Steve Bebb probe may last past end of session

Steve Bebb probe may last past end of session

April 11th, 2013 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Steve Bebb

NASHVILLE - With state lawmakers hoping to adjourn next week or soon after, House Speaker Beth Harwell said Wednesday that House members may not have time to take action regarding 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb if they decide it's needed.

The Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week directed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to let members examine files of its four-month probe into allegations against Bebb.

House members plan to approve a resolution doing the same, although some think with the Senate's action that may not be necessary.

Depending on what is learned, they could decide to recommend removing Bebb from office, lawmakers say. His term in office is up in August 2014.

"I think it'd be very difficult for us to realistically accomplish it during what's left of this session," Harwell said in an interview Wednesday. "It's pushing it over probably into the next session, but again, I haven't made a firm decision."

The effort to review the TBI's investigation comes after Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper on March 25 released his long-awaited report on Bebb and alleged misconduct in the 10th Judicial District, which includes Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe counties.

Relying on the TBI investigation, which looked into issues raised in a Times Free Press series last summer, Cooper criticized Bebb's office for poor judgment, mismanagement and deficient record keeping.

But Cooper said he found no prosecutable evidence against Bebb on allegations of prosecutorial and financial misconduct, speaking untruthfully under oath and other questions.

Lawmakers say that because of the public nature of the allegations and Cooper's report, they feel obligated to look at the TBI investigation themselves.

"I think we'll review the material next week," said Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, has recused himself from leading the investigation.

"What's really clear is we have constitutional oversight with a presumption of innocence always leading the way," Shipley said.

"Once we look at it, we'll huddle with the lawyers again and see what next step to take. ... We'll do a fair investigation and if we find something, we'll address it."

Reading the file and making a decision could take longer than the current legislative session, Shipley said. He said he thinks Harwell would appoint a special committee to continue investigating.

Lawmakers will treat the information "as very confidential," Shipley said.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to call for the TBI files, Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, laid down strict rules: Lawmakers will not be allowed to discuss details of the files, take cameras into the viewing room or even make notes, at least on the first visit, he said.

House efforts on Tuesday to get the TBI files were blocked in the Delayed Bills Committee by Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who said he was uncomfortable allowing any of the nine measures to move forward so late in the session. Under House rules, Fitzhugh, Harwell and Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, all had to agree or nothing moved.

Fitzhugh who said his reluctance had nothing to do with Bebb. On Wednesday, told the Times Free Press that he "probably" would agree to let the measures advance in the committee today.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.