An Offender Gets His
Alls well that ends well in the case of ex-judge Lanier.
by Karen B. Shea
he 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 womens support
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
Laniers 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 Womens Political
Caucus were filled with rage at this incomprehensible decision
and wondered how this could happen after all Lanier had done to
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 OBriens
marvelous book, The Power to Hurt, details Laniers 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 womans 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 Merritts written opinion when the Sixth Circuit
Court overturned Laniers 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 Laniers arrogance and denial.
Cables Investigative Reports on the A&E channel did a story,
as did CNNs 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 were going to work to get the Federal Code changed. n
(Karen B. Shea is a broker with Smith Barney and a former president
of the Memphis Womens Political Caucus.)
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