In May of 2016, the top court of the State of North Carolina first imposed a stay on disciplinary proceedings against Judge Jerry Tillett, while mulling over the question whether it can regulate Judge Tillett as an attorney on the subject Jerry Tillett was already disciplined - kind of, through an agreed-upon "public reprimand" - as a judge.
The concern was that:
Now, the Supreme Court of North Carolina decided that licensed attorneys, as soon as they become judges, are not reachable by attorney discipline, even though being a licensed attorney and remaining a licensed attorney is a condition of getting and remaining on the bench.
The American Bar Association matter-of-factly reported on the decision, without any attempt to criticize its self-serving nature and impropriety, even while listing a description of what Judge Tillett did wrong - which had nothing to do with his authority or job as a judge:
Let's list what Judge Tillett did, which was the subject of the "reprimand", without taking him off the bench, and see whether it is related to his work as a judge, or whether it was actions of a private individual who uses his authority as a judge in other cases in order to influence a criminal case of his close blood relative - which is handled by another judge.
Reportedly, in 2010, after the Kill Devil Hills Police Department had detained his adult son "for an unspecified reason", Judge Tillett undertook the following:
- He had "arranged an in-chambers meeting with town and police officials" - since the judge could not possibly preside over his own son's potential criminal proceeding, the judge could not meet with the police (investigators) and especially with the "town officials" who must have no participation in any one criminal case. Neither prosecution, nor defense attorneys were present, and the judge certainly did not have a right to practice law on behalf of his son, but apparently appeared as his defense attorney - which was unauthorized practice of law, but the judge was not criminally charged. The judge obviously tried to fix his son's criminal case, which is a state and federal criminal offense - but was not criminally charged, in either state or federal court. Let's go further.
- During that meeting, judge Tillett not only engaged in ex parte communications with the police and the town officials in the effort to fix his son's case, but also attempted to intimidate town officials with threats of using his judicial power to remove them from their positions if they do not help fix his son's court case. That is criminal conduct, but Judge Tillett was never charged or prosecuted.
- Next year, the judge tried to personally seek removal, and criminal charges of the police chief and of the assistant town manager by asking the District Attorney (unsuccessfully) to prosecute them. Personally, I do not see any problem with a judge reporting a crime to the District Attorney, if there was evidence of a crime being committed - and in this case I simply lack information whether there was enough, or not enough evidence, to criminally prosecute the police chief and the town manager. Of course, the judge would hardly have asked to prosecute these people, had they gone along with the judge's threats and pressure regarding his son's case. Yet, one thing is to simply report a crime, if you have enough evidence about it (and, once again, I do not know whether judge Tillett had enough evidence to ask the DA to start criminal prosecutions against the police chief and the assistant town manager) - the crime should be reported to the police or to the prosecutor, the judge reported it to the prosecutor, so it's ok. But, the judge went too far when he has tried to harass and intimidate the police chief and the town manager by sending to them threats of prosecution on judicial stationery.
- Moreover, the judge initially presided over court cases involving police complaints - while being personally involved in the story up to his ears and while having acted as a complainant, an investigator, and an interested witness in those cases;
- The judge then recused, but after recusal, contacted other presiding judges and suggested the way that the cases against the police are supposed to be decided.
- taken off the bench;
- disbarred; and
- criminally prosecuted
- was never criminally prosecuted;
- "agreed" to a "public reprimand", and
- was shielded from attorney discipline by a decision of the attorney regulator court claiming that it does not have "jurisdiction" to review clear misconduct of a licensed attorney committed while he is employed as a judge, but is acting in cases where he has a personal interest, acted mostly out of court, not in his judicial position, simply abusing his judicial position.
I will provide an analysis of the 41-page decision by the NC Supreme Court regarding Judge Jerry Tillett - an extremely interesting one in the way the NC Supreme Court inventively tried to protect their own - in the coming days and weeks.