Tennessee's attorney general, not a special prosecutor named by the Tennessee District Attorney General Conference, would handle any criminal case against 10th Judicial District DA Steve Bebb that might arise from an ongoing TBI investigation.
"Our office and the DA's Conference have met and are in agreement on how to proceed," attorney general spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair said in a statement Friday. "The TBI is conducting an investigation at the request of the attorney general and, under the statute, any decision in regard to the district attorney will be made by the attorney general."
She said the AG's office will not comment on the ongoing investigation.
A six-day series in the Chattanooga Times Free Press examined alleged financial and professional improprieties by Bebb and some of his assistants, as well as lax supervision and unchecked spending by some in the 10th District Drug Task Force that Bebb oversees.
On Aug. 27, state Attorney General Robert Cooper announced a joint investigation by his office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Comptroller's Office into the 10th Judicial District.
The same day, Wally Kirby, executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference — of which Bebb is a member — said Bebb had asked him to name a district attorney pro tem to investigate the allegations.
Kirby said Paul Summers, a former state attorney general and appellate judge, had agreed to serve as the pro tem. In an emailed statement that day, Kirby said Summers would receive information from auditors and the TBI and "will review the investigation to determine what if any action he should take."
State law on "criminal prosecution of judge, chancellor or judicial elected official" specifically says the duty rests with the state attorney general with permission from a judge.
The Times Free Press sent a copy of the law to Kirby on Aug. 28. Noting that his appointment of Summers did not appear to conform to the law, Kirby was asked what statute he was relying on to make the appointment. He did not respond.
On Thursday, Kirby said in an emailed statement that "the matter is under investigation by the TBI. I will have no further comments or statements until the investigation is completed."
In an email, Bebb said, "I have no comment as I am not privy to any of the investigation process."
Curtis-Flair said Summers would only handle cases involving Bebb's assistants or 10th District employees.
"Any decision in regard to criminal proceedings as to other individuals will be handled by General Summers or another properly designated prosecutor," she said.
Also Friday, two more state lawmakers weighed in with support for the TBI probe into the 10th District, which covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.
State Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens, represents District 23, which includes McMinn and part of Monroe County.
"Anytime there are allegations of wrongdoing, there's cause for concern," Forgety said Friday. "I have spoken to the TBI -- they are in consultation with the attorney general's office. They have assured me they are going to proceed and let the truth and the chips fall where they may."
Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, represents the 5th Senate District, which includes Monroe County.
"I think there's a number of questions out there that need to be answered," McNally said Friday. "The action that's being taken by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is certainly appropriate. I'd like to wait and see what they're able to find out. I've always found them to be very qualified, very professional and not influenced by politics or outside forces. I've got a lot of confidence in them."
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...