House Resolution 60 mirrors a resolution filed Wednesday in the Senate. Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Bristol, who is chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, filed the House version early this morning.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said this morning, “I am absolutely supportive of the Senate looking at the TBI investigative report. We do have oversight, and we think the code's pretty clear on what we can and cannot do," he said. “The resolution notes that Article VI, Section 6 of the Tennessee Constitution ‘confers upon the General Assembly the exclusive authority to remove judges and attorneys for the state for cause.’"
State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed Senate Resolution 40 Wednesday morning directing the TBI, as soon as practicable, to turn over for inspection all files, records, backup material, notes, interview transcripts, and other exhibits and materials used in and relating to the investigation of District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb by the TBI and the state attorney general.
The resolution stated, “… the General Assembly cannot make an educated and informed decision with respect to whether it should pursue further action against Bebb without inspecting the investigative files and other documents compiled during the course of the investigation.”
Kelsey said Wednesday afternoon that as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was the appropriate person to file the resolution though any committee chairman could have requested the file. As chairman, he is fulfilling an oversight function described in Senate Rules.
Kelsey said he filed the resolution Wednesday morning because the legislative session will probably end April 18 or April 19 and next week is probably the last week for committee meetings.
The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office announced in an 11-page report released March 25 that none of the allegations against Bebb warranted criminal proceedings.
Though none of the allegations rose to the level of criminal charges, the report noted that Bebb and his office engaged in practices and recordkeeping that evidenced poor judgment, deficient recordkeeping and insufficient attention to the appropriate use of public resources.
The Tennessee Attorney General announced Aug. 27, 2012, that it and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation were cooperating in an investigation of allegations related to Bebb with the assistance of the Office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.
The investigation was prompted by an audit report released by the comptroller on July 10, 2012, media reports of alleged wrongdoing by Bebb and other employees of the 10th Judicial District, and other complaints received by the TBI.
The reports and complaints were related to both the District Attorney's Office and the Drug Task Force in the 10th Judicial District and included the following subjects:
Abuse of prosecutorial authority; unauthorized disclosure of material from TBI investigative file; improper influence of grand jury by assistant district attorney; impersonation of an attorney by detective; perjury in deposition testimony; use of Economic Crime Funds, automobile provided by DTF and filing of expense claims; and supervision of alleged wrongful conduct by DTF agents.
When asked what happens next, Kelsey said there is still a long way to go before anything else happens.
State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, whose 9th Senatorial District overlaps the 10th Judicial District, is one of the nine members of the judicial committee who, under Tennessee Code, would be allowed to review the documents.
“This was Chairman Kelsey’s call. It was his decision and his resolution to introduce,” Bell said. “The state Legislature does have limited oversight of the judicial branch and district attorneys are part of the judicial branch.
“From what I understand, Chairman Kelsey wants to make sure the Legislature fulfills its obligation and duty in its oversight role. He just needs to make sure all of the bases are covered.”
Bell said January or February 2014 would be the earliest time any action could take place after the committee meets on Wednesday. The senator is a first cousin by marriage to former Cleveland Police detective Duff Brumley.
In an interview with Bebb published Sept. 6, in the Cleveland Daily Banner, Bebb blamed Brumley for much of the bad publicity directed at his office, and the DA blamed its politicization partly on the fact Brumley and Bell are first cousins by marriage.
Bell revealed the familial ties in August because he said he knew it would be raised as an issue since he serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Bell said Wednesday he is still trying to decide whether or not he will vote next week when S.R. 40 is presented to the committee.
Bebb declined comment Wednesday.
Tennessee Code and legislative rules state a standing committee can request TBI reports by a simple majority vote of its members. There are nine members on the judiciary committee. If five members vote in favor of the resolution, only those committee members and their legal counsel can view the requested information.
Bell said the state attorney general made it clear in his report that he found nothing prosecutable during the investigation. If the committee is satisfied, then that’s the end of it. If any reason is found to continue the legislative investigation, then an ad hoc committee composed of members of the House and Senate would be formed.
“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ for it to get to that point,” Bell said.
State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee in the House, said if an ad hoc committee is formed, it would be comprised of six senators and six representatives. If the Senate committee approves Kelsey’s resolution, the House members could not view the evidence without a similar resolution.
“The constitution of our state places the responsibility on the Legislature of making decisions regarding any public official including the office of the district attorney,” Watson said. “We as legislators owe it to the people of the 10th Judicial District to make a fully informed decision on the investigation of any elected official. Once members of the Tennessee General Assembly have had the opportunity to view the full investigation, a fair and informed decision will be made whether any further action is warranted against the district attorney.”
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said the TBI investigation began during the election. He was focused on his campaign and purposely stayed away from the issues surrounding Bebb.
“I am trying to stay neutral,” he said. If it comes to the point requiring his involvement, he wants “to be in a position to look at it from a neutral position and look at the facts.”
When State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, was asked Wednesday evening if he had any comments to make about S.R. 40, he replied, “I’d rather not comment at this time. I have not seen it and would like to see it.”