Judge who declared medical leave due to cancer asks to return to the bench

Judge who declared medical leave due to cancer asks to return to the bench

November 7th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Breaking News

Judge David Bales sits in his chambers. File Photo

A Hamilton County judge who declared medical disability earlier this year wants to return to the bench, possibly as early as next week.

"I am happy to inform you that I successfully underwent cancer surgery on July 25," David Bales wrote Oct. 27 in a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam. "After treatments and rehab, I have completely recovered and no longer suffer a disability that would prevent me from serving my duties."

Bales attached letters from two doctors who treated him and said he planned to return Monday to his judgeship in General Sessions Court. But Haslam replied that he cannot reinstate Bales.

"State law provides no role for me in the special judge process beyond appointing and commissioning a special judge to attend and hold court," Haslam wrote on Nov. 2, adding he would notify Alex McVeagh, the special judge he selected in April.

Bales declared medical disability in March after a six-month battle with cancer and chemotherapy and told Haslam he planned to return to work once his health improved. But according to state law, McVeagh is supposed to serve until the chief justice of Tennessee's Supreme Court tells Haslam that Bales is no longer disabled.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Supreme Court could not be reached for comment Tuesday about whether Bales had reached out, and what evidence Jeffrey Bivins, the chief justice, could consider in his reinstatement.

Multiple efforts to reach Bales were unsuccessful.

Some attorneys said Bivins has the discretion to consider any information he finds relevant to Bales' ability to serve.

"I think it's up to the discretion of the chief justice to consider any evidence he considers pertinent, medical or otherwise, and whether him returning to the bench is going to benefit the public," defense attorney Jerry Summers said.

The Chattanooga Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers did not formally comment Tuesday, but member Rich Heinsman said several lawyers have been talking about the possibility of Bales returning.

"Personally, I think Alex McVeagh is doing a very good job, and that opinion is shared by the prosecutors, defense, police and staff," Heinsman said, "and that's rare and a real testament to his intelligence, his fairness and how quickly he rose to the demands of the job and then some."

Some local defense bar members have filed formal complaints against Bales in the past with the Administrative Office of the Courts, Heinsman said, "and I guess that kind of speaks for itself on where we would probably land."

That organization, which oversees all courts in Tennessee, investigates complaints and can publicly reprimand or suspend a judge if members find the allegations to be true. Its members do not disclose when they receive a complaint.

In 2011, the AOC publicly reprimanded Bales for violating judicial ethics in two cases.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

This story was updated Nov. 7 at 11:59 p.m. with more information.