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