Will the Tennessee Legislature Take Judicial Corruption Seriously?

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by Heather Russell Wilder

The Tennessee General Assembly is limited to 90 official legislative days per two-year term, but each part-time legislator makes over $19,000 annually. Are they earning it?

(Feb. 20, 2012) — Editor’s Note: The Post & Email had published an initial report on the case of Heather Wilder and her three minor sons, all of whom had been abused by Wilder’s now ex-husband over several years.  After a visit to his father and his parents during the summer of 2009, her oldest son suffered a permanent brain injury and has testified before the Joint Subcommittee of Government Operations on November 15, 2011.

Ms. Wilder has sent the letter below to the following members of the Tennessee legislature, which is debating how to reform the Court of the Judiciary, whose responsibility it is to provide oversight and discipline of judges accused of misconduct:

sen.mae.beavers@capitol.tn.gov; Sen.Doug.Overbey@capitol.tn.gov; sen.mike.bell@capitol.tn.gov; sen.tim.barnes@capitol.tn.gov; sen.stacey.campfield@capitol.tn.gov; sen.ophelia.ford@capitol.tn.gov; sen.brian.kelsey@capitol.tn.gov; sen.ken.yager@capital.tn.gov; rep.eric.watson@capitol.tn.gov; rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov; rep.vance.dennis@capitol.tn.gov; rep.eddie.bass@capitol.tn.gov; rep.karen.camper@capitol.tn.gov; rep.linda.elam@capitol.tn.gov; rep.jeremy.faison@capitol.tn.gov; rep.jim.gotto@capitol.tn.gov; rep.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov; rep.debra.maggart@capitol.tn.gov; rep.judd.matheny@capitol.tn.gov; rep.gary.moore@capitol.tn.gov; rep.barrett.rich@capitol.tn.gov; rep.janis.sontany@capitol.tn.gov; rep.mike.stewart@capitol.tn.gov; rep.rick.womick@capitol.tn.gov

Cc: rep.tony.shipley@capitol.tn.gov; ElroyJ@knoxnews.com; Sharon Rondeau (editor@thepostemail.com); rep.mike.kernell@capitol.tn.gov; rep.mike.turner@capitol.tn.gov; Callan Wilkerson (Callan.Wilkerson@capitol.tn.gov)

Ms. Wilder has also launched a petition to remove Judge William Swann from the bench.

Her letter reads:

February 19, 2012

Dear Senate and House Judiciary Members,

My name is Heather Russell Wilder and I am writing you today, asking for your support in voting for SB 1088/HB 1198 and voting against SB 2671/HB293​5. The Court of the Judiciary has continually failed in their duties to prevent unethical judges from breaking the law and have enabled them to do so without any fear of punishment for their actions. They do not take seriously complaints against judges that stem from domestic cases (IE: divorce, custody, child support matters). Below is a comment that current Presiding TCOJ Judge Chris Craft has made publicly;

Craft, who also is a Criminal Court judge in Memphis, defended the COJ during the proceedings. He said many of the complaints legislators heard — and the vast majority of all complaints received by COJ — are simply from people angry over losing in court.

“Most of them, frankly, are not being truthful about the facts,” he said in an interview.

See Knoxville News Sentinel article:http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/oct/01/tennessee-legislators-want-more-judges-misdeeds/

The Court of the Judiciary has failed to reign in or publicly reprimand, unethical judges. One example of this is Knox County Fourth Circuit Court Judge William “Bill” Swann. The Court of the Judiciary has failed to publicly, if at all, censor Judge Swann, despite known complaints dating back to early 1990′s which clearly show a pattern of Judge Swann abusing his position; not to mention that Judge Swann, himself, failed to pay his own child support to one of his ex-wives while he has been said judge of the Fourth Circuit Court. The TCOJ continues to ignore both complaints by myself and others against Judge Swann. Below is the link for complaints filed with the TCOJ against Judge Swann Russell Egli (Pamela Beeler Case) dated July 2011, Wendy Rose-Egli dated July 2009, and my complaint and COTJ response dated Oct/Nov 2010:


Additionally, I testified before the Senate judiciary committee in October 2010 and again in a joint subcommittee hearing in November 2011; my thirteen year-old-son Russell also testified about what happened to him as a result of the unethical and corrupt behavior by Judge Swann during my divorce proceedings. Below is the link to our testimonies:


I start speaking at 1:00:42 and Russell follows from 1:11:10-1:21:08.When my son goes silent, it was because he forgot what he was saying (like he does at school and home) which has been an ongoing problem related to his brain injury, since returning home from the 2009 unsupervised visitation with his father where he and his two younger brothers were physically and mentally abused by either (or both) their father, Joseph Wilder and paternal grandparents, John “Shelton” Wilder, Jr and Judith White Wilder. It is also pretty convincing evidence of his disabilities resulting from the brain injury once you understand why he stopped; that it was not for dramatic effect, rather, because his brain functions differently now.

