Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 29, 2007

Gibson hearing suspended after 16 hours of testimony

DA testifies four hours in effort to get license reinstated

By Michael R. Moser / mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com

13th Judicial District Attorney General William "Bill" Gibson sat on the witness stand for four hours Tuesday trying to convince a panel of his peers that his license to practice law should be reinstated.

The two-day hearing held at Gibson's request in front of a three-member panel representing the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) included about 16 hours of testimony — including 12 hours Tuesday that ended at 9 p.m. — with no indication on when, or what, the panel will recommend.

In fact, the panel, at the conclusion of the presentation of evidence from both sides, abruptly packed up their stuff and left without announcing when closing arguments would be heard, the deadline for filing written closing arguments, or when to expect a ruling.

Gibson's license suspension and the resulting ban from serving as chief prosecutor for the seven-county judicial district that includes Cumberland County came after ethics complaints were filed against him for a two-year letter correspondence with Christopher Adams.

Adams was identified as a prime suspect in the 2003 brutal murder of 79-year-old Lillian Kelley of Putnam County. Robbery was listed as a motive in the slaying during which the elderly woman was stabbed twice and her throat slit.

At issue was Gibson's conduct with Adams, which included the prosecutor offering legal counsel to the man his office was prosecuting without the knowledge of Adams' attorney and apparently behind the back of his own staff.

A series of 11 letters was exchanged over the course of two years and was made public after Cookeville attorney Phil Parsons was appointed to represent Adams in a post conviction relief petition. Adams showed the letters to Parsons, who in turn notified Criminal Court Judge Leon Burns of the correspondence.

Parsons then filed a complaint with the BPR followed by Burns' complaint with both stating they felt mandated by state law and a code of ethics to take the action.

Their complaints were then followed by a formal complaint filed by the Tennessee Attorney General's Conference and a separate complaint filed by Circuit Court Judge John Turnbull.

Turnbull's complaint was not on the Adams' letters, but was filed over Gibson's conduct in the Tina Marie Sweat case.

In 2002, Cookeville Police raided the residence Sweat shared with a boyfriend and discovered a working methamphetamine lab and the presence of two young children. When police entered the residence, Sweat allegedly tossed meth into the face of one of the officers.

She was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine, aggravated child abuse, aggravated assault, resisting arrest and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to a Cookeville Herald-Citizen story at the time.

She pleaded guilty to making meth.

Turnbull believes Gibson used their friendship to slide a motion to set aside Sweat's conviction without revealing his relationship with Sweat. The motion was improper in that it was outside the time frame that such motions can be filed.

Turnbull stated he trusted Gibson and Sweat's attorney, Bill Cameron, and signed the order without reading it thoroughly. Sweat's record was later expunged and no longer is on the books in Putnam County.

Gibson countered that the date of the conviction was in the second paragraph of the order he asked Turnbull to sign, and that it was not his fault if the judge did not notice the date and realize the order he was signing was outside the jurisdiction.

Oddly, other than a reference in a May 2006 from Gibson to Adams, this case has nothing to do with the ethics complaints being heard this week. A hearing has not been held on Turnbull's complaint.

The panel's recommendation will be presented to the full BPR which will ratify and then pass its decision on to the Tennessee Supreme Court which will then issue a decision on the status of Gibson's license. It is unlikely the Supreme Court would act counter to what BPR decides.

Although the hearing was in a trial setting, that was about the only thing that resembled a legal hearing. Witnesses for both sides were given a free rein to talk about anything and everything relating to the embattled prosecutor.