Job Created 'As Favor' To Boost DA's Pension

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Officials with an agency responsible for assisting Tennessee prosecutors created a state job for Nashville's district attorney last year to help him boost his pension, NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered.

Still, it's unclear how much work Glenn Funk actually performed to get that benefit from taxpayers.

Amid the pomp and circumstances of Funk's swearing in just before Labor Day, few realized that, for two months, the new DA had been playing both sides, serving as a defense lawyer and getting paid as a state prosecutor -- all part of that plan to help him increase his state pension.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Funk, "Is that gaming the system?"

"I don't think it's gaming the system," he answered, "to work within the system and take advantage of the way the system is written in a way that maximizes your potential benefits."

Tea party activist Ben Cunningham saw it differently.

"It appears as though somebody is giving somebody else special favors," Cunningham told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

The veteran defense attorney won the Democratic primary last May, and he faced no opposition in the August general election.

His term as DA began September 1st.

That was two months after the state switched to a new pension plan that required new employees to contribute more toward their retirements.

"The taxpayers, through our elected representatives, decided that the pension system was not sustainable the way it was structured. So we changed it," Cunningham said. "He (Funk) basically went back and said, no, I want the old system."

Funk admitted that he first went to then-DA Torry Johnson and asked if he would resign early -- so that Funk could take office under the old pension system.

Johnson said "no."

"Certainly, [that's] no problem," Funk said. "That's his perogative. That was the job he was elected to do."

So he turned to Wally Kirby. Kirby heads the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference -- an agency that provides support to the state's DAs.

Just a week before the deadline, on June 23rd, Kirby put Funk on the state payroll as a part-time district attorney general pro-tem -- in other words, a special prosecutor.

"I explained the situation to the conference. The conference said, 'Why don't we put you on as a district attorney pro tem,'" Funk recalled.

"As a favor?" we asked.

"Sure, as a favor," Funk acknowledged, "and they expected me to do some work -- and I did it."

 

 

Ben Cunningham's reaction: "He sought special treatment immediately -- and that's the real scary part here."

Funk said that he got paid $2,000 a month "and that qualified me to be in the state pension system as of June."

During that two months before he took office, Funk said that he got assigned just one case out of Rutherford County to review.

He didn't have to report the hours he worked.

And when he became DA, he got to hand the case off to a career prosecutor in another office.

"The District Attorneys Conference found a way to do that, so we did it," Funk said.

"Found a way to help you get the good pension?"

"Get the better pension, yeah."

"Is that gaming the system?"

"It's working within the system."

Yet, our investigation discovered that the District Attorneys General Conference already had an attorney on staff to handle those kinds of cases.

Wally Kirby first said that he needed Funk because that attorney, Brooke Orgain, had already submitted her resignation and was on her way out.

 

 

But Orgain told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that's wasn't true.

She did not submit her resignation until sometime in September, she said. In fact, Orgain said that no one ever told her that Funk had been hired to help around the office.

Kirby, by email, amended his claim to say that he believed that Orgain was "likely leaving" when he put Funk on the payroll.

Still, a few weeks after Funk went on the state payroll, our cameras had spotted him in a Davidson County courtroom defending a suspect in a criminal case -- and he admitted he was still accepting new cases as a defense attorney while he waited to take office.

"I am accepting cases if it's a case that my evaluation is going to be able to be concluded prior to September 1st," he said in July 2014.

That's despite a state law that makes it illegal for even part-time employees of the DA's conference to work defending criminal suspects.

 

 

The veteran lawyer told NewsChannel 5 he wasn't aware of any such prohibition.

"If I'm given a job and I do it, I don't understand really what the real issue is," he said.

But Ben Cunningham said that the issue is that "he saw the law as something to go around, to get around, to use for his own benefit -- rather than saying I'm going to apply the law to myself the same way I would apply it to everybody else."

Still, Funk insisted he was just using the rules, as he thought they were written, to his own advantage.

"Nothing I did that was anything other than completely upfront and above board."

So how much did Glenn Funk really work on that special prosecution case in the week before the new pension took effect -- or over the next two months that he was on the payroll earning more than $4,000?

NewsChannel 5 could not determine that because -- unlike most other part-time state employees -- he wasn't required to turn in a time card.

That case is now assigned to District Attorney General Kim Helper of Franklin.

It is not clear why that case could not have been assigned to her initially -- instead of creating a state job for Funk.

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