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Feds appeal judge’s decision to throw out 2 of 4 charges in Robinson fraud conviction

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to oust her from the chamber. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Federal prosecutors are appealing a judge’s decision to undo the jury verdict on two of four wire fraud charges former state Sen. Katrina Robinson was convicted of. The Memphis Democrat was ousted from the Senate last week on a 27-5 vote.

While the appeal works its way to the 6th Circuit, the government is also calling for the Memphis Democrat to be sentenced to up 2 1/2 years in prison and urging U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman against agreeing to a lighter sentence because of “the truly extraordinary breadth and scope of [Robinson’s] refusal to accept responsibility.”

“She has not simply declined to admit guilt; she has embarked on an extended campaign — before, during, and after trial; in front of the jury and in frequent statements to the media — to paint herself as the victim,” U.S. Attorney Joseph C. Murphy Jr. wrote in a motion filed Friday. “A consistent and recurring theme of this campaign is that the consequences she is facing are the result not of her own actions but of racial animus on the part of anyone who dares call her to account.”

The prosecutor cites news accounts in the Tennessee Lookout and Commercial Appeal about the Senate ouster, including Robinson’s statement that she was being subjected to a “procedural lynching.”

“This defiant refusal to accept responsibility and to instead cast herself as the wronged party in this case should be reflected in the sentence,” Murphy wrote.

Robinson is scheduled to be sentenced on March 3, and her legal team argued the Senate ouster was premature until her case reaches its official conclusion on that date.

“At this time we are considering every option we have to try to get those last two counts removed or dismissed,” Robinson attorney Larry Laurenzi told the chamber on Wednesday. “And we will continue doing that up until March 3. Has anything been filed today? No. Can I tell you that nothing is going to be filed next week? I can’t tell you that.”

Senate votes to oust Memphis Democrat Katrina Robinson from chamber (UPDATED)

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate voted 27-5 to oust Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) from the chamber for federal wire fraud charges related to misspending grant money intended for her nursing schools and her agreement to pretrial diversion on another case.

Robinson called the case a “procedural lynching.”

The chamber earlier voted 16-16 on a motion to delay consideration of the ouster proceedings until after Robinson is sentenced in March, meaning the motion failed. Democratic Sen. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville was missing due to a COVID-19 infection, otherwise the motion might have prevailed.

Several Republicans said later they had been confused about whether the vote was to end debate or delay consideration.

Here is an image gallery of proceedings on Tuesday.

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), right, attends a floor session in which colleagues were to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Democrat state House members watch the Senate discussion of a proposal to oust Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis). From the top are Reps. Torrey Harris of Memphis, Vincent Dixie of Nashville, Sam McKenzie of Knoxville, and Larry Miller of Memphis. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber as Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), top, watches on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
A supporter of Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) holds up a sign in the gallery while members considered an ouster proposal in Nashville on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), center, addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson’s attorney, Larry Laurenzi, addresses the Senate chamber during a floor session to decide whether to oust his client from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Democratic Party urges Senate not to oust Robinson

State Sen. Katrina Robinson confers with Rep. G.A. Hardaway (both D-Memphis) after the Sente Ethics Committee recommended Robinson’s expulsion on Jan. 20, 20222. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state Democratic Party is urging Republicans not to go through with ousting Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) from the chamber on Wednesday.

A jury has found Robinson guilty on two counts of wire fraud, but the senator has yet to be sentenced in federal court. Robinson also struck a deal for pretrial diversion in a separate case alleging she defrauded to pre-trial diversion on separate case in which the government alleged she conspired to cheat a man out of $14,470 by falsely claiming the money was needed to cover tuition for a student at her nursing school.

Here’s the release from the Tennessee Democratic Party:

Tomorrow, the full Tennessee State Senate will join a premature and ill-advised effort by a select few to remove duly elected State Senator Katrina Robinson from her seat in the Tennessee State Legislature.

Once again, we see Republicans rush to judgment on their Democratic colleague in a blatant attempt to ruin her career in the name of ethics. The ethical thing for the State Senate to do is provide her with the same due diligence that it has provided her male colleagues in the past. With impending court proceedings, she deserves the right to continue serving until this legal matter has reached its final outcome. 

This action sends a message to women seeking to serve, especially those of color, that State Legislators can deny you a fair process but, most importantly, show complete disregard to due process in hopes of scoring political points. We are encouraging State Senators to give Senator Robinson a fair opportunity and to not uphold the recommendation for expulsion. 

A preemptive decision to remove her from the Senate prior to the final outcome of her ongoing legal matter that has continuously evolved in a way that has favored her, would be a mistake and would set the wrong precedent for the future. 

Senate to take up Robinson ethics case, potential ouster on Feb. 2

State Sen. Katrina Robinson confers with Rep. G.A. Hardaway (both D-Memphis) after the Sente Ethics Committee recommended Robinson’s expulsion on Jan. 20, 20222. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) says the full chamber will take up the ethics case against Sen. Katrina Robinson on Feb. 2. The Senate Ethics Committee last week recommended the Memphis Democrat’s expulsion over federal fraud charges related to her nursing school.

