Hamilton County General Sessions Judge David Bales issued reprimand

Hamilton County General Sessions Judge David Bales issued reprimand

December 9th, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz and Andrew Pantazi in News

Hamilton County Judge David Bales

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Document: Judge Bales Release

Document: Judge Bales Complaint

A local judge has been issued a public reprimand by Tennessee Court of the Judiciary after the court determined he twice violated judicial ethics.

Hamilton County General Sessions Judge David Bales received two complaints earlier this year, one from Judge Rebecca Stern and the other from local attorney Hank Hill.

Public reprimands by the judiciary court are rare. Only two other Tennessee judges have been issued reprimands this year, and only three were issued in 2010, according to the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary.

Bales acknowledged that he made mistakes and said he would "strive to not make mistakes in the future."

"I, at all times, tried to rule fairly and impartially for all citizens," he said. "Sometimes I've made mistakes, and I am human like everyone else. I admit I have made mistakes in these two matters."

In Bales' case, the Court of the Judiciary found he violated a rule requiring he honor the law and promote "public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary," according to a court release.

The first incident happened in November 2010, when Bales set a bond of $70,000 in a domestic assault and false imprisonment case without the defendant or his attorney present.

Defendant Dennis Wininger's attorney appealed the bond, and Judge Stern released him with a provision that he couldn't contact the victim, who was his wife.

Bales then summoned the defendant's attorney to his court in front of reporters and criticized Wininger's release.

He said Thursday that he had been worried after the victim said in an affidavit that Wininger had vowed to get away with the alleged crime. Bales also tried to reinstate the bond, although Assistant District Attorney Steve Smith told him he didn't have jurisdiction.

In the second incident, Bales set a bond of $1 million in a murder case in March. Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman reduced the bond to $250,000. The defendant, Montez Davis, was eventually convicted of murder and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

"I had set what I thought was an appropriate bond due to all the gang violence that was going on," Bales said Thursday, "and one of the Criminal Court judges decided to lower the bond. I said it was troubling, and I should not have done that. I made a mistake.

"I go to work every day trying to give fair and impartial hearings to all defendants and try to weigh the rights of the defendants with the communities."

Staff writer Kate Harrison contributed to this story.