Viewpoint

An Offender Gets His

All’s well that ends well in the case of ex-judge Lanier.

by Karen B. Shea

The case of former Dyersburg Chancery Court Judge David Lanier has been followed with great interest by many Memphians. I confess to having had an overwhelming desire in seeing this despicable man behind bars forever, ever since I heard Patty Wallace and Sandy Sanders, two Dyersburg women he sexually assaulted, at a 1995 meeting in Memphis of NETWORK, a professional women’s support group.
We heard their moving testimony of how Lanier, who had unlimited power over courthouse employees and women who appeared before him, threatened and touched them inappropriately. They described the pain and suffering their families had endured over the past several years, and they asked for our help.
After Lanier had served two years of a 25-year sentence, I was aghast when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, led by then-Chief Justice Gil Merritt of Nashville, overturned Lanier’s conviction on a technicality. They said Section 242 of the Federal Code did not protect anyone from sexual assault or harassment and that this case should have been tried in a state, not federal, court.
To say that I understand the technicalities of this decision would be untrue. But many of us in NETWORK and the Memphis Women’s Political Caucus were filled with rage at this incomprehensible decision and wondered how this could happen after all Lanier had done to these women.
As a member of a politically powerful family, Lanier was used to having his way and was incredibly arrogant about his station in life. His sense of entitlement had led him to think he could sexually assault women with impunity, sometimes while wearing his judicial robe and while in his judicial chambers. Darcy O’Brien’s marvelous book, The Power to Hurt, details Lanier’s depraved behavior and abuse of power.
Nationally, the case has generated enormous interest. Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of the National Judicial Education Program to Promote Equality for Women and Men in the Courts, said, “The Lanier case is a woman’s worst nightmare about the justice system: to be literally raped in the courthouse by an all-powerful judge with authority to take away your children. Then, to be figuratively raped by another judge who thinks this is no different from his beating up a ticket scalper for charging too high a price.” (This was a reference to Merritt’s written opinion when the Sixth Circuit Court overturned Lanier’s conviction.)
We needed to make others aware of this injustice; so I contacted a friend who helped me contact a producer for 20/20 on ABC. They did a terrific piece which showed Lanier’s arrogance and denial. Cable’s Investigative Reports on the A&E channel did a story, as did CNN’s Burden of Proof.
When the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal in January, we were thrilled. The court issued its ruling in March that the Sixth Circuit had erred and the case was to be reheard. Lanier was ordered to return to federal prison pending his appeal. But he fled and failed to appear on August 22nd. He was captured in Mexico and returned to Memphis to serve the remaining 23 years. His appeal was dismissed.
On November 11th, the Caucus honored Asst. U.S. Attorney Steve Parker and FBI Special Agent Bill Castleberry for their extraordinary efforts bringing Lanier to Justice. Without them, there would not have been a case or an appeal to the Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, November 25th, Patty, Sandy, and I were the only ones in federal court (besides the media) to see Lanier in his first court appearance since his failure to appear in August. He tried to stare them down, but they were not intimidated and made him divert his eyes first. Sandy detected a crack in his arrogant veneer. His eyes were red as though he had not slept well, and I wondered if his wall of denial was starting to crumble.
Lanier is where he should be – behind bars, unable to hurt women – and we’re going to work to get the Federal Code changed.
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(Karen B. Shea is a broker with Smith Barney and a former president of the Memphis Women’s Political Caucus.)


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