Tonya Craft’s trial was originally scheduled to begin Monday, but was moved to April 12 because of an illness in the family of one of her defense attorneys.
The defense attorney for a former kindergarten teacher accused of child molestation asked that the judge in the case step down because of his previous involvement in the defendant’s divorce.
But Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brian House denied the motion twice, records show.
Tonya Craft’s defense attorney, Scott King, first filed the motion for Judge House’s recusal on Feb. 11, citing that the judge had represented Ms. Craft’s ex-husband during their divorce in 1998, court records show.
The document states that the prior relationship would “interfere with defendant’s ability to ensure that her due process rights are protected and to obtain a (fair) and impartial trial.”
After Mr. King filed the motion, Judge House denied the request, saying the attorney’s affidavit was not notarized properly. When Mr. King sent another motion with the correct documentation on March 2, Judge House denied the request again, giving no explanation, records show.
Judge House’s assistant, Michael Caldwell, said the judge would not comment on any of the “alleged” claims.
Ms. Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher, faces 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation and child molestation involving three children, records show.
Her 1998 divorce documents show Ms. Craft, formerly Tonya Bumgarner, filed for divorce from Conrad Bumgarner Jr. in Hamilton County Circuit Court. Brian House is the attorney listed on the document as representing Mr. Bumgarner.
Judge House was a private attorney in Hamilton County from 1988 to 1992, according to his campaign profile when he ran for his judge seat in Catoosa County.
Because of a recent gag order in the case, Ms. Craft’s local defense attorney, Clancy Covert, said he couldn’t comment on the motion.
Ms. Craft has continued to maintain her innocence throughout the process, and her friends have supported her through a Web site and a fundraiser on March 10.
Charles and Mandy Motley, who had a son in Ms. Craft’s class, said they attended the fundraiser because they were upset about the judge’s reported former involvement with her divorce.
“She can’t get a fair trial,” Mrs. Motley said.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...