published Friday, March 18th, 2011

Local judge responds to attorneys’ complaints

Local attorneys Hank Hill and Ben McGowan have filed separate complaints against Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Bob Moon with the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary. The complaints allege Moon has violated defendants’ constitutional rights and stepped outside his role as judge and into law enforcement from the bench.

One complaint alleges that in 2010 Moon amended a traffic charge charge to a drug possession charge in his court after the defendant failed a drug test, according to documents obtained by the Times Free Press.

The other complaint, filed by local attorney Ben McGowan, alleges that in 2008 Moon jailed two prosecution witnesses during a hearing when he said their testimony revealed the pair had violated terms of their judicial diversion on unrelated shoplifting charges.

Moon said today the complaints are a difference of opinion on law and the alleged actions do not violate judicial ethics.

In an email to the Times Free Press, Moon said the lawyers’ complaints would be better handled under an appeal to his decision and not a filing with the Court of the Judiciary.

Hill confirmed that he’d filed the complaint on behalf of the Chattanooga Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers regarding the drug possession charge.

He said he’d recently learned of Moon’s actions in the 2010 case and had obtained copies of documents, which he forwarded to the Court of the Judiciary.

McGowan filed his complaint last week. The filing shows that Moon’s decision to jail the two witnesses was overturned by Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole.

McGowan’s complaint alleges that the witnesses’ rights were violated and that in this instance Moon “disregards basic constitutional rights of citizens who are willingly assisting the prosecution.”

McGowan said he worried that Moon’s actions would have a “chilling effect” and make witnesses less likely to cooperate with the court.

Even if a judge has reason to believe that a witness may have violated court-ordered diversion or probation, McGowan said the witness is entitled to a separate hearing, to legal counsel and to be informed of their rights against self-incrimination.

The Times Free Press reported in January that Hill also filed an ethics complaint with the Court of the Judiciary against Sessions Court Judge David Bales and Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern filed complaints against Bales and Moon.

The Court of the Judiciary does not confirm complaints. The 16-member panel may recommend removal, suspension or other discipline of a judge following an investigation, according to the court’s Web site.

For more details read tomorrow’s Times Free Press.

about Todd South...

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 ...

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