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'It may seem strange, but I'm from Alabama.' Judge defends burying $100,000

Judge Kelvin Jones faces TBI investigation
Kelvin Jones Testimony.jpeg
Posted at 6:44 PM, Dec 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-09 12:01:38-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — "It may seem strange, but I'm from Alabama."

That's how Nashville Judge Kelvin Jones defended testimony in his own divorce case that he buried $100,000 cash to hide it from the state and from creditors.

"We keep money in mattresses, Mason jars and other places — particularly when you don't get a significant rate of returns from my banks," Jones said Wednesday.

That came as Jones, who asking Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to appoint him to the Tennessee Supreme Court, faced serious questions Wednesday from a panel appointed by the governor to interview the applicants and recommend three finalists.

Jones' admissions in the divorce case now has him facing a criminal investigation that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation describes as "active" and "on-going."

The panel began the day by hearing from the Nashville attorney whose complaint sparked the investigation of Judge Jones.

"You've got an impressive slate of candidates before you. Judge Jones is not one of them," Brian Manookian said.

As Jones watched, Manookian didn't mince words.

"He is uniquely unqualified to hold a position of public trust, and I urge you to reject his application."

Under questioning by a member of the governor's panel, Judge Jones admitted he got into his now-ex-wife's work email and forwarded emails between her and a lawyer to his own account.

He admitted he impersonated a man he believed might be his wife's lover to get that man's receipt from a hotel.

And he admitted to his deposition testimony that he had buried $100,000 outside his master bedroom when he was dealing with a bank's effort to recoup money from a failed hotel venture.

The judge had testified, "You don't want to have a lot of cash in accounts because the state at some point, if you're going to owe a bill for your hotel, can come in and garnish your account."

Asked about that testimony, Jones was nonchalant.

"Sure," he said, "it's my money."

"I'm not apologetic about how I save my money, where I store my money, or how I use my money."

When the interview was over, Judge Jones refused to say whether his conduct reflects the conduct that Tennesseans expect in a judge.

"I don't have any comment," he told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

We asked, "Are you concerned that you may have put yourself in legal jeopardy with your admissions?"

"I don't have a comment."

The panel heard from five applicants Wednesday, and they'll hear from four more tomorrow.

Then, they'll send the governor three names from which he will likely appoint the state's next Supreme Court justice.

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