State Bar Association President Defends Judge Collier

Monday, March 24, 2008
Marcia Eason
Marcia Eason

The president of the Tennessee Bar Association has written the Knoxville News-Sentinel newspaper saying an article involving a case handled by Federal Judge Curtis Collier of Chattanooga contained "several factual inaccuracies."

The March 7 article dealt with a case in which Judge Collier summoned maverick Knoxville lawyer Herbert Moncier to show cause why he did not violate the Code of Professional Responsibility in an appearance before Federal Judge Judge Ronnie Greer of Greeneville.

Attorney Marcia Eason said she was writing under a TBA policy dealing with "unjust criticism of judges".

She said Judge Collier and Magistrate Susan Lee "cannot respond to the news articles, editorials or opinion columns, and cartoon items published by the Knoxville News-Sentinel."

She said she had not been contacted by either judge.

Ms. Eason said the article referred to "secret orders," "secret proceedings," and "kafka-esque goings-on". She said those references, "without discussion of the established rule relating to disciplinary proceedings and the ethical canons that govern judges in this court, is misleading."

Ms. Eason said, "Implying that one of the judges opened a hearing to the public only at the request of the reporter, rather than at the request of the party to the proceedings as required by the rules, is also inaccurate. Implying that the reporter's reliance on 'anonymous sources' prevented the reporter from being thrown in jail was also inaccurate.

"The editorial cartoon published by the Knoxville News-Sentinel portraying a robed judge, smoking and leaning on the scales of justice posed in front of a federal court in Chattanooga while the public wears a blindfold, in light of the rules governing the court's action and the docket entries in this case, was unjust."

Judge Collier said in a Jan. 8 show cause order that the attorney should be summoned to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against him in connection with his behavior in a case before another federal judge, Ronnie Greer. In that case, attorney Moncier continued to talk after he was told to keep quiet, and he was ordered taken to jail.

Attorney Moncier was found guilty of criminal contempt in the incident Nov. 17, 2006. He was fined $5,000 and directed to undergo anger management counseling and ethics training. The attorney appealed the conviction.

Magistrate Lee held a hearing in the case, but has not yet issued a ruling. The case was at first under seal and was not listed on the daily court docket, but it was unsealed and listed on the docket after the hearing got underway. A Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter attended the last day of the hearing.

Meanwhile, a number of attorneys filed statements in behalf of attorney Moncier, saying they have read the transcript of the Greer hearing and do not believe that attorney Moncier violated the Code of Professional Responsibility.

They include Bethany Dumas, listed as an expert linguist; Ann Short, listed as an expert on the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct; Wade Davies, of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Henry Martin, federal public defender for the Middle District of Tennessee; Caryl Alpert, assistant federal public defender for the Middle District of Tennessee; Don Dawson, post-conviction capital case defender for the state; Randall Reagan and William Massey, former presidents of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Mark Stephens, district public defender in Knox County; Jim Owen, Julie Auer, Nathaniel Evans, John Halstead, Jhasta Moore and David Skidmore, assistant public defenders in Knox County; attorney Mike Whalen; David Wigler, of the Moncier law firm; Ursula Bailey, who formerly was a Moncier law associate; attorney Stephen Burroughs and attorney F.D. Gibson III.

Attorney Martin said the actions of attorney Moncier "were in the best interest of his clients" and within the rules.

Attorney Dawson said disciplining attorney Moncier "for having fought to defend the rights of his clients as he saw necessary sends a chill over the remainder of the criminal defense bar and damages the justice system."

Attorney Reagan said attorney Moncier "was zealously and in good faith trying to protect his client's right to assistance of conflict-free counsel."

Attorney Owen said, "It simply boggles my mind that his fitness to practice law is at issue. To say that Herb Moncier is not fit to practice law is akin to saying Billy Graham is not fit to preach the gospel."

Attorney Whalen said if sanctions are imposed against attorney Moncier "the chilling effect on criminal defense lawyers would be tremendous as we all would be forced to ask if being zealous will cost us our livelihood."

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