published Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Hamilton County judge treated for alcohol abuse

Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge W. Neil Thomas has been off the bench for six weeks and will remain on leave for up to two more months as he is treated for alcohol abuse.

Thomas spoke candidly with the Times Free Press on Wednesday, disclosing that his family staged an intervention April 13 and he entered in-patient treatment in Birmingham, Ala.

He was addressing a Times Free Press report last week quoting Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth, who had shared publicly that Thomas was absent due to an "undisclosed medical condition."

The 69-year-old judge returned home this past weekend and is continuing outpatient treatment for another six weeks, followed by regular meetings and weekly check-ins for the next year.

Thomas said his drinking, outside working hours, had gotten out of control, but it wasn't until the family intervention that he realized the depth of the problem.

The judge has held office since 1997. He faces no opposition in his August re-election bid for another eight-year term.

He said the timing of his entering rehab had no bearing on the election or the qualifying deadline of Feb. 22.

"I didn't know I was going into treatment until April 13," Thomas said.

In recent years the judge has been plagued by prostate cancer and a life-threatening infection, which compounded personal stress, he said.

He said he had tried to quit drinking in the past, noting a family history of alcoholism. Through the recent treatment, Thomas said, he knows now he cannot quit on his own.

Thomas said he has informed the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program and the Tennessee Supreme Court of his condition and his need for temporary absence. The other three Circuit Court judges will handle his docket while he is away from the bench, he said.

When asked if he'd ever been intoxicated while writing legal opinions or presiding over court, Thomas replied emphatically that he had not.

He also mentioned that in his discussions with the AOC, TLAP and state Supreme Court there was no indication of judicial misconduct on his part.

"I ask for your continued thoughts and prayers," Thomas said in a statement. "I am committed to my family, my faith, my community and the judicial system. I know my progress must continue."

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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