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Hawkins sessions judge offers to fill juvenile judge's seat during suspension

Jeff Bobo • Dec 16, 2017 at 11:30 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The complicated matter of appointing an interim replacement when Hawkins County Juvenile Judge Daniel Boyd’s 120 day law license suspension takes effect might be simplified by an offer from the judge in the courtroom next door. 

Last week the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility approved the suspension due to Boyd’s admitted “dishonesty” in his private law practice.

TBPR Chief Disciplinary Counsel Sandy Garrett told the Times News Friday that the next step in the process will be for the board to submit a proposed Order of Enforcement to the Tennessee Supreme Court for its review and approval.

Garrett said that will take at least a week or two, but assuming the court upholds Boyd’s guilty plea agreement, the 120 day law license suspension and three years of probation will commence immediately.

Historically, the Tennessee Supreme Court doesn’t reduce or vacate TBPR-approved disciplinary action. Garrett said that if the court does change a TBPR disciplinary agreement, it’s generally to impose more serious penalties.

Garrett cited two recent examples: One was a case where a Davidson County lawyer who failed to file a criminal appeal for a client for three years had a public censure increased to a six month suspension. The other was a Knox County attorney who had an affair with a court-appointed client and had a 30 day suspension increased to one year.

Boyd agreed to the 120 day suspension and three years of probation as part of a plea agreement with the TBPR disciplinary board in September after being accused of violating three Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct. 

Who is going to fill in while Boyd’s law license is suspended?

Boyd cannot serve on the bench while his law license is suspended.

Hawkins County Sessions Judge J. Todd Ross sent the county mayor’s office a letter offering to take over Boyd’s Juvenile Court docket during the suspension.

Hawkins County Attorney Jim Phillips told the Times News Friday that the county commission has the responsibility of appointing a temporary replacement for Boyd.

But the timing of the suspension complicates that procedure. The commission’s next regular monthly meeting is Monday at 7 p.m., after which the panel won’t meet in regular session again until Jan. 22.

In order for commissioners to appoint a replacement judge, the seat must first be vacant, which probably won’t be the case on Monday. “Sufficient public notice” must also be given before the commission makes the appointment.

If the suspension doesn’t take effect in time for sufficient public notice to be given next month, the appointment couldn’t take place at the Jan. 22 commission meeting either.

“The question would be whether or not they (the commission) want to make an appointment if Judge Ross is saying he’ll take over those cases,” Phillips said. “I don’t know how that’s going to pan out, but by the time the commission got an interim appointed, there would probably be half, or a little more than half, of the suspension time left before he (Boyd) comes back to the bench. The earliest we could do it would be January if the vacancy has occurred, and that’s only if we have time to give the required notice.”

Phillips added, “By interchange, or maybe even by some type of designation from the Supreme Court, Judge Ross could hear the cases temporarily until the commission decides what it wants to do.”

By statute, the commission has 120 days to appoint an interim judge.

“If we wait the entire 120 days, obviously we won’t need to do it,” Phillips added.

Phillips said the most likely scenario would be for the commission to take Ross up on his offer, at least until the Jan. 22 meeting.

What did Judge Boyd do?

A complaint was filed against Boyd last year by the children of an elderly widow who suffers from dementia and was seeking a claim from the will of her late husband, who had children from a previous marriage. In September 2010, Boyd agreed to represent the widow by filing a petition for her late husband’s elective share.

Over the course of the next five years, Boyd reportedly lied to her and her children on multiple occasions, stating that the petition for elective share had been filed and was progressing normally.

Instead, it was never filed. In addition, the time period during which it could be filed expired and the widow became ineligible to continue seeking her claim.

Boyd also allegedly lied about court dates being rescheduled; he falsely blamed delays on the step-sons for retaining an attorney, and he falsely stated that two of three stepsons had “signed the house over to her” and that the signed paperwork was on Chancellor Doug Jenkins’ desk for him to sign.

Boyd told the county commission’s budget committee in May that his caseload had reached the level where he now works every day to some extent on Juvenile Court issues, despite the fact that the position is paid for only two days per week.

Boyd’s defense in the TBPR complaint was that his time was consumed by his juvenile judge duties, resulting in his private practice being neglected.

Boyd told the budget committee that at some point the commission should consider creating another full-time judge position, with that judge covering both sessions and juvenile cases.

Should Judge Boyd be impeached?

State Rep. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville) doesn’t think so.

Boyd, who has been Hawkins County’s juvenile judge since 2011, agreed in September to plead guilty to violating three Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct pertaining to his private law practice: diligence, truthfulness in statements to others and misconduct.

Although the TBPR polices Tennessee attorneys, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct (TBJC) polices judges.

However, the TBJC has no power to remove an elected judge. The only body with that authority is the Tennessee General Assembly through the impeachment process. The worst penalty that the TBJC can impose is a public sanction, although it can recommend that the General Assembly take further action, such as impeachment.

“After considering the facts of the case and listening to input from constituents, I have no plans to seek or request further penalties or sanctions against Judge Daniel Boyd at this time,” Hicks told the Times News Friday. “I have complete faith that the Board of Judicial Conduct and the Court of Judiciary, the governing bodies which act on complaints against judges, will impose the proper course of disciplinary action against Judge Boyd.”

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