2009 Investigation Shined Light on General Sessions Court
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In 2009, an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation raised serious questions about whether Nashville's General Session Court delivered justice for all.
That investigation found judges taking advantage of their positions and court employees pulling strings to help their friends.
"That's why I'm telling you I made a mistake in this situation," General Sessions Judge Gale Robinson told NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.
Robinson began the year, receiving a judicial reprimand from the court that regulates Tennessee judges. That after our cameras caught him working a second job as a funeral director, leaving people in his courtroom waiting for justice.
Also reprimanded: Judge Casey Moreland, for letting his employees skip work while they were supposed to be on the clock. In one case, one of them was actually working at the judge's house.
"Are you ticked at your employees?" Williams asked Moreland.
"Absolutely," the judge answered.
"Are you ticked with yourself?"
By year's end, Judge Gloria Dumas would face formal ethics charges after our investigation caught her being repeatedly late for court and revealed that she had hired her own daughter in violation of rules prohibiting nepotism.
"And what made you think that she could do the job?" Williams asked.
"'Cause she's very smart," Dumas said, with a smile.
Then, our investigation discovered hundreds of traffic tickets being dismissed by defense attorneys as they substituted for absent judges.
Among them: attorney Blake Freeman.
"I don't have any comment right now," Freeman said, as Williams tried to give him a chance to respond.
"You're a defense attorney who helps people get out of speeding tickets," Williams said.
"I represent a lot of folks, yes, sir."
"How does it make sense that you would have the power to dismiss tickets?"
"I don't do that."
Among those who benefited was District Attorney General Torry Johnson's investigator, Bob Chaudoin.
"He knew that it was a violation of the policy, he was aware of that," Johnson said.
Chaudoin resigned after implicating Circuit Court Clerk Ricky Rooker as the one who got his ticket fixed.
"I don't think it's a widespread problem," Rooker said at the time. "I think it's more or less people doing favors for friends."
Mayor Karl Dean warned Metro employees that he would crack down on such conduct in the future.
"If people think they can fix tickets in Davidson County and work for the Metropolitan Government, they are wrong," Dean told Williams.
That came even as our investigation found evidence that court clerks had deleted tickets that never went before a judge -- though one man insisted it wasn't a clerk who pulled the strings.
"It come from above her -- let's put it that way," he insisted.
"So how high was it?" Williams asked.
"It was pretty high."
Former prosecutor David Raybin said, "You have to have confidence that the system is working so that your ticket isn't disposed of and I have to go to court. That's really what it's all about."
As a result, court officials imposed new rules limiting the power of special judges, as the clerk's office placed new controls over who could pull traffic tickets. Metro's auditor also have been reviewing how tickets were handled.
All of that is designed to ensure the public that the justice system is handing out justice.