The Judge Takes The Fifth: Tennessee Judge Invokes His Right To Remain Silent Over Allegations That He Stole Money From Ten Commandments Display

We previously read about the ethics charges and lawsuits leveled against Hawkins County (Tenn.) Judge James Taylor for various violations, including stealing money that he raised for a “Citizens Heritage Display” with the Ten Commandments to be placed in the lobby of the Hawkins County Justice Center. While Taylor announced he would still run for reelection and assured people that his name would be cleared, he has now asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in his answer to accusations of theft and misconduct in the judicial ethics investigation.

In addition to an ongoing criminal investigation, Taylor is being sued by former clients alleging misappropriation of money from clients and sexual harassment. While he signed the filings as opposed to private counsel, Taylor’s answer states “Taylor has been advised by counsel to assert and invoke, and herby [sic] does respectfully assert and invoke, his privilege against self-incrimination.”

It presents a difficult problem. While people are clearly entitled to take the Fifth, judges are expected to answer ethics complaints fully as a condition for continuing on the bench. Accordingly, a judge who takes the Fifth in an ethics proceeding should in most cases resign in my view.

While people can take the Fifth in civil cases, “the Fifth Amendment does not forbid adverse inferences against parties to civil actions when they refuse to testify in response to probative evidence offered against them,” Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 318 (1976), the Court has added that the “‘[f]ailure to contest an assertion…is considered evidence of acquiescence…if it would have been natural under the circumstances to object to the assertion in question.’” Id. (quoting United States v. Hale, 422 U.S. 171, 176 (1975)).

In this matter, Taylor is accused of stealing $9,000 from a client, billed the state for services that he never performed, and kept money raised to pay for the “Citizen’s Heritage Display.” In 2011, the Court of the Judiciary publicly reprimanded Taylor for lobbying the Hawkins County Commission for approval of the display as well as participating in fundraising efforts for the project.

Here is the complaint: james_taylor_-_formal_charges_1-24-12

Source: KnoxNewsas first seen on ABA Journal

24 thoughts on “The Judge Takes The Fifth: Tennessee Judge Invokes His Right To Remain Silent Over Allegations That He Stole Money From Ten Commandments Display”

  1. Yeah, that judge had to have made an enemy who buys his ink by the barrel; otherwise, hey, no prob.

    Story: I was climbing the steps up to the Iowa City District Court (I think it was Johnson County, IA) in about 1992, 1993 when I stopped in a kind of disoriented shock. There was a huge stone tablet with the Ten Commandments ON THE COURTHOUSE LAWN right in front of the door. I asked the woman I was accompanying to court, “What’s that?” She looked at me pityingly. “That’s the Ten Commandments from the Bible!” I explained calmly, “Oh I know what it IS, I just wondered what it’s doing here?” She said, “This is the Court House — they have to put it up HERE!” Realizing that I was unable to really express myself in view of her profound puzzlement, I said, “But the Ten Commandments are RELIGIOUS commandments, not Iowa law commandments; they don’t really belong in front of a courthouse!” She persisted, “Yes they do, the law follows after the Ten Commandments anyway. They just say ‘thou shalt not kill’ and the law says ‘don’t commit murder,’ it’s just different language for the same thing.”

    I finally got moving and as we approached, I asked, “Didn’t anybody in this whole big city ever object to this?” She looked confused. “Who would?” I suggested, “Maybe the ACLU?” “Oh,” she commented, greatly relieved, “No, there ARE no Jews in town.”

    BTW, she’s a good friend of mine to this day. She sends me holy water, crucifixes, and little pamphlets, and prayers, and she blesses me all the time, and she got me a pair of sneakers that were the most comfortable things I ever had on my feet since the day I was born.

  2. Latest update on Judge James Taylor of Hawkins County, TN. He lost his bid for re-election and it now appears he will probably lose his license to practice law. The Feds are also investigating him and have raided his (former) office.

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