by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 6, 2022) — The latest entry in the online record for Tennessee inmate Jason Lamar White states that a “Petition for Post Conviction Relief” hearing will take place on September 15 despite the fact that the court heard arguments for the same purpose in early July.
A new date was originally set for September 1 but “reset,” the record states.
As The Post & Email previously reported, the dates of White’s hearing bear the description, “Taken Under Advisement” rather than a decision, which apparently was either not reached or not made public.
Even more curious is that White’s family members have been told by a court associate that Judge Robert “Bobby” Carter, Jr. retired on August 31, but Carter continues to be listed as the presiding jurist and his photo still appears on the website for Shelby County‘s criminal court judges.
From an internet search it is apparent that Carter did not campaign for re-election. According to Ballotpedia, James Jones was elected a Division III judge on August 4 and assumed office on September 1, as is customary in Tennessee. However, Jones’s name does not appear on the page.
The site’s entry for Carter reports:
J. Robert “Bobby” Carter is a criminal court judge for the Shelby County Criminal Court Division III of the Thirtieth Judicial District of Tennessee. He was elected to the court on August 5, 2010, to replace retired Judge John P. Colton. Carter was then re-elected on August 7, 2014, for another eight-year term, expiring in 2022.
According to White’s mother, Kimberly White, her son’s “elbow counsel,” J. Shae Atkinson, appeared in court on September 1 on Jason’s behalf with Jones presiding.
In 2017, White was convicted of participating in a “conspiracy” to promote and distribute methamphetamine in a “drug-free zone,” which he denies along with a co-defendant, Kristina Cole. While completing a 20-year sentence on an unrelated crime, White was sentenced on the new charge to 60 years in prison without the possibility of parole plus a $2,000 fine. Cole received a 13.5-year sentence and, like White, filed a post-conviction petition claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.
Carter presided over White’s and Cole’s trial and on Cole’s post-conviction petition, which he dismissed. Cole successfully appealed to a higher court, which reversed and remanded the petition back to the trial court, stating in its opinion that the court failed to perform a “finding of fact” as to Cole’s claims.
“A mere recitation or summary of the testimony of the witnesses at a hearing is not a ‘finding of fact’ as is required,” the appellate panel wrote on the final page of its April 7 opinion (citations omitted). “A ‘finding of fact’ is the post-conviction court’s opportunity to fulfill its responsibility to sort through all the evidence and set forth what actually happened, as opposed to just each witness’s version of what happened.”
Carter again presided over the case, issuing a “supplemental order” on August 30, stating, “In a best-case scenario, trial counsel should file motions exploring every possible defense, even those rejected by the client. Failing to do so may be considered deficient. But the Petitioner bears the burden of showing, by ‘clear and convincing proof’ that these deficiencies were prejudicial. There has been no proof, no showing by Petitioner that a motion to suppress, a motion for severance or any other objection would have been granted, if they had been made.”
On Tuesday afternoon, The Post & Email contacted the Shelby County Criminal Court, reaching Clerk Heidi Kuhn’s office. Identifying ourselves as media, we were transferred to Public Information Officer Kevin Fitts, for whom we left a message asking about Carter’s status and whether Jones had officially replaced him as well as why Carter is apparently presiding over a case if he did not run for re-election last month.
We also asked why a government website url ends in “.com” rather than “.gov” and contains the last name of an employee.
Approximately 35 minutes later, Fitts returned our call and responded:
Judge Bobby Carter did retire; James Jones was elected to that seat. As far as what is Bobby Carter doing, that I couldn’t tell you; I know he’s retired. With your question about the website, that’s for my IT department; I don’t know why it’s like that.
He was not able to explain why a second post-conviction “hearing” is scheduled for White nor why Carter is listed as the jurist.
He then offered to provide a phone number for Judge Jones’s secretary, which we accepted and tried. However, the person who answered told us we had the wrong number. We called the court a second time and were transferred back to Fitts, who double-checked it and said, “That’s the number I have.”
When we tried the number a second time, the individual answered, “Criminal Court” but said he works in the “property room.”