Despite both Mr. Craft and Timothy Discenza being in the room, literally sitting right behind my son and I, what have they done regarding this judges behavior? Not a damn thing. This is despite the fact that, in addition to my written complaint(s), under Rule 5: Complaints & Response, Section 2, Mr Craft and Mr. Discenza had the authority to investigate Judge Swann based on our testimony alone. Rule 5 states that the “Disciplinary Counsel is authorized to investigate anonymous complaints or information coming from sources other than a written complaint, provided Disciplinary Counsel deems the information sufficiently credible or verifiable through objective sources.” Yet, the TCOJ still failed to investigate Judge Swann. See http://www.tncourts.gov/rules/court-judiciary/5.

I have since refilled another complaint against Judge Swann and Judge Wheeler Rosenbalm for their actions in my divorce case from February 2011 until September 2011. I have attached those above. Yesterday I received another dismissal from TCOJ Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, Patrick McHale, regarding the complaint against Swann (only). I will forward my response and request for appeal over the matter to you in a separate email, however, his decision, again with no specific reasoning was that my complaint did not hold “allegations of specific facts that would cause a reasonable person to believe that there is a substantial probability that the judge has committed judicial misconduct” as allowed under T.C.A. 17-5-304. He does appear to suggest that because the Tennessee Court of Appeals simply reaffirmed Judge Swann’s decision (IE:ignoring the matters of fraudulently obtained and incorrect child support order and referring a custody matter, not suited for mediation under Tennessee law, to mediation, two weeks prior to the hearing date) that I cannot file against him for the unethical manner which he conducted his court; not to mention that I will be appealing the decision because their ruling was simply based on the fact that my former attorney “agreed”, without my consent, to a portion of the issue before the appellate court. The Court of Appeals no where stated that the Defendant, his attorney and apparently my former counsel, DID NOT commit fraud upon the child support magistrate, nor did they actually address Swann’s behavior or complete disregard of Tennessee laws concerning child support documentation. It now appears that TCOJ is basing their investigation of my complaints from how the case is “legally” been addressed by the judge in question, rather than how the judge “ethically” behaved; which directly goes against Mr. Craft’s statement, also in the same article I mentioned above, in which he was quoted as saying,

And others, perhaps including some legislators, stem from confusion about the COJ’s role, Craft said.

“The court cannot deal with legal questions, only with ethical violations,” he stressed.

Apparently, Mr. Craft  and the other members of the TCOJ must believe that they are the only “reasonable” people in the state of Tennessee, because they are dismissing complaints left and right that other “reasonable” citizens in Tennessee, including many of you and myself, feel are violations of the Judicial Code of conduct. I have included below a link to an article written about my case and the harm that has come to my family as a result of the corruption and illegal conduct by Judge Swann.

I implore each of you to again vote to reform the TCOJ. Currently, we have judges and attorneys overseeing the complaint and discipline process. Senator Beavers bill SB 1088 (HB1198) seeks to reform part of the problem, however,  SB 2671/HB293​5 seeks to simply just re-name the TCOJ, as the bill proposes having 16 members, 10 of whom would be acting judges and 6 members of the public (with 3 being acting attorneys); which is exactly how the TCOJ is currently set up! How is replacing it with the same type of members who already are serving going to fix the problem? It won’t. It is merely meant to put a new paint job over an old problem so that the public thinks something changed.

If you want to change it I would suggest following a committee similar to the one that the state of Alaska does; the same ratio of judges to lawyers to common citizens. I would ask you to even go one step further and prove to the citizens of Tennessee that complaints on judges are going to be reviewed by a panel  with 50% (or more) of its members being chosen from non-judicial or attorney citizenry and the remaining 50% being divided between former  judges and licensed attorneys; for example a panel of 16 members, would have 10 members being non-attorneys, 3 members being former (and in good standing) judges and 3 members who are  licensed attorney with each of those being from each grand division of the state.

The 10 members would be chosen from citizens who submit applications for the positions.  That is what I would like to see, as a citizen who votes.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Heather Russell Wilder

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