published Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Tennessee court reprimands Hamilton County Judge Bob Moon's actions

Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Bob Moon.
Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Bob Moon.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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Three complaints about Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Bob Moon's courtroom behavior, including allegations that he failed to appoint counsel to defendants properly, prompted the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary to issue a public reprimand.

Though public reprimands of judges are rare, Moon became the second local member of the judiciary to receive one in the past month. The panel publicly reprimanded General Sessions Judge David Bales in December.

Statewide, the court issued five public reprimands last year and three in 2010.

Presiding Court of the Judiciary Judge Chris Craft sent Moon a letter dated Jan. 3, saying the court found Moon's actions in three instances violated the rule requiring judges to "respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary."

Moon released a response Monday.

"Although, there is a respectful, but definitive, difference of opinion in the interpretation and applicability of the law and legal opinions relevant to these issues, the Court of the Judiciary is there to assist us and to make us better judges," he said.

The reprimand contains a complaint by Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern about a preliminary hearing Moon presided over. During that hearing, Moon "threatened to have a young woman, who was a reluctant victim/witness of a domestic assault, handcuffed and arrested if she did not testify in a manner which you considered to be truthful," the reprimand told Moon.

Moon defended his actions.

"The prosecutor repeatedly demanded that I require the witness to testify, and she repeatedly refused," Moon said. "Unless there is some privilege or impropriety in the question, every witness is required to answer the questions asked."

Moon said there was no privilege or objection in this case.

The reprimand lists a second complaint by local attorney Hiram "Hank" Hill relating to a 2010 incident in which Hill said a defendant who'd been given a suspended six-month sentence for traffic violations was given a drug test, which he didn't pass. When the defendant returned to court, Moon asked whether he wanted to serve time for the driving charges or marijuana possession, the reprimand said.

The defendant asked for an attorney, and Moon told him he could ask one of the five in the courtroom's front row.

"Apparently, one of the attorneys, not formally appointed, told him to take the marijuana charge," Craft wrote.

Moon then sentenced the defendant to six months in jail and changed the original charge of driving on a revoked license to possession of marijuana without a proper charging document.

"The defendant spoke to and clearly received the benefit of counsel although I failed to formally appoint an attorney for him and sign the order," Moon said in his statement. "I was attempting to find a resolution that would allow him to straighten up, obtain a driver's license, work and support his family upon his release."

Finally, attorney Benjamin L. McGowan complained about Moon's treatment of a victim and two witnesses testifying in his court under subpoena in 2008.

Though the court didn't initially know, the three were on judicial diversion from another court on theft charges. Once they testified, Moon immediately revoked their probation and ordered their arrest and incarceration without holding a hearing, providing opportunity for counsel or advising them of their rights.

"While state and federal courts have ruled that a defendant is not constitutionally entitled to appointment of counsel in a revocation hearing, the courts have indicated that it is preferred," Moon said in his statement.

Moon took remedial steps to ensure that all indigents are appointed counsel at probation or diversion revocation hearings and sent a memo explaining the necessary procedure to other General Sessions and municipal judges, Craft wrote.

In addition, Moon told the state's disciplinary counsel that he will make sure appropriate charging documents are filed and that witnesses are treated appropriately.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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