10th District District Attorney Steve Bebb said at a press conference in Cleveland on Thursday afternoon that a damaging tape made by Judge John Hagler was first discovered in 2005, then was resurrected by the Chattanooga Police Department recently.
Mr. Bebb also said that the tape was first found by the judge's secretary when she turned a tape over that had a legal opinion on one side.
10th District Circuit Judge Hagler, 65, announced Wednesday that he is resigning over the tape incident.
Mr. Bebb did not disclose what is on the tape. He said, "It's a demon that Judge Hagler has wrestled with for a long time. It has nothing to do with any case."
He said it was the first news conference he has ever held, and "I would rather face a pack of howling wolves." He said he called it because of "some misinformation that had been reported" and because he said he was getting so many calls on the case that he could not do his work."
He said, "I want to state upfront that John Hagler has been a friend and colleague of mine for 30 years. We served together as assistant district attorneys and we both sat on the bench at the same time. This situation has truly saddened me."
Mr. Bebb said in November 2005 the intelligence unit of the Chattanooga Police Department and the FBI interviewed a confidential informant "who provided a tape recording containing information concerning John Hagler."
He said several days later members of the Chattanooga Police Department met and discussed what should be done about the tape. The informant was later interviewed by the TBI and the Chattanooga Police Department.
He said the city police carried out an investigation along with the TBI "about a possible Chattanooga crime."
The case was administratively closed by the Chattanooga Police Department and the TBI on Dec. 8, 2005, he said.
Mr. Bebb said Assistant Chattanooga Police Chief Mark Rawlston was going through some old files when he "stumbled upon the tape."
He said TBI officials were contacted about the tape, and he was contacted by the TBI on Dec. 3.
He said, “After reviewing the tape, I asked the TBI to do an inquiry to see if Judge Hagler had been subject to blackmail or extortion.”
Mr. Bebb said he went to see Judge Hagler along with a TBI agent, and Judge Hagler said there had been no blackmail or extortion. He said he asked the judge if that was his voice on the tape, and he said it was. He said the judge asked, “What do we do now?”
Mr. Bebb said he told him he would be compelled to turn the tape over to the Court of the Judiciary.
He said Judge Hagler “advised me he felt it in everyone's best interest that he resign” Mr. Bebb said in that case there was no need to give it to the Court of the Judiciary.
Mr. Bebb said the day after his talk with Judge Hagler, he received a telephone call from a Chattanooga Times reporter who “led me to believe he either had a copy of the tape or had been briefed about its contents.”
Mr. Bebb said he advised Judge Hagler of the call from the newspaper, and Judge Hagler “again indicated to me he felt it in everyone's best interest that he resign.”
Mr. Bebb said the tape involved “a private matter that Judge Hagler probably should have resolved a long time ago.”
He added, “John needs to address his problem. That's the bottom line.”
The district attorney noted that Judge Hagler recently ruled against Sheriff Tim Gobble in a case, but he said he does not believe Sheriff Gobble had anything to do with a leak of the tape. He said he feels the fact the leak came soon after the ruling was “total coincidental.”
Mr. Bebb also noted that some attorneys were trying to get Judge Hagler to reconsider his resignation. Mr. Bebb said he would advise that he “go on with his life and retire with as much dignity as he can.”
Questioned about a possible move to oust him over the situation, he said, “When you attack anyone in power in Cleveland, Tn., they come after you with a dagger in the heart.” He said he has suffered health issues and plans to retire at the end of this term, so he is not swayed by any threats of removal.
The Chattanooga Police Department issued this statement about the case on Thursday afternoon:
"In response to the questions regarding the Chattanooga Police Departments involvement in the audio recording of Judge John Hagler, an unknown party provided an audio tape in 2005 and expressed concern of serious criminal activity involving Judge John Hagler including one incident in the Chattanooga area.
"Chattanooga police Investigators were able to eliminate Judge Hagler as a suspect in any Chattanooga case. However, because of the nature of the audio tape they felt it necessary to take the tape to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The FBI found no federal nexus and declined investigation. Extensive talks were held with the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit about the contents of the recording.
"The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations was contacted to investigate the possibility of crimes in other jurisdictions. The recording, as well as other information gained during the initial investigation, remain as part of an open criminal investigation by the Chattanooga Police department.
"Late November 2007 Intelligence Division Investigators were reviewing Intell files and decided to
actively investigate this case. Intell investigators briefed their commands about the contents of the recording and the Chief of Investigations brought this to Deputy Chief Rawlston's attention. He in turn brought this to Chief Cooper.
"November 26th, at Chief Cooper’s direction, Deputy Chief Rawlston delivered a copy of the recording to the TBI headquarters where he met
with Director Mark Gwynn and Director Gwynn was not aware of any previous investigation regarding this recording. The TBI took possession and indicated they would order an investigation and we had no further knowledge or involvement in this investigation.
"Media reports that this recording was inadvertently found while cleaning an office is incorrect."
Meanwhile, the process has begun for replacing Judge Hagler.
Here is the notice:
NOTICE OF JUDICIAL SELECTION
10th Judicial District
Monroe, McMinn, Bradley and Polk Counties
Pursuant to the provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated Section
17-4-101 et seq., notice is hereby given that the Judicial Selection
Commission will soon meet to initiate the process of filling the vacancy
in the 10th Judicial District Circuit Court created by the resignation
of Judge John B. Hagler, Jr.
Any member of the public, both lay and attorney, shall be entitled to
attend the public hearing to express, orally or in writing, suggestions
of possible nominees and/or such citizen's approval of or objections to
any suggested nominee for the judicial vacancy. Any licensed attorney may appear and make a statement, oral or written, in support of such attorney's own nomination.
All interested candidates should submit a completed Applicant
Questionnaire and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) background
application to the Commission for its consideration. Both applications
are available on our website at: http://www.tncourts.gov/. Applicant
Questionnaires and TBI background applications should be submitted to
the Administrative Office of the Courts, Suite 600, Nashville City
Center, 511 Union Street, Nashville, TN 37219, by no later than
Thursday, January 3, 2008, at 4:30 p.m. CST; however, the Commission
encourages all candidates to submit applications as early as possible.
Fingerprinting also will be a requirement of each candidate. Dates,
times and location for fingerprinting will be announced at a later date.
Each candidate must submit the original (unbound) and nineteen (19)
copies (stapled or bound and printed on front and back) of the Applicant
Questionnaire in order to have his/her name placed on the list of
candidates for the judgeship vacancy for which he/she is applying.
Please submit only the original background application. No copies are
needed of this document.
Applicants must adhere to the requests of the commission. Failure to comply with these instructions will result in disqualification.
The commission will consider a TBI background check on each applicant
which includes, among other sources of information, an Equifax credit
report. If there is negative information in that report, it will be
considered by the commission and may be discussed with the applicant in
the interview process. Applicants are well advised to obtain and review
a copy of their Equifax credit report prior to applying.
The Commission is committed to the goal of a diverse judiciary
and encourages all qualified attorneys to apply for any judicial vacancy for consideration without regard to race, ethnicity or gender.
If you require an accommodation and/or have special needs
because of a qualified disability, have questions, or need additional
information, please contact Sarah Bradley or Libby Sykes at the
Administrative Office of the Courts at (615) 741 2687.
This the 13th day of December, 2007.