Tennessee's disciplinary agency for attorneys has dismissed an ethics complaint alleging that 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb misused his authority, according to the Tennessee speaker of the House.
"The Board of Professional Responsibility informed me that the complaint has been dismissed. Although I disagree, I respect that this is the decision of the governing body," Speaker Beth Harwell said in a statement to the Times Free Press. Harwell was among state lawmakers who filed complaints against Bebb last year after a House special oversight committee reviewed evidence compiled from a TBI report and witness interviews.
State Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, who also filed a complaint against Bebb, did not respond to requests for comment.
Neither did Bebb, but he recently sent a blanket email to the other 30 state district attorneys warning them to "wake up folks ... if they [legislators] can't control you you may be ousted."
The Board of Professional Responsibility met Friday to hear results of an investigation into complaints filed by state lawmakers against Bebb. Some lawmakers discussed allegations with the board in September, including:
• That Bebb misused his authority by indicting a father involved in a nasty child custody battle as a favor to the other side.
• That he threatened indictment to silence a man whose handgun was wrongly seized and sold by police.
• Maintained a policy of not prosecuting police officers involved in wrongdoing.
• Submitted false expense reports while driving a state vehicle.
No information was available about the board's decision. All its actions are confidential under Tennessee Supreme Court rules unless it chooses to make a disciplinary proceeding public.
The father whom Bebb indicted -- Bradley County resident Jason Cole -- said Tuesday he was disappointed that his interviews with board investigators and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation came to naught.
"I gave them all the information; if they chose not to look at it, they chose not to look at it," Cole said.
"I think it's more of a financial reason why they dismissed it," he said. "If they find out the district attorney has done something wrong, every case this guy has worked on in the last [eight] years has a chance of being appealed.
"I think the [state] attorney general has figured out it's cheaper to pay this man $12,000 a month than to have all this stuff brought back up."
Bebb's salary as district attorney is $144,000 a year. He was elected in 2006 and is not seeking re-election in August.
In August 2012, the Times Free Press published a six-day series airing allegations of prosecutorial and financial misconduct by Bebb. Within days, state Attorney General Robert Cooper ordered a probe by the TBI, but in March 2013 Cooper released a report saying that he had found no prosecutable crimes by Bebb.
State lawmakers voted to follow up. The House oversight committee, which included Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, reviewed the TBI file and other sources and interviewed witnesses. The committee voted in August to recommend Harwell form a charging committee and seek Bebb's removal from office, but she has not yet done so.
The Senate Judiciary Committee under Kelsey has not voted whether to recommend charges.
On March 4, Bebb sent an email to his fellow elected district attorneys saying that "nothing I have been accused of is true but that does not keep the supermajority at bay."
Bebb is a Democrat. More than two-thirds of Tennessee's House and Senate members are Republicans, meaning the chambers have the strength to pass any legislation with no input or interference from Democrats.
The email cast blame for the cascading investigations on fired former Cleveland Police detective Duff Brumley and two state lawmakers, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland.
"[W]ake up folks ... if they can't control you you may be ousted. ... All of you need to open your eyes to the evil of any supermajority of any party," he wrote.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.
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 ...