published Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Ethics panel briefed on Steve Bebb

Steve Bebb
Steve Bebb

The chairman of a state House committee said Friday he met with members of the state attorneys' ethics board to share findings related to allegations of misconduct in the 10th Judicial District.

"Our purpose was to make them aware we had evaluated attorney general material, TBI material and other material and were prepared to make some available to them," Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said of his meeting with attorneys from the Board of Professional Responsibility.

"We presented things we thought were the most specific and targeted and were ethics violations" by District Attorney Steve Bebb, Shipley said.

He said it's up to the ethics board whether to open an investigation based on that information.

"We gave no allegation of innocence or guilt. What we said was the panel remains concerned about this issue."

In August, Shipley's panel voted to recommend that House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, form a separate committee to bring charges against Bebb when the General Assembly convenes in January. A vote by a companion Senate panel could come in October.

Harwell and at least two other state lawmakers have filed individual complaints against Bebb with the board based on the committee's findings, according to Times Free Press archives.

Sandy Garrett, chief disciplinary counsel for the board, said in an emailed statement Friday she could not comment.

"Supreme Court Rule 9 Section 25.1 provides that all matters, investigations or proceedings shall be confidential and privileged and shall not be public records until and unless certain circumstances occur which are provided for in that rule. Additionally, Supreme Court Rule 9 Section 25.5 provided that all participants in any matter, investigation or proceeding shall conduct themselves so as to maintain confidentiality," Garrett wrote.

The special House panel has been doing its own investigation into alleged financial and prosecutorial misconduct in Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties raised in a Times Free Press series last year.

After the series was published, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper ordered a joint investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the comptroller's office. In March, he released a report in which he criticized Bebb as a poor manager and administrator but said he found no prosecutable violations.

Subsequently, the state House and Senate voted to reexamine Cooper's report and the evidence in the TBI/comptroller investigation.

Shipley said any action by the Board of Professional Responsibility would be separate from the House and Senate investigations.

"They may do anything they wish to do. Their actions are not binding on us in any way," he said. "On the first day of session, we'll do what we think is appropriate."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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