Barely 48 hours before the start of early voting on Friday (July 18th), the already contentious Shelby County District Attorney’s race between incumbent Amy Weirich and challenger Judge Joe Brown became even more intense.
The two-pronged accelerant came in the form of Brown’s campaign criticizing local media for being biased on Weirich’s behalf and the campaign bringing forward a list of eight court cases collectively deemed proof that Weirich is not worthy of the position.
In an email distributing a press release about the cases, Brown’s campaign manager, Carmen Johnson, asserted that the information was necessary because the campaign feels “the media will not tell the truth. Every little thing Judge Brown does is printed and on the news. All I ask is be fair.
“Amy Weirich is not squeaky clean! ...Read the 8 ‘Dirty Little Secrets’ she does not want the VOTERS to know. This woman should not have her law license.”
The Weirich campaign answered with force, providing a written response to The New Tri State Defender that labeled Brown “desperate.”
“He is again distorting the facts and taking things out of context as part of a misguided attempt to smear Amy Weirich,” wrote Lang Wiseman, Weirich’s campaign chairman.
The eight cases in question, and the year they were tried, are: State v Sanlin, 2005; State v Coleman, 2002; Roe v State, 2002; State v Bond, 2006; State v Thomas, 2005; State v Talley, 2006; State v Odom, 2004; and State v Culbreath, 2000.
A local attorney that the TSD asked to review the cases reported that Brown’s campaign is on solid footing with its charges about at least three of the cases. The reviewer, whose name the TSD agreed to withhold because he is a practicing attorney, said it was important to note that Weirich was not the sole attorney on many of the cases, but was part of a prosecutorial team.
Brown said the cases speak for themselves.
“The cases listed are available if you do the research,” he said. “The record does not lie. The (Tennessee) Supreme Court cited her for failing to disclose personal interest and conflict of interest, and in another case she concealed evidence, created evidence and made prejudicial remarks to the jury that caused not just the reversal of the conviction but to dismiss the indictment. These cases go back to 2002 and continue to 2008. It is not a matter of inexperience. She started (as a prosecutor) in 1994. It is absolutely relevant.”
In his written response to the TSD’s inquiry, Wiseman wrote that, “Criminal trials are often hotly contested, and evidentiary disputes arise that are the subject of honest disagreement. However, lawyers don’t get to unilaterally decide what evidence is submitted to a jury – the trial judges make those decisions. Indeed, any evidence or argument from which a defendant appeals was obviously approved first by a trial judge, otherwise there would be nothing to appeal.”
Sometimes the appellate courts disagree and rule that a trial judge improperly approved and allowed the presentation of certain evidence, added Wiseman.
“That doesn’t mean anyone is guilty of misconduct – either the judge or the lawyer. It merely means the appellate court had a difference of opinion over what evidence was appropriately submitted to a jury. And Joe Brown knows better. He even admits that as a trial judge he was reversed by the appellate courts at times, but that doesn’t mean he (or the lawyers in his court) were somehow unethical or committed misconduct. They merely disagreed over the applicable law.”
The bottom line, Wiseman emphasized, is that Weirich has never even been charged or reprimanded for any sort of ethical misconduct by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR), which governs lawyers in Tennessee.”
BPR websites confirm what he is saying, Wiseman added.
“The real facts here are that Amy Weirich is universally praised across the nation as a model prosecutor, and she is regularly asked to lecture, advise, and even teach other DA’s.”
Brown’s penchant for “outlandish behavior and questionable conduct in search of media attention is nothing new,” wrote Wiseman, noting that Brown had been reprimanded for improper misconduct by the appellate court which “actually had to remove him once from a case while he was a sitting trial judge due to egregious and biased behavior.
“This behavior included, among other things, injecting local politics into a judicial proceeding (which the court referred to as ‘highly improper’), and giving numerous press interviews about a case – State v. Ray, 984 S.W.2d 239 (Tenn.Crim.App. 1998) – pending in his courtroom.”