The inquiry is expected to last throughout the summer and fall months before coming to a written conclusion around the end of the year.
House members voted 75-10 to approve House Resolution 60 directing the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to, “as soon as practicable, make available for inspection and review all files, records, backup material, notes, interview transcripts, other exhibits and materials used in and relating to the investigation by the Bureau and Attorney General of District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb.”
Ten Democrats voted against the resolution and 11 from the minority party voted in favor.
House Speaker Beth Harwell appointed six members, from the combined membership of the Civil Justice Committee and the Criminal Justice Committee, to inspect the materials.
The Judicial Oversight Committee includes three Republicans and three Democrats.
The six members are: Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, former judge; William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, former prosecuting attorney; committee chair Tony Shipley, R-Kingston, retired Air Force intelligence officer; Karen Camper, D-Memphis, retired Army chief warrant officer; John DeBerry, D-Memphis, marketing, advertising and public relations executive; and G. A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, real estate investor.
Shipley said the TBI turned over the files late Friday afternoon. He has already looked through some of the documents to get a feel for the size and scope of the investigation. The committee will look at the material over the next few weeks and begin forming evidentiary thoughts.
Following that, the committee will issue subpoenas to witnesses. The result is to see if the six committee members agree with the attorney general or not. He expects an opinion based on the committee’s findings sometime around the holidays.
He said the committee’s purpose is to maintain the public trust and the integrity of the system, but it is too early to tell where it might lead.
The committee is tasked with reviewing the files, which can recommend no action, removal from office or impeachment.
A public official can be removed with a majority vote of House members for either criminal or ethics violations such as breach of public trust or past criminal violations regardless of the statute of limitations.
Impeachment requires a two-thirds majority for criminal violations within the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations varies between one and two years depending on the violation.
Three Judicial Oversight Committee members will act as prosecutors, if action is warranted. The committee includes a former judge and former prosecuting attorney in Carter and Lamberth.
The Senate passed a similar resolution April 9.
The legislators’ demands to see the files follows a cooperative investigation launched Aug. 27, 2012, by the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the TBI with assistance from the Comptroller of the Treasury.
The investigation was in response to audit findings released July 10, 2012, by the Comptroller and other complaints received by TBI.
On March 27, 2013, the attorney general issued a report concluding there was not sufficient evidence to indicate Bebb engaged in criminal conduct and criminal prosecution was not appropriate.
However, the Constitution of Tennessee confers the exclusive authority on the General Assembly to remove judges and state attorneys for cause.
According to the resolution, the General Assembly cannot make an educated and informed decision with respect to whether it should pursue further action against Bebb without inspecting investigative files and other documents compiled and used by TBI during the course of its investigation.
Though none of the allegations reviewed by the attorney general rose to the level of criminal charges, his final report stated Bebb and his office engaged in practices and recordkeeping that evidenced poor judgment, deficient recordkeeping and insufficient attention to the appropriate use of public resources, according to the AG report.
Bebb declined to make a statement when contacted Friday evening.