Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's Next in Shelby County Clerk Case?

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2009 at 9:53 PM

Is the criminal investigation of the Shelby County Clerk's office -- and, possibly, some local elected officials -- going federal? Two veteran criminal lawyers, neither of whom is involved in the case, have different views.

John Pierotti, a former Shelby County District Attorney General, expects the case to stay in state court. All of those indicted so far in connection with car tags and licenses face state charges. Memphis City Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware was not indicted but was named as making payments to clerks in 2007 and 2008. She has said she did nothing improper or illegal. Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons has said more indictments are likely.

"I wouldn't think Bill would be going to the trouble of requesting an investigative grand jury unless he intends to prosecute it," Pierotti said.

Pierotti said it is rare for a D.A. to make that request, and he never did it during his tenure.

Defense attorney Leslie Ballin said it might be "cleaner" to move the case to federal court, so there would no need to appoint a special prosecutor if Gibbons decides to recuse himself.

Gibbons, a former City Council member before any of the current members were elected, is planning to run for governor. A third possibility is parallel or joint investigations with state and federal indictments. Pat Brown, a former federal public defender in Memphis, said some cases go both ways if there are multiple defendants and state and federal violations.

Football booster Logan Young was indicted on federal charges announced at a joint press conference by Gibbons and former United States Attorney General Terry Harris. And former Shelby County Commission aide Calvin Williams was indicted on state charges before that case was dropped and he was later tried and convicted on federal charges.

Public corruption cases in recent years have generally been handled in federal court, including the Tennessee Waltz cases and the Main Street Sweeper cases against former councilmen Rickey Peete (who pleaded guilty) and Edmund Ford (who was found not guilty at trial).

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