published Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Judge shopping case prolonged with recusal of judge

by Monica Mercer
Audio clip

Judge Don Poole

A Hamilton County Criminal Court judge recused himself Monday in a case in which a defense attorney has accused a state agency and at least two general sessions judges of “judge shopping.”

Court arguments revealed that Judge Don Poole sat on a 1999 committee that helped implement rules and regulations for the computerized assignment of criminal cases in Hamilton County General Sessions Court.

The committee, among other things, worked to address suspicions that had surfaced even then that lawyers and others were manipulating the system to get cases assigned to certain judges, defense attorney Jerry Summers said Monday.

Judge Poole worked as an attorney when he served on the committee.

Mr. Summers argued that, “to avoid all appearances of impropriety,” Judge Poole should not decide the current case in which judge shopping is alleged. Judge Poole agreed.

“I cringe every time a lawyer or judge is accused of doing something inappropriate,” Judge Poole stated from the bench before making his decision.

The case involves Gary Wayne McCullough, who is charged with misdemeanors involving laws that are enforced by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Mr. Summers has requested a hearing in Criminal Court amid allegations that the TWRA regularly requests certain sessions court judges to hear their cases.

Mr. Summers also has alleged that those certain judges, including Judge Bob Moon, actively seek such cases because of representations that they have expertise in the laws the TWRA enforces.

Judge Moon said Monday that all law enforcement officers, including TWRA, have discretion to assign cases to certain judges when defendants are only given citations.

Defendants who are arrested, he said, always are assigned judges through a random computer selection process.

Judge Moon added “it is not unusual” to have specific judges hear specific cases based on their expertise.

Mr. Summers, however, is requesting that drug and boating-under-the-influence charges be dropped against his client because of the alleged “judge shopping” practice, which is prohibited under ethics rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman now will preside over the issue. The case will come up again in court on Dec. 14.

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