Floyd Peete Jr. seemed to be the picture of success.
He was a Chancery Court judge earning a six-figure annual income. He had been reelected in 1998 for a second eight-year term that would have carried him to the threshold of a comfortable retirement when he turned 65. He was a good-looking guy who kept himself in shape. His daughters were outstanding tennis players, the Memphis version of the Williams sisters. He had a house in the suburbs and friends with top-of-the-line connections. He watched the 2002 heavyweight championship fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson at The Pyramid from prime seats near ringside.
Then on August 3, 2002, Peete died of a heart attack at a condominium near Pompano Beach, Florida, at the age of 60. Death brought him no peace. Within months, rumors were spreading that he had been on the take in a high-dollar case.
The rumors became accusations, and in January the accusations were spelled out in an indictment. A state grand jury charged businessman William B. Tanner with bribing Peete to influence Tanner's $70 million dispute with Jerry Peck over the sale of their billboard company. Tanner will be arraigned on April 5th, the same day the Tennessee Supreme Court will meet in Jackson to decide what to do with the Tanner-Peck case.
According to an affidavit filed in that case, the whistle blower was a former member of Peete's own family: Michael Anderson, married to Peete's daughter Yacqui in 2000. They separated in 2002 and are getting divorced. Anderson, a former University of Memphis football player who lettered in 1993 and 1994, went to Peck and then to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in 2003.
In non-jury trials such as Peck v. Tanner
, the judge is sole arbiter. From March to May 2001, Peete listened to seven weeks of argument and entered scores of documents and exhibits into the case file. According to Anderson's affidavit, the trial was a sham.
On Labor Day weekend in 2001, Peete and his family and Anderson spent a week in Destin, Florida, at a resort. Anderson went to buy something from the gift shop and was told to charge it to his room instead of paying for it because "Mr. Tanner has taken care of everything." Earlier, Floyd Peete had told Anderson, "You know, Bill Tanner has a case in my court, and I'm going to take care of him."
He also told Anderson he had a contract to buy a business called BC Delivery Service.
"I believe the money for the purchase came from Bill Tanner," Anderson's affidavit says. "It was my understanding from my wife that the sale was handled by Beverly Davis, a 'financial consultant' who has been a friend of the Peete family for a long time."
Yacqui Peete took over the business after her father's death. On August 31, 2002, she discussed how to run the business in a phone conversation with Tanner. Anderson taped the call and listened on another line. That tape was given to the TBI.
In March 2003 seven months after Floyd Peete's death and five months after Anderson and Yacqui Peete separated Anderson called Peck.
"I spoke about my knowledge of a business relationship between the late Chancellor Peete and William B. Tanner," the affidavit says. "As a matter of fact, this knowledge has bothered me for some time because it put my family in harm's way, because of the wrongdoing involved, and also because of the harm done to Mr. Peck, who I have a great deal of respect for from a business standpoint."
Anderson and Peck's son Scott had known each other since 1992 when Anderson was working for Naegele Outdoor Advertising.
Anderson gave the taped phone call to the TBI and testified to the grand jury that indicted Tanner and Davis.
Some controversial Peete rulings in other cases could also get another look, now that his impartiality has been officially challenged. In 2002, Peete granted Senator John Ford a divorce from Tamara Mitchell-Ford without dividing their property, establishing custody of their three children, or ordering child-support payments. In another 2002 divorce case, Peete granted a divorce settlement to politically influential developer Rusty Hyneman that was overturned on appeal in 2003.
In 1999, Peete ruled in favor of Penn National Gaming's application for a Memphis horse-racing track, even though the Tennessee Racing Commission had been abolished and District Attorney General Bill Gibbons opposed it. The ruling was overturned.
In 2000, Peete withdrew from a lawsuit involving control of the Beale Street Historic District, citing a business relationship with a third party, Cooper Management.
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