The TN Legislative Committee is recommending that embattled Shelby County judge be removed from office

By | March 14, 2024

A joint committee of the Tennessee General Assembly voted Thursday to recommend that embattled Judge Melissa Boyd be removed from the bench of Shelby County Criminal Court.

The vote comes months after the Board of Judicial Conduct wrote a letter to the Legislature recommending her removal. The board does not have the power to dismiss, but the General Meeting does.

Boyd did not appear to be present at the committee meeting even though she was invited, but Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, read a letter from Boyd’s attorney at the start of the meeting lashing out at lawmakers and the administration .

“The Republican supermajority has no respect for the voters of Memphis,” Boyd’s attorney wrote in the letter. “Time and time again, the Republican supermajority has introduced and passed legislation designed to override decisions made by the electorate of the City of Memphis and those made by those the people of the City of Memphis have elected. The Republican supermajority has no respect for African Americans living in Tennessee and no interest in hearing what they have to say or allowing them to speak without interruptions or being held back.”

Judge Andrew Brigham, chairman of the board, and Marshall Davidson, the board’s chief disciplinary counsel, discussed what led to the decision to recommend Boyd be ousted. The two men also answered questions from members of the joint committee, including about why the board proposed her removal and whether Boyd was still receiving her salary.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Melissa Boyd received her second public reprimand in late October.  She has since been referred to the Tennessee General Assembly for further action, including possible removal.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Melissa Boyd received her second public reprimand in late October. She has since been referred to the Tennessee General Assembly for further action, including possible removal.

Boyd continues to receive her salary, but Davidson told the committee he did not know exactly what that salary is or what benefits she might receive. However, he did estimate that she earned about $17,000 a month, even though she hasn’t touched the couch in months. Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat from Memphis, said she believes if Boyd were to resign, she could become eligible for retirement benefits in May of this year.

Akbari also asked whether the board wanted to fire Boyd because she was dealing with abuse disorders, or whether it was because the judge rejected the board’s demands. Davidson told Akbari that the board had extended the deadlines several times in an effort to get Boyd to seek treatment.

Davidson also said in answering questions that Boyd had recently failed a drug test, even though her criminal defense attorneys have said she was receiving treatment at a facility in Georgia. He added that Boyd was diagnosed with “severe” alcohol, cocaine and marijuana abuse disorders.

Both Davidson and Rep. William Lamberth, a Portland Republican, disagreed with the letter Boyd sent to the General Assembly. Lamberth said it was “deeply disturbing” that the letter made no mention of her struggle with cocaine addiction, while Boyd acknowledged she did, according to the board.

More: The Judiciary recommends the removal of Shelby County Judge Melissa Boyd. What happens now

Lamberth also took issue with what he described in the letter as “victim blaming”.

“I was very disturbed by the fact that there is an enormous amount of blame that the letter has tried to place at the feet of someone who is a victim in this circumstance,” Lamberth said. “That is never appropriate, and hopefully we, Republicans and Democrats, can get away from that idea and say a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, but this type of behavior is not acceptable.”

Lamberth agreed with the board’s conclusion, saying the allegations against Boyd undermine the legitimacy of her court case.

“I am concerned about the behavior of this judge because I cannot imagine being a victim of domestic violence, vandalism or theft, walking into this particular courtroom and having any semblance of belief that you are a would receive a fair trial before a trial would be held. judge who allegedly committed this type of behavior,” said Lamberth.

All five members of the Senate on the joint committee, along with all five members of the House, voted in favor of the recommendation to impeach Boyd. The committee consisted of several Democrats and Republicans. The removal proceedings will now move to the House and Senate, but no date for discussion has yet been set.

Why Judge Boyd should be impeached by the Tennessee General Assembly

The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct recommended Boyd’s removal in late January after receiving two reprimands from the board. The first came after the board said she wore judicial robes in an effort to solicit donations for a school.

The next rebuke came after her former campaign manager Boyd made a slew of allegations, alleging that she used drugs like marijuana and cocaine and that she had harassed that campaign manager.

The board said Boyd was required to complete a drug rehabilitation program due to her battle with substance abuse, but Boyd did not comply with that order. At the time, she was suspended, although the order was not made public until the board said she was still not complying with the order.

That order was publicly released because she failed to comply, and the board subsequently referred Boyd to the General Assembly for “further action.”

More: Judge Shelby Co. reprimanded over resentencing comments, fourth judge reprimanded in a year

Boyd was later criminally charged with intimidation and coercion of a witness. The case is making its way through Shelby County Criminal Court and will be prosecuted by Frederick Agee, district attorney for Crockett, Gibson and Haywood counties.

According to the board, Boyd would show up at the campaign manager’s home and berate her. The campaign manager said Boyd tried to get her to recant her statements to the oversight board, telling the manager to “shut up” and “not mess with her because she’s a judge.”

Although the board has the power to issue public reprimands, it has no further power to discipline judges. Boyd has collected her full wages from the state since her suspension. The General Assembly is the only body in Tennessee that has the power to remove a sitting judge.

Boyd’s attorneys for her criminal case said during a March 1 hearing that she has completed a program at a treatment center in Georgia. In an earlier statement to The Commercial Appeal, one of Boyd’s criminal defense attorneys, Arthur Horne III, said some of her actions were “irrational” before she was treated.

‘I was always a staunch believer in getting [Boyd] to a facility to get her the help she needed,” Horne said. ‘And she does that now. “I don’t know if this affects the Legislature’s opinion because many of her actions were irrational before she got the help she needed.”

Lucas Finton is a criminal justice reporter at The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com or (901)208-3922, and followed on X, formerly known as Twitter, @LucasFinton.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: TN Legislative Committee recommends removing Judge Melissa Boyd from her seat

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