and 10th Judicial District Attorney Steven Bebb are listed as defendants in the complaint.
Mr. Bebb said he had received the complaint Tuesday morning but had not had time to review its contents.
“I really know nothing about the lawsuit,” Mr. Bebb said. “You can’t always believe everything you read in a complaint. You can sue anybody for anything.”
He said he had contacted the state Attorney General’s office, which would represent the district attorney if the complaint leads to a trial.
Former state Sen. Jeff Miller is representing Mr. Hopkins in the case.
In October, Mr. Miller was found not guilty of official misconduct as former Bradley County back tax attorney. Mr. Bebb’s office prosecuted the case against Mr. Miller.
Mr. Miller said in a voice mail message that he has no comment on Mr. Hopkins’ case.
Neither Mr. Sellers nor Judge Baliles could be reached for comment Tuesday.
This is at least the second case Mr. Hopkins has fought against government officials in the 10th Judicial District, which covers Polk, Bradley, McMinn and part of Monroe counties.
A Bradley County chancellor in November ruled in Mr. Hopkins’ favor in a case brought against the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.
Court records show that, in December 2006, Mrs. Hopkins filed a domestic violence complaint against Mr. Hopkins. A warrant issued by Bradley County set a bond of $1,500 for him.
According to court records, Mr. Hopkins came to the Bradley County Justice Center to pay the bond when he learned about the warrant, but was taken into custody and held for 12 hours.
The 12-hour hold is part of a state statute that allows for a “cooling-off period” in domestic-related cases, Sheriff Tim Gobble said in a phone interview.
But the Chancery Court found that the Bradley Sheriff’s Office policy of a 12-hour hold on all domestic violence situations “is a misreading of the statute and therefore inappropriate.”
Sheriff Gobble said he believes his officers followed the statute and the county attorney is requesting an appeal of the November decision.
“We don’t feel like we did anything wrong in the case,” the sheriff said. “If a judge issues the warrant, a judge also needs to make the determination as to whether or not the person to be picked up is a danger.”
Mr. Hopkins, a licensed attorney, said he’s taken both of these situations into the courts because he knows others facing similar circumstances would not have the expertise or resources to do so.
“My goal would be for all parties to sit at a table and make sure that they never do this again,” he said.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...