Robinson is awaiting sentencing after a jury found her guilty of two charges of misspending federal grant money intended for the school. She has also agreed to pre-trial diversion on separate case in which the government alleged she and two codefendants conspired to cheat a man out of $14,470 by falsely claiming the money was needed to cover tuition for a student at her school.

McNally has called on Robinson to resign before the matter comes before the full Senate. Democrats called the move premature because Robinson hasn’t been sentenced yet.

Here is the Senate Ethics Committee’s report to the chamber:

The Senate Ethics Committee held a public meeting on January 20, 2021 after the Committee voted 4-0 in a private hearing on January 10, 2021 that probable cause existed that Senator Katrina Robinson violated the law or the Senate Code of Ethics. The committee made this determination based on Senator Robinson’s actions that resulted in a jury conviction in federal court on September 30, 2021 for wire fraud (counts 11 and 12 of her indictment) and for actions which led to a pretrial diversion agreement with the United States that was filed with the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on December 17, 2021.

Complaint 1: A jury conviction in federal court on September 30, 2021 for wire fraud (counts 11 and 12 of her indictment); and

Complaint 2: A pretrial diversion agreement with the United States that was filed with the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on December 17,2021.

The following public court documents were submitted to the committee as exhibits and are attached to this report:

Exhibit 1: The Superseding Indictment from January 14, 2021 in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Criminal No. 2:20-cr-20148-SHL

Exhibit 2: The Jury Instructions in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Cr. No. 20-20148- SHL

Exhibit 3: The Jury’s Verdict in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Cr. No. 20-20148- SHL

Exhibit 4: Order Denying Defendant’s Motion for Judgment of Acquittal as to Counts 11 and 12; Granting Defendant’s Motion for Judgment of Acquittal as to Counts 19 and 20; and Denying Defendant’s Motion for New Trial in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, No. 2:20-cr-20148-SHL

Exhibit 5: Criminal Complaint in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Katie Ayers, Brooke Boudreaux Case No. 21-cr-20003-MSN/tmp

Exhibit 6: Motion to Dismiss Indictment without Prejudice and the Pretrial Diversion Agreement in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Katie Ayers, Brooke Boudreaux Crim. No. 2:21-cr-20003-SHL

Chairman Ferrell Haile explained the complaints and submitted the court documents that support the information in the complaints. The committee had some discussion and some questions from Senator Robinson.

Senator Jack Johnson made a motion that Sen. Robinson’s actions in the two matters that were articulated by Chairman Haile do constitute a violation of the Code of Ethics of the Senate. The committee voted 4-1 in support of the motion.

A second motion was made by Senator Jack Johnson that should the senate find that the actions that have been laid forth do constitute a violation of the Senate Code of Ethics that this committee in compliance with Article 11, Section 12 of the Constitution of Tennessee recommend that Sen. Robinson be expelled from the body. The committee voted 4-1 in support of the motion.

Therefore, the Senate ethics committee finds that Senator Robinson’s actions in the two complaints do constitute a violation of the Code of Ethics of the Senate and that if the Senate makes that same finding, further recommends the Senate, in compliance with Article II, Section 12 of the Constitution of the state of Tennessee, expel Senator Robinson from the body.

/signed/

Chairman Ferrell Haile

Sen. Jack Johnson

Sen. Steve Southerland

Sen. John Stevens

AP: State election coordinator’s memo served as basis for judge ouster resolution

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins helped lay the groundwork for a controversial resolution to oust a respected Nashville judge for a ruling to expand access to absentee voting during the pandemic, according to public records obtained by the AP’s Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise.

Goins sent a five-page memo outlining his complaints about Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle to Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), the sponsor of the resolution that would gain as many as 67 cosponsors before it was killed in a House subcommittee last week. Goins said he wrote the memo at Rudd’s request about a month before the resolution was filed.

According to emails obtained by the AP, Rudd’s assistant sent a Jan. 20 email saying the lawmaker was “in need of verbiage and information for this resolution.” According to Goins’ memo:

“Chancellor Lyle issued numerous orders and expressed her opinion ranging from ordering ministerial checklists, destroying accurate election documents, using her specific language for instructions and websites, to challenging statutory language regarding voting fraud. The practical effect was she became the de facto Coordinator of Elections when it came to voting by-mail.”

Goins also took issue with Lyle’s “tone” during proceedings.

Lyle in June told Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office “shame on you” for taking matters into its own hands by modifying her absentee balloting order without first seeking approval from the court. Goins the previous week had told county election commissions to “hold off” on following Lyle’s order while his office revised application forms and sought a stay.

The state’s creation of a new category for voters unwilling to risk their health was criticized as sowing uncertainty about whether ballots would be counted if the decision is later overturned. While Lyle declined plaintiffs’ motion to impose sanctions for the unauthorized changes, she ordered the state to revise its forms to include concerns over COVID-19 among the existing qualifications for people too ill to vote in person. If her ruling isn’t followed, she warned, criminal contempt proceedings could follow.

