Judge Moon hears overwhelming majority of TWRA cases, records show

Judge Moon hears overwhelming majority of TWRA cases, records show

December 29th, 2009 by Monica Mercer in News


Judge Bob Moon heard 95 percent of all TWRA cases in 2004, 86 percent of all cases in 2005 and 51 percent of all cases from early 2006 to late 2008, Hamilton County General Sessions Court statistics show.

One of six Hamilton County General Sessions judges heard 95 percent of the cases brought to court by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in 2004, statistics show.

The figure represents 451 of the total 471 TWRA cases litigated locally that year, which typically involve misdemeanor citations issued to people who break the state's hunting, boating and fishing laws. Those 451 cases were heard by Judge Bob Moon. The five other judges available to preside over such cases heard the remaining 20.

Records provided by the Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk's Office show that the trend in the TWRA cases continued at least until Nov. 12, 2008, with Judge Moon hearing most of the agency's cases each year.

Judge Moon heard 86 percent of the TWRA's grievances against Hamilton County residents, for example, in 2005. From early 2006 to the end of 2008, he presided over 51 percent of the cases.

Court documents filed by local defense attorney Jerry Summers state that Judge Moon, along with Judge David Bales, hears a "disproportionate" number of TWRA cases. Mr. Summers, who will attempt to get a TWRA case against one of his clients dismissed at a court hearing on Jan. 7, says it is a form of "judge shopping" that strips defendants of their right to fair trials in general sessions court.

While statistics indicate Judge Bales has not heard as many TWRA cases as Judge Moon over the past years, Judge Bales still presided over 389 agency cases from 2006-2008, second only to the 767 Judge Moon heard in the same time frame.

Judge Bales could not be reached Monday for comment.

The numbers, obtained Monday by the Times Free Press, echo admissions made last week by a TWRA spokesman that, across the state, the agency's officers regularly seek out judges who they believe are the most familiar with the TWRA's laws to preside over their cases.

Spokesman David Hicks said the practice is "common sense," since most judges across the state are not aware of what is and isn't legal when it comes to the types of regulations the TWRA polices. He said local officers regularly schedule their cases in Judge Moon's court since the judge is an avid hunter and is believed to be the most familiar with the agency's laws.

Judge Moon said Monday he is unaware of any practice in which TWRA officers seek out his courtroom to try their cases.

"I have never concerned myself with the types or number of cases that were assigned to me," Judge Moon said.

Wildlife resources agency Director Ed Carter said Monday that there is no such "judge shopping" policy within the agency and that TWRA officers are not directed by him to seek out particular judges.

"(When I was a TWRA officer) I personally never knew (which judge) I was going to be in front of until I got to court," Mr. Carter said Monday, declining to comment further.

People who simply are arrested and booked into the Hamilton County Jail are assigned randomly to judges with the aid of a computer program, county officials say.

Judge Moon earlier told the Times Free Press that all law enforcement officers are free to pick judges for their cases when only misdemeanor citations -- not arrests -- are involved.

But local defense attorney John Cavett and several other lawyers have questioned that practice, saying there is no indication that regular police officers who issue traffic citations, for instance, deliberately choose certain judges to hear those cases.

"For defendants to be funneled in front of one judge every time is a violation of their constitutional rights," Mr. Cavett said.