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MEMBERS OF LEGISLATURE AND “THE GODFATHER” WORK TOGETHER TO KEEP CRIMINAL JUDGES IN POWER
by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 6, 2012) — A Tennessee mother who lost custody of both of her young daughters because of two vindictive fathers and two juvenile court judges has regained full custody of her older daughter, Jozie, in a development for which the mother, Karen Caldwell, said she is “thanking God.”
Early in 2010, Caldwell had planned to file for divorce from her husband, Tim, after she had caught him selling drugs out of their home. In a retaliatory move, her husband quickly filed for divorce first, then took their child, who was barely a toddler at the time, to live with his parents and him, preventing Karen from seeing her. Caldwell later discovered that her husband had been charged three times for DUI after the third such charge landed him in jail. However, Tim was given full custody of Andi Faye by Judge Roger A. Page, who in December was promoted to a position on the Tennessee Court of Appeals by Gov. Bill Haslam.
At the same time, after Caldwell had asked her older daughter’s father, John, to care for Jozie for a short time while she made arrangements for the divorce, John refused to return the child to her mother. Caldwell filed a petition in Madison County Juvenile Court to regain custody of Jozie in February 2010, but the case was not heard until July 13.
Judge Christy Little awarded full custody of Jozie to her father in what appeared to be a retaliatory move after Caldwell sued another judge for procedural misconduct related to her divorce. Little had defied the Tennessee statute which mandates that custody go to the mother if the child is born out of wedlock, which was the case with Jozie. During the hearing, Little told Caldwell, “…You need to sit down and be real quiet, because you’re bein’ real close to practicing law here…you don’t want to mess with me; I’m the judge.” Little continues to sit on the Board of Judicial Conduct created by the Tennessee General Assembly during its 2012 session to replace the Court of the Judiciary. The Board of Judicial Conduct had been lobbied for by Tennessee judges.
Little further signed an order prohibiting Karen and her boyfriend from visiting Jozie at school, where they would have lunch together after an hour-long drive for Caldwell. Although many witnesses testified at the custody hearings as to Karen’s competence as a mother, she was not only denied custody of both of her children, but Judge Page ordered her to take anger management classes, an order which Judge Walter C. Kurtz kept in place classes which two licensed psychologists said she did not need. Kurtz is the presiding judge in a case against LCDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, the next hearing for which is scheduled for October 3, 2012.
A “Summary of Judicial Conduct in Tennessee” reveals that a very small percentage of judges against whom complaints are filed are ever disciplined, and it is extremely rare for a judge to be removed from the bench. Former Judge Richard Baumgartner was forced to resign but will still receive his taxpayer-funded pension after admitting to having acted in his capacity as a judge under the influence of drugs and other misconduct. The Post & Email has learned that although the judicial and legislative branches of Tennessee have always experienced a rivalry, some members of the legislature are actually facilitating judicial misconduct to continue based on campaign donations or outright threats.
Caldwell had had “high hopes” that members of the Tennessee General Assembly would impeach the three judges who she accused of misconduct. She had attempted to take her evidence against the judges to a grand jury but had been blocked by District Attorney Jerry Woodall, who had promised a TBI investigation. However, Special Agent John Mehr, who just retired on August 31, told Caldwell at the time that no investigation had been initiated. Mehr is quoted as having said regarding his upcoming retirement, “It’s been a good career.”
The TBI has assumed partial responsibility for an investigation into allegations of public corruption within the Tenth Judicial District, which encompasses Monroe, Polk, McMinn and Bradley Counties.
Despite what she has experienced, Caldwell was the inspiration for another Tennessee mother who contacted us regarding a judge’s visitation decision which resulted in abuse and a tragic brain injury to her eldest son at the hands of his father. Caldwell’s estranged husband, who was awarded custody of Andi Faye, was “required” to report for monthly drug testing but never did so.
On September 4, Karen reported that she has had Jozie back for a week, during which the girl celebrated her birthday. Caldwell lives in Jackson, which is located in Madison County, TN.
Karen had testified to the House Judiciary Committee in Nashville on February 14 of this year in the hope that the legislature would take action against activist judges in Tennessee based on her experiences.
Initially, Rep. Jim Coley had indicated indignantly after viewing the video of the court proceedings involving Judge Little that he would subpoena her and the custody file. However, following her testimony, legislators who had promised assistance to Caldwell changed their stance. One of them was Rep. Rick Womick, who after originally voicing his concern and support, told Caldwell that Little had shown “impeccable patience” with her. “I almost fell out of my chair,” Caldwell told us. “He was the one who said, ‘You’ve got my support, you’ve got my vote…'”
The Post & Email had spoken with Womick once about judicial corruption, at which time he had explained that a law passed by a previous session of the legislature had established a system by which trial judges in Tennessee are either re-elected by the people or replaced by the governor’s appointee. Womick had said that he and several associates wished to repeal that law so that the people would have more say as to who their judges would be.