“Chancellor publicly chastised defendants saying, ‘Shame on You’ and threatened criminal contempt,” Goins wrote. “However, Chancellor Lyle did not ‘shame’ or ‘threaten to hold in contempt’ the multiple plaintiffs who voted in-person even though they signed a verified complaint under oath in her court saying they did not want to risk their health by voting in-person and needed to vote by mail.”

Goins and Hargett promoted news coverage of the plaintiffs’ decisions to vote in person while the lawsuit was going on.

Read the full AP story here.

Bid to oust judge over absentee voting ruling killed in House

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), right, gestures at Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) in Nashville on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee has killed a resolution calling for the ouster of Nashville Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle for a ruling expanding access to absentee voting last summer.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd failed on a voice vote. The question was called on the measure despite the Murfreesboro Republican saying he wanted to roll the bill until next week. Rudd confronted Chair Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) after the meeting.

“You’re a disgrace!” Rudd told Farmer, bumping into a reporter standing between the two lawmakers.

The measure’s failure comes as a bit of a surprise as 67 Republicans were listed as co-sponsors. But the subcommittee included two Republicans members hadn’t signed on — Michael Curcio of Dickson and Johnny Garrett of Goodlettsville — and two Democrats who opposed the measure, Antonio Parkinson of Memphis and John Ray Clemmons of Nashville.

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) demanded a roll call vote, but his motion didn’t come until the vote was already underway. He sought a recount after the fact, but Farmer had already gavelled the resolution dead.

One observer noted the fight over the ouster resolution could portend a splintering among the House Republican Caucus going forward. The extent of the fallout and the fate of inevitable resurrection attempts remain to be seen.

Lawyers form coalition to oppose legislative move to oust judge

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) attends a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A group calling itself the Committee for an Independent Judiciary is forming a coalition to fight efforts by legislative Republicans to oust Nashville Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle for her ruling expanding access to absentee voting last summer.

“Currently in Tennessee, there is an unprecedented and misguided attempt by some state lawmakers to remove a highly qualified and respected judge because they disagree with one of her decisions,” according to the group.

“During her 25-year career on the bench, Chancellor Lyle has consistently handed down thousands of legal rulings based on the law. Tennessee’s legislature has never in its long history removed a judge from office. This resolution is a threat to judicial independence and, if passed, would quickly erode the fundamental separation of powers. As this bill makes its way through the state legislature, concerned citizens must come together and express opposition.”

The coalition’s leadership committees are comprised of:

  • Bob Boston, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, Nashville.
  • Roger Dickson, Miller & Martin, Chattanooga.
  • Aubrey Harwell. Neal & Harwell, Nashville.
  • Lucian Pera, Adams & Reese, Memphis.
  • Wayne Ritchie, Ritchie, Dillard, Davies & Johnson, Knoxville.
  • D. Billye Sanders, Dockery & Associates, Nashville.

The resolution filed by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) claims Lyle “committed serious ethical violations and abused her authority by pursuing a personal and partisan agenda” by ruling in favor of greater access to mail-in ballots during the pandemic.

Lyle, who was appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in the 1990s, has made many high-profile ruling over the years. They included a decision to allow Tennessee’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to appear on the 2006 ballot despite the state missing a public notice deadline.

Bar association blasts bid to remove judge over absentee ballot ruling

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), standing right, attends a GOP caucus meeting on July 24, 2019, in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Bar Association says an effort to oust a Nashville judge over her ruling in an absentee voting case last summer “threatens the bedrock principle of separation of powers.”

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) introduced the resolution to begin ouster proceedings against Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle last week. The measure has 67 co-sponsors — enough for the removal to clear the House chamber if it came up for a floor vote. Lyle was appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in the 1990s.

Bar Association President Michelle Greenway Seller said in a release that if the ouster succeeds, it could “create a precedent that any time a judge rules against the state, or on a statute, or renders a politically unpopular decision, that decision could potentially trigger legislative removal proceedings against that judge.”

Read the full release below.

Continue reading

AG asked to opine on power to oust Byrd from House

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Cameron Sexton, the Republican nominee to be elected speaker during Friday’s special session, is asking state Attorney General Herbert Slatery about whether the chamber has the power to oust Rep. David Byrd over allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage basketball players when he was their coach in the 1980s.

UPDATEThe Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports that the AG’s office does not anticipate being able to answer in time for the special session.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear General Slatery:

Article 11, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution provides:

  • Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offence; and shall have all other powers necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free State.

The Tennessee House of Representatives has used the power to expel only twice since 1866. In both instances, the member was expelled for conduct that occurred during the time of the member’s service. I am writing to request an opinion as to the following question:

  • May the House of Representatives expel a member for conduct which occurred more than twenty-five years prior to the member’s initial election to the House of Representatives and that is publicly known at the time of the member’s most recent re-election to the House of Representatives?

As always, I appreciate the work that you and your staff provide to the General Assembly and to the citizens of Tennessee. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Respectfully submitted,

/signed/
Representative Cameron Sexton
25th Representative District