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Hawkins judge takes Fifth in response to board's charges

April 2nd, 2012 10:56 pm by Jeff Bobo

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Sessions Judge James “Jay” Taylor “took the Fifth” once again Monday in response to several charges filed against him by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR).

On Feb. 13, the BPR filed five charges against Taylor — four of which pertain to allegations of theft against clients in his private practice.

The other charge pertains to allegations of “misappropriation” of monetary donations gathered by Taylor for the purpose of installing a display of historic documents at the new Hawkins County Justice Center lobby, including a Ten Commandments plaque.

On Monday, Taylor filed his response to those charges stating he “has been advised by counsel to assert and invoke, and hereby does respectfully assert and invoke his privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

A hearing will now be scheduled, and Taylor faces disciplinary action from the BPR ranging from public censure to disbarment.

The BPR charges are separate from four charges filed against Taylor in January by the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary (COJ), which polices sitting judges.

Taylor is scheduled to stand trial in Rogersville April 25 on the COJ charges accusing him of stealing from a client, filing fraudulent payment claims with the state, and misappropriating contributions intended for the Justice Center lobby display.

In an official response to those charges filed last month with the COJ, Taylor took the Fifth as well.

He faces disciplinary action from the COJ ranging from public reprimand to suspension with pay. The COJ can also recommend to the Tennessee General Assembly that it remove Taylor from the bench.

BRP chief disciplinary counsel Nancy Jones told the Times-News Monday that three attorneys from East Tennessee will be selected at random to serve as Taylor’s judge panel in an upcoming disciplinary hearing.

She said the panel should be selected by the end of this week, at which time some pretrial hearing will be set, followed by Taylor’s disciplinary hearing, which will be open to the public.

BPR senior litigation counsel Sandy Garrett will prosecute the charges on behalf of the BPR.

In his response to the BPR charges, Taylor also denies that disciplinary action should be taken against him or that aggravating circumstances listed in the BPR complaint be considered.

The 20-page BPR complaint filed Feb. 13 describes in grueling detail allegations of theft from clients including a mentally challenged woman.

Among the aggravating factors alleged in that complaint which the BPR claims would justify an increased degree of punishment are:

• “Taylor’s dishonest and selfish motives.”

• “Taylor’s substantial experience in the practice of law, having been licensed in Tennessee since 1997.”

• “Taylor’s pattern of misconduct.”

• “Taylor’s multiple offenses.”

• “Taylor’s submission of false statements during the disciplinary process.”

• “The vulnerability of Taylor’s victims.”

• “Taylor’s prior discipline, including in part a public censure on April 10, 2006.”

Taylor continues to serve as Hawkins County sessions judge, although he was defeated in the March 6 Republican primary for that seat and would leave the bench at the end of August without any disciplinary action.

Taylor is also named in numerous civil lawsuits regarding allegations of wrongdoing in his private practice.

And he is the subject of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into allegations of bribery preceding his appointment to the sessions judge seat last year by the Hawkins County Commission.

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