Tennessee Appellate Court Judge Recuses Himself from Case

AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF INVOLVEMENT

by Sharon Rondeau

(Jul. 21, 2012) — On July 9, 2012, Rocky Joe Houston, who has been fighting corruption in Roane County, TN since 2004, filed a motion asking an appellate judge to recuse himself from a case brought against Houston for allegedly committing five felonies involving a motor vehicle in 2004.  The judge is D. Kelly Thomas.

On July 20, Houston told us, “It’s rare.  But he just signed the order, and I’ll read it to you:

The pro se defendant’s motion to recuse is granted.  The undersigned, Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr. will not participate in the above case.

“It’s criminal case #13226, State of Tennessee v. Rocky  Houston, and the appellate court number is E2011-1855.”

Houston said that motions had been filed in criminal court asking Judge Thomas to recuse himself beginning in 2003 which were denied.  “Now, years later, after he was appointed by the governor as an appellate judge, guess what he’s doin’?  Signin’ an order of recusal,” said Houston.

Regarding the charges from eight years ago, Houston stated that his truck was “flipped on the highway” after he had “issued 72 federal court subpoenas exposing public corruption and organized crime in the Eastern District federal court in Knoxville” on August 25, 2004.  “Then on August 26, in an attempt to murder a federal and state witness, state and city officers flipped Rocky Houston’s vehicle down the highway.  This case now is eight years old, and Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr. has been using his political influence on the appellate court against my family since 2006, when he was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen.  He has just today signed an order of recusal.”

Following the vehicular incident, Houston was charged with five felonies and later convicted on two.

Houston believes that the judge was involved in the alleged attempt to murder him.  “He just responded today to the facts I had with this motion of recusal,” Houston told us.  “He didn’t argue none of the facts, you know what I mean?” Houston said.

On January 12, 2012, Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark approved a change to the Code of Judicial Conduct which was finalized last month and placed into effect on July 1.  Changes to Rule 10 included:

Rule 2.4 External Influences on Judicial Conduct

(A) A judge shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism.

(B) A judge shall not permit family, social, political, financial, or other interests or relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.

(C) A judge shall not convey or permit others to convey the impression that any person or organization is in a position to influence the judge.

In defining the term “law,” the new Code of Judicial Conduct contends:

“Law” encompasses court rules as well as statutes, constitutional provisions, rules and regulations, and decisional law. See RJCs 1.1, 2.1, 2.2, 2.6, 2.7, 2.9, 3.1, 3.4, 3.9, 3.12, 3.13, 3.14, 3.15, 4.1, 4.2, 4.4, and 4.5.

Houston believes that the change in the Code influenced Judge Thomas’s decision to recuse himself.  “It’s rare when an appellate judge or Supreme Court justice even gets in that situation to be asked to recuse himself,” Houston said.

When The Post & Email asked Houston if his efforts and those of his brother, Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III and others to expose judicial corruption in Tennessee have made a difference, he replied, “Absolutely.”

Houston told us that the recusal of Thomas will also involve Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, as Blackwood presided at Houston’s trial on the vehicular charges.  According to Houston, Blackwood had denied “multiple motions by three different attorneys, and kept denying ’em.”

In 1984, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law ordering the trial courts to form districts comprising several counties in most cases.  However, the conversion to the new system never took place, and county courts are still convening grand juries which issue indictments and holding criminal trials without selecting jurors from the district, as directed by TCA 16-2-510.  The Tennessee judiciary functions according to its own set of “rules” and “law” as stated above, which has been attested to by a practicing Tennessee attorney whose eligibility case has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Houston said that Atty. Randy Rogers “stole” $75,000 which Houston paid Rogers to represent him.  According to Houston, Houston told Blackwood in court of the allegation but Blackwood “did not care.”  Houston said he has a written transcript of the hearing which contains the judge’s statement.  “These people have some serious legal issues down here, and it’s startin’ to come out,” he said.

Blackwood was reported by local media to have “scolded” Houston after he asked for a new trial following the conviction on the two charges and accused Houston of lacking “courage.”

Blackwood has defied orders of the Tennessee Supreme Court and refused to recuse himself in a high-profile case which he ordered to be retried because the judge who had presided over the trial had been proven to have had a drug problem.  That former judge is now the subject of a federal investigation after he stepped down from the bench last year and was disbarred by the state Supreme Court.  Blackwood granted “judicial diversion” to Baumgartner but has reportedly rethought his decision after “the full scope of Baumgartner’s misdeeds” became public.

Houston said that on June 27, 2012, Judge Thomas granted an extension of time to the state’s attorney to “file a late brief” because the state had missed its deadlines.  “He’s recused himself today.  Do you see the shape that puts the state in?  An extension of time was granted to the state by a judge who has admitted to a conflict of interest by his recusal. He should never have granted this extension of time, and the criminal case should have gone away.”

The Post & Email related the discovery of Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III regarding the 1984 laws regarding the trial courts.   Houston responded, “It’s deadly, that game is, ma’am.  It’s treason.”

Houston said the signs he and his brother placed on the front of their property in April are still there and described at “stoppin’ traffic.”  There are now a total of seven.  “We’re gettin’ ready to hang another one up,” he said.  “People are comin’ from surroundin’ states takin’ pictures.”

“Me and my brother are for real; we’re pro-America; we love our country.  We are pro-American, but we are anti-public corruption,” Houston said.  “It takes all of the citizens reportin’ it.”

“This case is getting ready to get real interesting, ma’am,” Houston said.

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