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Ethics charges against Coffee County D.A. dismissed

Agency won't immediately release filings in case
Posted at 12:21 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 23:51:22-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Ethics charges against Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott have been dismissed, although the exact charges and the exact reason for the dismissal remains a mystery.

Northcott, who faced a string of complaints in 2019 over his statement that gay people were not entitled to domestic protections and that all Muslims are "evil," announced that the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) had dropped charges against him. The board, which regulates lawyers, had never made the charges public.

A BPR lawyer said late Monday that it would take the agency 30 days to produce the filings in the case against Northcott.

"Over the last two years, I have been attacked personally for and pressured to disavow my closely held Christian beliefs under the threat of losing my law license," Northcott said in a statement issued late Friday.

"I knew what was at risk but also understood that my first duty is always to God."

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Northcott faced four ethics complaints after a newly discovered video showed him boasting that, if gay people in his district ended up being victims of domestic violence, they should not expect him to use the state's domestic violence laws to protect them.

That video, on "The Local Church's Role in Government" from a conservative Bible conference, featured Northcott answering a question about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

He responded by saying the nation is being ruled by "five people in black dresses."

"So the social engineers on the Supreme Court decided that we now have homosexual marriage. I disagree with them. What do I do with domestic assaults?" Northcott said.

Tennessee lawmakers have provided for enhanced punishment for domestic violence offenders, including the ability to take firearms from a dangerous offender who's convicted.

But Northcott said that, in his district, gay couples do not get that kind of help. Instead, he would treat them as run-of-the-mill assaults.

"The reason that there's enhanced punishment on domestic violence is to recognize and protect the sanctity of marriage. And I said there's no marriage to protect. So I don't prosecute them as domestics," the DA said in the video.

Northcott also raised eyebrows by claiming on social media that Muslims are "evil because they profess a commitment to an evil belief system."

In his recently released statement, Northcott revealed for the first time that the Board of Professional Responsibility "asked me to agree to be publicly censured for violating the rules of ethics in exchange for them not pursuing more harsh discipline up to disbarment."

"I refused to accept that punishment because I had done nothing wrong," the DA added.

At some point, the board filed a formal complaint against Northcott.

"Remarkably, the BPR through the Office of Disciplinary Counsel never alleged the mishandling of a specific case and admitted under oath that, after more than a year of investigation, they could not find a single case that I or my office had mishandled," Northcott said.

A hearing panel granted Northcott's motion to dismiss the case in April, and the Board of Professional Responsibility chose not to appeal.

Sandy Garrett, chief disciplinary counsel for the board, confirmed the dismissal, although she refused to immediately provide all the filings in the case, saying it would be treated as a public records request.

A follow-up letter from another attorney said it would take 30 days to respond to the request.