By CONNIE ESHThe Wilson Post
A public hearing conducted by the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission Tuesday in Lebanon to fill the vacant 15th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge’s position heated up a bit when an ex-wife of one of the applicants accused him of spousal abuse and welfare fraud.
Donna Beaty told the panel that her ex-husband, Deputy District Attorney David Durham, allegedly forced her to apply for welfare to pay for the birth of their child and later hit her in the face breaking her nose.
“He told me to tell the hospital I hit my face on the dash,” she said. Beaty said she was pregnant before she married Durham and he required her to lie and tell welfare officials that she did not know who was the father of her child.
She was later prosecuted for Medicaid fraud after friends realized the child was Durham’s, she said.
After the hearings were completed, Durham was asked if he would like the opportunity to respond to Beaty’s comments. He said, “I’ve been divorced from her for 17 years, and I have absolutely no response to anything she has to say.”
He also added that friends and family who know him best might wish to comment.
A member of the bar who asked not to be identified told The Post yesterday afternoon that it was an “unfortunate situation” regarding the statements made by Durham’s ex-wife. “I’ve known David, as I have the other applicants, for a quite sometime. I think what this woman (Beaty) said today is very hurtful and raises a number of questions including, among others, why, if her statements are true, is this just now coming forth. She has had almost 20 years to file these complaints. It doesn’t make sense for her to do this today,” he said.
The hearing to fill the seat vacated by the recent death of Judge J.O. Bond began with two recommendations for Durham.
One recommendation came from Lebanon attorney Neal Agee Jr. and the other from Russell Brown, a Lafayette attorney.
Brown said Durham had been a friend and professional colleague for many years.“David has the ability to relate to people, rich or poor, well educated or unfortunately illiterate alike,” Brown said. “He relates well to everyone regardless. And he has the ability to make hard decisions to do the right thing not the easy thing.”
Agee agreed, “He is capable of independent thought. He wants to do the right thing, not just convict, but be sure the law is obeyed. He sees all sides of an issue and would be a fair and impartial judge.”
Assistant District Attorney Robert “Bobby” Hibbett is the second candidate for the position. Hibbett, who was defeated by Bond for the position in the 2006 election, had three Wilson County colleagues recommending him.
Mt. Juliet attorney Donna Wagner pointed out that in his role of docket manager he is always courteous and respectful to everyone in the courtroom.
“This creates an environment conducive to clear thinking and allows all sides to present their case,” she said. “He listens well and considers both sides, even when he doesn’t agree.”
Hibbett’s second recommendation came from Dr. Sandra Phillips, a clinical psychologist.She pointed out that her practice often involves determining competency and state of mind at the time the crime was committed.
“I respect him, I campaigned for him for judge in the last election,” she said. “And with all the opportunities for stories about the bad things he might have done, not once did I hear anyone say anything that was damaging.”
Lebanon business owner Danny Stewart also told the panel about Hibbett’s behavior out of the courtroom.
“I know him as a Scout leader, and a patient dad helping a restless child deal with a church service without bothering others,” Stewart said.
He also recalled letters from Hibbett while he served in Iraq. “He would tell us about the needs of his soldiers so we could get involved in supporting them. He has the character we need in this position.”
The third candidate is Brody Kane, an attorney in private practice with McBrien and Kane in Lebanon.
He was recommended by his partner Shawn McBride and his banker Chris Crowell.McBrien said he first met Kane when he faced him in a tough civil case.“Brody has an excellent work ethic,” McBrien said. He added that it was a pleasure to face an opponent who while he wanted to see that his client got fair treatment didn’t treat the opposition as the enemy.
Crowell called Kane, “a person who tirelessly seeks justice. And he has a moderate even temperament.”
Crowell also said as Kane’s banker he could add that Kane “was financially responsible, both now and in the past.”
Following the public hearing, the panel interviewed each of the candidates and will send all three names as required to Gov. Phil Bredesen who will choose the new judge. Bredesen may also reject all three names which would mean the process would begin anew.
For more information visit online at www.tncourts.gov or call 741-2687.
Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.