By Heather Mullinix / Chronicle assistant editor
One of the key figures in a pending complaint filed by a judge against District Attorney William "Bill" Gibson says much of what was published about her is wrong and that she does not feel it is fair that she is being dragged into the prosecutor's problems with a state regulatory board.
Tina Marie Sweat, in her early 30s, contacted the Chronicle last week via e-mail after she was mentioned prominently by witnesses during Gibson's appeal of his license suspension that was heard before a panel representing the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility.
Circuit Court Judge John Turnbull filed an ethics complaint against Gibson when he learned that Sweat, described as being at one time a close friend of Gibson's, was the person Gibson sought the judge's signature on an order setting aside a conviction relating to a methamphetamine raid.
While last week's hearing was about complaints filed by Criminal Court Judge Leon Burns, 13th Judicial Public Defender David Brady and the Tennessee Attorney General's Conference over Gibson's interactions and exchange of letters with a convicted killer, Turnbull's complaint has yet to be acted upon.
Published accounts and testimony witness accounts report that Sweat, then 27, and her boyfriend, Sean David Livesay, then 29, were arrested at a Chestnut St., Cookeville residence after police showed up and discovered meth and drugs in the residence in the presence of two children. Sweat allegedly threw "toxic chemicals" at one of the deputies present who tried to take her into custody.
She was charged with aggravated child abuse, manufacturing methampehtamine, resisting arrest, aggravated assault and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Sweat later entered a guilty plea to one charge related to the drug raid, but in an e-mail sent Friday, Sweat was adamant that the charge was not a methamphetamine charge. She also disputed accounts that a working meth lab was present at the residence.
Last week Gibson talked about the case, saying that after meeting and becoming acquainted with Sweat, he wanted to do something to help Sweat turn her life around. He approached Sells about getting a post-conviction relief petition approved by former Judge Lillie Ann Sells. But since Sells had appointed Sweat to a Drug Court advisory panel in Putnam County, he felt she would feel it a conflict of interest. Gibson also serves on the Drug Court board.
On Jan. 16, Gibson contacted Judge John Turnbull and asked about a matter being forwarded to the judge for consideration. Turnbull said Gibson told him the case involved a young lady who had done really well in Drug Court and who wanted to have her record cleared. Since Turnbull did not hear the case, he questioned whether Sells should act on the motion. Gibson explained Sells' conflict.
On Jan. 30, Sweat's attorney, Bill Cameron, filed a motion setting aside Sweat's guilty plea and on Jan. 31 Gibson accompanied Sweat and her attorney to the judge's office at the Putnam County Courthouse and asked Turnbull to sign the order setting aside the conviction.
"They met me in my office around 3:30 or 4 p.m., Gibson and Bill Cameron, with the petition for post-conviction relief. I looked it over. I did not read it carefully," Turnbull testified. He added that Gibson did most of the talking while Cameron "did not have a lot to say."
The two attorneys told Turnbull that Sweat was "the perfect example of rehabilitation."
Earlier in the hearing Assistant District Attorney Anthony Craighead testified that he had observed Sweat and Gibson together at one of his play rehearsals at the Cookeville Drama Center, and that later he observed Sweat with Gibson at a social function — a backyard cookout — at Gibson's home. Gibson is divorced.
In a letter to convicted killer Christopher Adams dated Dec. 1, 2005, Gibson tells Adams, "I want to ask your prayers for my friend, Tina. She is trying to get into law school and she has quite a bit of criminal record, including some meth felonies. God picked her up and cleaned her up a couple of years ago and she is walking with Him every day. Normally they would never let her into law school, but with our prayers, this ain't normally."
Gibson also testified that Sweat accompanied him on a church-sponsored trip to the Gulf Coast with him, family and friends.
Turnbull testified last week that he filed a complaint because he felt Gibson hid his friendship with Sweat from him when he asked the Circuit Court judge to sign the order setting aside Sweat's conviction.
"If you're a DA with a friend who has a problem, you're supposed to recuse yourself," Turnbull told the panel. "If I made a ruling based on friendship, I should be put out of office."
Turnbull continued, "This was an agreed order brought by the advocate for the state. I think a judge has to trust the system, has to trust the DA."
Turnbull said it was only after he saw coverage of the Adams letter on television, which included mention of Sweat's case, that he realized Sweat was the same person he had met the day he signed the post-conviction relief order.
"I feel like the relationship was betrayed ... I feel like faith in the office has been betrayed. It really hurts the credibility with the system." said Turnbull.