DAYTON, Tenn. - Many locals say the years-long romantic relationship between attorney Carol Ann Barron and District Attorney General Mike Taylor was common knowledge.
It was shrugged off, maybe the subject of a meat-and-three lunch gossip session but not much more -- until this month, when attorney Larry Roddy, who is vying against Barron and J. Shannon Garrison for the family, juvenile and sessions court judge seat, put it out there in a campaign ad.
Roddy's ad says this: "Some time ago Ms. Barron confirmed to me that she was living with the district attorney who prosecutes criminal cases in Rhea County."
And, "She now owns a substantial estate worth hundreds of thousands of dollars jointly (with right of survivorship) with the district attorney."
"I don't think it's far-fetched for one to say that it's a conflict of interest for the DA and judge to own property together," Roddy, a private-practice attorney, said in an interview this week.
He said it would be a conflict of interest, or at least would bear the "appearance of impropriety," if Barron is elected and rules on cases in which Taylor is directly involved.
"If the public is not confident in the neutrality of the judge, then the whole system is going to fall apart," he said.
But Barron, who is the attorney for Rhea County, the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City, says Roddy's ad contains lies.
"He made some allegations that are absolutely false," she said Friday.
She says her relationship with Taylor is over, and has been for years. And that the two never lived together.
Taylor did not wish to comment Friday.
State and Rhea County records show that a house on Clear View Farms Drive is owned by James Michael Taylor and Carol Ann Barron. The property is appraised at $647,600.
Barron doesn't deny it. She said the couple had been engaged and it was supposed to be their home when they married, but the engagement was broken off.
"[Roddy] starting talking about that I own property with another lawyer, with a district attorney, well, so what? There's no violation there," she told the Times Free Press on Friday.
On June 12, the day Roddy's campaign ad was posted on Facebook, Barron sent him a series of private messages, which the Times Free Press obtained. In those messages, Barron released a flurry of angry responses.
"Mr. Roddy, I am shocked that you would be so cruel to make a mockery of an engagement of marriage that was sadly broken," she wrote. "You are a liar."
Barron wrote that Roddy must have been under the influence of "mind altering drugs" to make such "a vicious and false attack."
She noted Roddy's past drug and alcohol addictions -- which he acknowledged in his ad -- and that she and Taylor built the home before their breakup and intended someday to give it to the community.
"You are as pathetic as people say you are and I truly feel sorry for you," she wrote. "I forgive you and I will pray that your black heart finds salvation."
She wrote Roddy again an hour later, at 1:24 a.m.
Then again at 7:21 a.m.
Her last, longest and angriest response was posted at 2:21 p.m. that afternoon.
"Boy, she didn't like it. She kind of went off," Roddy said of Barron's reaction. "I've never seen the like in my life."
He said his intent in writing and publishing the ad was not to attack Barron personally, but to inform voters of the relationship. He said he even included his own past addiction in the ad to be fair.
"I think the public has a right to know," he said. "I wasn't trying to be vindictive or anything."
But Barron thinks he's lying about that, too.
"All Larry Roddy is doing is trying to stir up something because nobody's paying attention to him up here," she said.
Barron, a Republican; Roddy, an independent; and Garrison, a Democrat, face off in the general election on Aug. 7. Early voting begins July 18.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.