A 13th Judicial Circuit Court Judge has received a public reprimand from the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct as a result of what is described as “inappropriate messages” sent to multiple women on various social media platforms from 2015 to 2020.
Judge Jonathan Young received the severe public reprimand and admitted to the complaints filed against him. The judiciary panel issued a series of things Young must meet by the end of the year.
Judge Young commented this week, “I could have fought to keep this private, but chose not to do so. While it was a private mistake, some chose to make it public and that is fine. I will say a few years ago I was in a dark place and sought comfort where I shouldn’t. I quickly ended everything before it went further than just talk but that was not enough.”
(Editor’s note: Judge Young’s full response through social media and approved by him for release this week, along with the letter announcing the public reprimand, can be found inside this edition of the Chronicle.)
In the letter dated Oct. 5, the board states that inappropriate messages were sent to, “among other persons, a legal professional employed by a law firm that conducts business in your court and a litigant who formerly had a child custody matter before you.”
The reprimand describes the messages with “content ranging from flirtatious to overtly sexual. Most of these communications depict you in your judicial robe.”
Young in his comment said, “I never said I was perfect and I made a mistake. But rest assured nothing I did compromised my promise to you to render fair justice from the bench.
“I will not say this does not sting, but like everything else I must go forward and do the best job I can do.”
On Aug. 6, an investigative panel was authorized by the board into complaints about the messages, most of which were sent as private messages through social platforms.
On Aug. 31, Judge Young acknowledged to that panel that he had sent inappropriate messages “and that doing so was beneath the dignity of judicial office. You took full responsibility for your actions.”
The letter continues that the messaging ran afoul of a number of ethical standards designed to maintain public trust and confidence.
On Sept, 8, a motion was filed in Dekalb County Circuit Court by Smithville attorney Sarah J. Cripps asking Judge Young to recuse himself from a case, citing the ongoing investigation by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct.
The case of Shannon Lee Parker versus Lisa Noel Harden Parker involves issues relating to a divorce and related family matters.
The motion alleges the investigation includes “conduct of this court in its interpersonal interactions with Ms. Lisa Parker.”
The motion asks that Judge Young not only step aside in the case listed above, but any other cases that Cripps is involved in the Dekalb County Circuit Court.
Two days later Judge Young granted Cripps request to step aside and reassign her case to another judge. It was a one sentence order of recusal with no comment.
The letter of reprimand states that judges are expected to maintain the highest of standards of conduct and dignity at all times.
“Your social media activities described above run afoul of a number of ethical standards designed to maintain public trust and confidence in the judiciary,” the publicly posted reprimand stated.
“Engaging in sexual conversations and soliciting pictures while in your judicial robe would appear to a reasonable person to be coercive, particularly when the recipients of those communications include former litigants and persons whose job responsibilities intersect with the court system.”
The reprimand also references use of social media caused, at the least, an undermining of the judge’s integrity and impartiality.
The letter states that while there was no evidence to suggest Judge Young was biased and prejudiced in any of his rulings, there is a perception, especially in domestic relations matters, that suggests prejudice could exist. That undermines the belief that persons before the court receive impartial and unbiased treatment.
The reprimand claims sending the inappropriate messages on social media interferes with the judge’s ability to preside over future litigation. Such actions interferes with the proper performance of a judge’s duties.
Finally, the reprimand states that inappropriate messaging by a judge erodes confidence in the integrity and impartiality of any judge.
The investigative panel decided to impose the public reprimand, which the letter posted on the Board’s website states Judge Young accepted. As part of the reprimand, Judge Young agreed to the following:
•A suspension of 30 days, set aside provided there are not additional complaints involving prospective ethical misconduct of any type during the remainder of his current term;
•The judge refrain from using a picture of himself in judicial robe as a profile picture on any social media unless conducting court business;
•Complete at own expense a judicial ethics program addressing ethical issues on the context of social media before Dec. 31 and provide the Disciplinary Counsel with a certificate of completion;
•Recuse himself from all causes involving attorneys who will be identified in a separate letter and not made public; and,
•Refrain from engaging in any similar misconduct while a judge.