Judge's Relationships With Local Attorneys Questioned

Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 09, 2017

Judge Casey Moreland went on vacations and had access to the local condominium of attorneys who practiced in his court.

A University of Tennessee Law Professor told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Moreland's close relationship with those attorneys raises red flags about his impartiality.

When Moreland went on a weekend fishing trip to the Gulf Coast last year, he and attorney Larry Hayes drove down in Hayes' car, and stayed in Hayes' condo.?

Moreland then flew back in the private plane of attorney Bryan Lewis according to interviews given to police in a later investigation.

Professor Alex Long who is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Tennessee Law School said the weekend trip raises concerns because it involves at least one attorney who has cases before Moreland.

"Under the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are prohibited from receiving substantial gifts," Professor Long said.

"The more vacations they go on together the more elaborate the relationship is, that could reasonably raise a question about the judge's impartiality," Long continued.

Court dockets show Bryan Lewis has appeared before Moreland and he does not recuse himself.

Attorney Larry Hayes is a partner in Lewis's firm.

Lewis and Moreland have been on other trips together like one to Costa Rica. 

Lewis said Moreland has always paid his own way on the trips, and they have the documentation to prove it.

Long says even if Moreland is paying, it raises red flags.

"If the judge's impartiality could reasonably be questioned that just calls into question the legal system," Long said.

The Gulf Coast trip came to light during last year's police investigation into the death of Leigh Terry.

Terry and two other women were on that Gulf Coast trip.

They all flew down on Attorney Bryan Lewis' private plane.

Police determined Terry committed suicide days after returning from the trip.

When police interviewed Natalie Amos, who was also on the trip, she was reluctant to reveal Moreland was there.

A Metro Police detective asked Amos during a recorded interview, "I know you don't want to mention somebody, but I just need to know who we are talking about."

Amos responded, "Casey Moreland."

The Detective said, "OK."

Thousands of texts between Moreland and Amos obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates shed light on Moreland's relationship with at least one other attorney.

Amos told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Moreland suggested they meet at the condo of local attorney Sean McKinney, in order to conceal their relationship from Moreland's wife.

In a text last July, Amos asked "I can imagine (your wife) has you on a super tight leash at the moment."

Moreland responded, "I have Sean's condo in the Gulch all week."

Property records show McKinney owns a condo in the ICON.

A Facebook photo shows McKinney was in Peru in July of last year.

When we asked McKinney if he was letting the Judge use his condo so he could meet with his mistress, McKinney strongly denied it.

He questioned why he would even hang out with Moreland who is in his 60s.

McKinney said he is much younger -- in his 30s.

But the texts show that's exactly what they did.

Moreland texted Amos on a Saturday in June last year and asked her to meet him at Bar Louie in the Gulch.

He then asked Amos to bring a friend for "Sean" whom he described as a "30 something attorney" and "my travel partner."

Moreland promised, "We buy the drinks"

Two days after they were drinking at Bar Louis, McKinney was back in Moreland's court on three separate cases.

NewsChannel 5 has discovered that Judge Moreland routinely appointed McKinney to represent indigent defendants in his court.?

In the past two years, McKinney has earned more than $50,000 of taxpayer money from cases that Moreland assigned to him, more than any other attorney.

"The very first rule in the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct is the judge is supposed to act at all times in a manner that preserves the integrity and impartiality of the court," Professor Long said.

Long said Judges and Attorneys can be friends but they cannot act in a way that raises questions about whether the judge might be biased.?

We had additional questions for McKinney.

But he threatened our producer with criminal charges if we contacted him again.

Related stories and documents:
NC5 Investigates: Disorder in the Court