Ticket Fixing May Violate Judicial Code - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: The Ticket Fix

Ticket Fixing May Violate Judicial Code

Judge Don Ash, presiding judge of the Court of the Judiciary Judge Don Ash, presiding judge of the Court of the Judiciary
THP Col. Mike Walker THP Col. Mike Walker

A top state official gets a speeding ticket, but a judge just takes care of it as a favor.

That situation -- as our NewsChannel 5 investigation first discovered -- is just the latest example of the Ticket Fix.

So who makes sure that judges are treating everybody the same?

Our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams discovered that, if judges take care of their friends, they could end up facing justice themselves.

It turns out that a lot of prominent folks get speeding tickets.

Just ask UT Coach Phillip Fulmer, who got caught two years ago speeding 91 miles per hour down I-40 in Wilson County.

Or former Vice President Al Gore, busted last year doing a not-so-energy-efficient 95 through Smith County.

Or hip-hop star Young Buck, caught doing a 103 down I-24 in Rutherford County two years ago, 108 just a few months later.

Even members of Congress -- in this case, Congressman Lincoln Davis -- stopped doing 70 in a 55 miles-per-hour zone in rural Pickett County.

And, like a lot of folks who get speeding tickets, court records show those Tennessee celebrities just paid their fines.

"The law enforcement code of ethics says I'll treat you the same as I treat any other person," says Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Mike Walker.

But the colonel acknowledges that a lot of people don't have to pay the price.

In fact, our NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that, out of the thousands of tickets written by troopers, almost one third end up being dismissed. The colonel says there are all kinds of reasons.

"Ticket fixing, from time to time, has been an issue," Walker says. "We've had troopers involved in it."

But while he's made it clear that his officers don't need to be involved in such favoritism, they have no control over what goes on inside the court system.

"Is it going on now in courts? I don't know. I honestly don't. I'm not there on a day-in and day-out basis. Is there the potential? Sure, there is."

Take for example, the traffic stop which ended with a ticket for state Labor Commissioner Jim Neeley for speeding down I-40 in Humphreys County, doing 85 in a 70 miles per hour zone.

"I was told it was taken care and not to appear -- and I didn't go," Neeley told Phil Williams. "That was a mistake."

Neeley admits a friend got his ticket dismissed by Humphreys County Judge Dan Bradley without ever having to go to court.

Phil Williams asked the judge, "Do you understand how, to the average person, this looks like ticket fixing?"

Bradley responded, "Do you understand what I've told you, Mr. Williams, that I am not going to talk to you about this case."

Judge Don Ash heads the court that's supposed to police the ethics of Tennessee judges.

"Special people don't get special breaks just because somebody outside thinks they're special," Ash says.

While he didn't want to discuss the ticket-fixing issue specifically, an article from a judicial publication is clear: "When judges 'fix' tickets for friends, family, friends of friends, constituents, and others, they clearly violate the code of judicial conduct even if no money changed hands."

Still, our NewsChannel 5 investigations have documented dozens of cases where judges just made parking and speeding tickets go away.

Some, like Davidson County Judge Casey Moreland, are quite open about it.

Williams asked Moreland last year,"If a police officer comes to you and say, 'Judge, this ticket was given to a friend of mine.'  Would you dismiss it?"

Moreland answered, "Have I dismissed it? Yes."

Judge Ash says, "We don't have the judge police sitting in the back of the courtroom -- absolutely not."

But he says there's no question that the Court of the Judiciary -- as it's called -- is willing to police the ethical conduct of the state's judges.

It's a question, he says, of whether such matters are brought to the court's attention.

"If people see that judges are not acting appropriately, are not following the canons of ethics, then we need their help to report to us so we can investigate."

Commissioner Neeley told Phil Williams, "I'm no better than anybody else. If I speed, I deserve a ticket."

He says he now knows that accepting the favor sends the wrong message.

But the people who write the tickets say their job is to keep the streets safe -- and leave justice to the justice system.

"What happens in the courts is the business of the courts," Col. Walker adds.

In some other states, there have been several very public cases in which judges have been disciplined for helping out friends or supporters with tickets.

But, here in Tennessee, no one could point to a single case where a judge faced public discipline.

Judge Ash says anybody can file a complaint over any behavior by a judge that they think may be a breach of ethics.

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