Following Karen’s testimony, all fell quiet with the legislature, and an inquiry from The Post & Email to Rep. Jim Coley, who had stated that he would subpoena the child custody file to examine Judge Little’s ruling, went unanswered.
Caldwell called Coley’s office immediately after Womick changed his stance. Caldwell had been in close contact with Coley’s office and that his assistant, Stephanie, had even “driven down” from Nashville to Jackson, in Madison County, where Caldwell lives, to deliver documents to her. Caldwell reported that Stephanie had said that others had come forward to complain about Judge Little because she was often late to court. “People are coming in and complaining about her left and right,” Caldwell said Stephanie told her.
About two weeks after she contacted Coley’s office, an area attorney walked in to her place of business and asked her, “Things are starting to turn. Haven’t you heard?” Unsure of what the man meant, Caldwell asked, “Haven’t heard what?” and the lawyer said, “Christy just took everybody in Juvenile Court at the end of last week and told them that she knew that somebody in here had been working with Karen Caldwell and she was going to find out who it was, and when she found out who it was, some heads were gonna roll.” “She rounded up everybody who worked there and told them that she knew someone was talking to me and the legislature, and then she proceeded to go upstairs and cuss out her secretary who had been with her for years. She told her she wasn’t protecting her enough,” Caldwell said.
Instead of being intimidated, Caldwell was told that the secretary said to Little, “You are wrong; I’m not protecting her anymore. You can take this job and shove it.” Caldwell said that the secretary now will not speak to Caldwell.
“Before that secretary laid her head on her pillow that night, the Madison County Sheriff was out at her house demanding all of her keys. “Our sheriff has been pulling Kristy Little out of ditches for a long time,” Caldwell said. “He likes people to owe him favors and have dirt on people so that they can’t ever say anything about him.”
Caldwell said that when the lawyer told her what Little had done, she “just crumbled.” He went on to say, “I haven’t even told you the worst of it. She told everybody that that whoever was talking to you and the General Assembly better shut his mouth because she would have “The Godfather” take care of it,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell knows who “The Godfather” is. In fact, she has met with him face-to-face. She told us that he is a former Tennessee legislator and big donor to Republican causes to the level where she believes the current U.S. congressman was elected because of his activity. “This person has pictures of himself with George W. Bush, and it’s not the kind of picture where two men are shaking hands,” Caldwell said. She further told us:
Kristy Little bumped into The Godfather at the Reagan Day Dinner and told him about me and asked if he still had “pull” in the legislature. “These legislators are calling down here to my office” about my case and others. They were. Jim Coley’s office told me that they were going to impeach her if all this came out. They didn’t expect her to be protected; they were just going to let her go. I don’t think “The Godfather” had a clue about what was going on with Kristy Little. He then turned around and called Rep. Barrett Rich, a representative on the Judiciary Committee. If you look at his campaign contributions, The Godfather is listed as a donor. He can call up anybody he wants and say, “Do this for me.” He told Barrett Rich, “We have more problems with finance and budget, and you’re down here messing with our judges. We have good judges; leave them alone.” It was a ten-second phone call. So Kristy proceeded to go to Juvenile Court the next week saying that The Godfather was going to fix things, and nobody better be talking to me or the legislature or anybody else. “This is all gone, and leave it alone,” Little said. “The dogs have been called off.”
That was the truth. For the next week, I called and called and called; I called Rep. Coley, and nobody would answer my calls. Finally, about a week later, I got a call on my cell phone at about 9:00 at night from Rep. Coley’s legal assistant’s cell phone number, and she said, “Karen, shut up.” I had been texting and texting her, and she said, “Karen, I’m sorry, I can’t get into it too much, but political strings have been pulled, and I’ve been instructed not to call you, not to contact you, email you, text you, to just forget about you. But as a mother and knowing what you’re doing and what’s going on with Kristy Little, I I know you’re right. But I will validate your story to the media if you go to them.” She gave me the name and number to call at the General Assembly. I was just crushed; all the wind was out of my sails. I was sick to my stomach and I thought, “What in the world am I going to do?”
I then asked her if I could get her notes from all of the other people who called and complained. She first said, “Sure.” Well, she had a change of heart. She wouldn’t call me; she wouldn’t give me any notes. I said, “Will you at least validate my story to the media?” and she said, “I’m sorry, but we can no longer have any contact, either personal or work-related.” She was probably told that she would be fired or blacklisted from government.
That was it with the General Assembly.
I finally got somebody to tell me who The Godfather was, and I said, “I’m going to find him.”