Tennessee Judge Allowed To Remain On Bench After Conditioning The Right To Counsel On Work And Donating To His Chosen Charities

gavel2Judge Reese Holley of Dickson, Tennessee has agreed to stop conditioning representation of counsel on making donations to his favorite charities or performing public service. What is most astonishing is not that Holley did not know what any first-year law student could tell him but that he has only been reprimanded and will be allowed to continue to serve as a judge in Tennessee after doggedly maintaining such facially unconstitutional and abusive rule. He only received a public reprimand.

Holley only agreed (well, he had to agree) to the cease and desist order after the public defender was forced to bring a formal complaint against him. He maintained that he followed what he thought was established law. That alone should have created a fair question of competency. Indeed, it may be worse that he thought that he could condition a guaranteed right on service or donations than if he disagreed with the long established law in the area. In order to maintain these practices, he had to avoid even the slightest legal research or picking up virtually any law case book.

The right to counsel is different in cases of felonies and misdemeanors. However, the standard is laid out clearly in the state rules that counsel is guaranteed in “Cases in which an adult is charged with a felony or a misdemeanor and is in jeopardy of incarceration.” More importantly, even in misdemeanor cases where incarceration is not a possible outcome, judges are not allowed license to play little Caesars and start to force citizens to donate to their chosen charities or do public works. He also violated clear statutory rules on the issuance of bonds.

According to the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, Holley required that defendants waive their right to counsel and a jury trial as a condition for a continuance. He also reportedly insisted that defendants donate money to his chosen charities to get either counsel or a jury trial. He even make such donations a condition of probation. When defendants did not comply, he held them in contempt. So he denied them a basic right and then punished them for not complying with his abusive and unconstitutional orders. Other charges included refusing to appoint counsel and demanding cash only bonds.

While Holley insisted that he “had fashioned these practices from the procedures followed by other courts and thought them to be moral and lawful,” it is not clear what court in this country he went to for such unconstitutional practices.

He misconduct will now force the review of over 1,000 pending cases.

The investigation surrounding Holley could affect 1,000 pending cases. Jake Lockert, the public defender for the 23rd Judicial District, correctly a motion against Holley and asked the judge to disqualify or recuse himself from hundreds of pending cases represented by the public defender’s office. Lockert reportedly stated that he believed some of the defendants used their food stamps to help “pay” for counsel.

Just consider one example of what Holley considers to be an honest mistake. A woman, 22, was accused of shoplifting and wanted a public defender. Holley agreed but only after she completed his mandated 80 hours of community service work. A month later, she returned to explain that she did not do the community service because the prosecutor dropped the charges. Holley responded by throwing her into jail: “I find you in contempt. You haven’t done any public service work. You haven’t done an hour. I am going to give you 10 days of incarceration so you are in custody.”

In fairness to Holley, his statement to the public is below. While saying that he has decided to comply with the order, he added “Not all courts interpret these statutes the same.” That is news to most of us and appears that Holley has a particularly steep learning curve.

The question is how the Tennessee bar and courts can maintain a judge who shows so a poor understanding of the law and such poor judgment as a jurist. At least they could have “conditioned” his right to serve on reading a few legal casebooks.

Here is the letter from the Board: Holley Reprimand

Here is his statement:

The Disciplinary Counsel for The Tennessee Board Of Judicial Conduct and I agreed that I would cease and desist in certain practices of ordering public service work as it relates to court appointed counsel for defendants. I agreed not to enforce those orders presently existing as well to not allow anyone to donate items to the Help Center or the Dickson County Pound as an additional option to the list of already approved places to complete the public service. Although I had fashioned these practices from the procedures followed by other courts and thought them to be moral and lawful, they were deemed to provide or could have provided an appearance of impropriety. I respect the decision of Disciplinary Counsel and I agreed to not continue these practices.

The Disciplinary Counsel advised me that after they had conducted their extensive investigation, with which I completely cooperated, that there was no evidence that I had ever advanced the personal or economic interests of myself as judge or any others, or allow others to do so. The Disciplinary Counsel advised me that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing that warranted any further investigation or referral.

I have had people come by the law office or stop me on the street and convey to me that they appreciated this practice and thought it was the right thing to do and to these folks I encourage you to support this agreement and to respect the decision of Disciplinary Counsel. Part of treating people fairly is treating all people equally. Not all courts interpret these statutes the same. With this public reprimand all judges should now treat these matters the same and equally.

25 thoughts on “Tennessee Judge Allowed To Remain On Bench After Conditioning The Right To Counsel On Work And Donating To His Chosen Charities”

  1. thank you for some commonsense focus, darren smith. whilst whining about people receiving free attorneys and similar arizona-speak, many of these comments seem to forget that our legal system is supposed to consider every accused innocent until proven guilty. THAT’S why everybody is entitled to legal representation whether or not they can afford it. it’s because they are all innocent citizens until the prosecution has proven they are not – it takes a little more than you all upstairs calling them a bunch of drug dealers and thieves and hookers, or comparing them to your favourite hated politicians. if you’re paying attention at all to the dna testing that is setting free many prisoners who have wasted years away for crimes they did not commit, even those on death row, you should begin to understand that the local leos get it wrong nearly as often as they get it right. another great reason the accused should not be doubly penalized – made to perform public service, donate to charities they may very well not believe in and/or are not financially set to give to – when it’s even odds that they did not do the crime they are being accused of. they all deserve an attorney to defend themselves. wait – we’re not all first year law students? (aside from darren and a couple more?) stop sounding like you be. really.

  2. There is also the structural issue of how long these malfeasances have been occurring before the sanction finally arrived. This type of judicial misconduct should have been put to an end ended immediately.

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