Moreland was formally notified of the Board of Judicial Conduct investigation this week, his lawyer, Worrick Robinson, confirmed Friday.
"He will be responding and cooperating," Robinson said. The formal notification triggers a monthlong deadline for Moreland to deliver his side of the story to ethics investigators, though the judicial oversight body said publicly a week prior it was investigating Moreland. The announcement came after several Nashville news outlets, including The Tennessean, reported on allegations in a police report that Moreland had sexual relationships with women who appeared in his courtroom.
Moreland last week told WKRN News 2 he did not intend to resign. The judge has not spoken to The Tennessean despite repeated requests.
The investigation of his actions, if it results in a finding of misconduct, could lead to a settlement, private or public discipline or procedures to remove Moreland, which requires the Tennessee General Assembly to sign off.
It is rare the board opts for the most severe sanction, which is recommending a judge be removed. According to the Tennessee Constitution, then the Tennessee House and Senate must each vote by a two-thirds majority to remove a judge.
Since 1971, the judicial conduct board has recommended only five judges be removed, according to state reports.
The last time a judge was removed by the legislature was in the '90s. The conduct board (then called the Court of the Judiciary) recommended the removal of Dyersburg Chancellor David Lanier after Lanier was convicted of federal charges related to “sexual assaults on named victims,” administrative reports read.
According to media reports, women who worked at the Dyersburg courthouse accused Lanier in 1992 of fondling them and pressuring them for sex. One woman who had a child custody case before his court said he forced her to perform oral sex after summoning her to his office.
The House and Senate each unanimously voted to remove Lanier.
A state court history report says between 1991 and 2011, after discipline was sought against a judge, the most common outcomes were private discipline or the judge leaving office. Each occurred 46 times in that time period. There also were 36 deferred discipline agreements, in which judges resolve issues involving minor misconduct through treatment or rehabilitation.
The 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct's goal, according to Tennessee law, is to make inquiry into the "physical, mental and moral fitness of any Tennessee judge."
Waiting for Moreland's response to the ethics inquiry is Tim Discenza, the chief disciplinary counsel for the conduct board since 2010. Before that he was a federal prosecutor in Memphis for more than three decades.
If his investigation leads to a public reprimand, state law says notification will be sent to the General Assembly because Moreland has received that same level of discipline before. In 2014, Moreland was publicly reprimanded for intervening in a domestic violence case at the request of Bryan Lewis, a Nashville lawyer and longtime friend of the judge.
Lewis and Moreland went on a trip together in April, which has prompted current scrutiny of the nearly 20-year judge. A woman on the trip, 34-year-old Leigh Terry, committed suicide about a week later, a police report says. Nashville police investigating her death talked to two of Terry's friends who reported Terry had slept with Moreland while she had a driving under the influence case in Moreland's courtroom, the police report says.
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