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Judge Robert Weiss gets slapped with public reprimand

By Published: April 04, 2019 12:46 PM CT

Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Robert Weiss has received a rare public reprimand for taking too long to issue rulings in two cases.

The reprimand, issued earlier this year by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, carries no penalty but is public acknowledgement of the errors.

The conduct board found that Weiss, a circuit judge since 2010, took up to five years to issue a ruling in one case and three years in another. The board said in its reprimand letter that he violated rules regarding judicial independence, impartiality, integrity and propriety. 

<strong>Judge Robert Weiss</strong>

Judge Robert Weiss

“This letter constitutes a public reprimand for your actions in violation of these canons and rules and in the future you are to follow the code of judicial conduct in promptly deciding case that are submitted to you,” Brandon Gibson, chair of the state’s Board of Judicial Conduct, wrote to Weiss in a Jan. 11 letter.

The reprimand focuses on complaints filed against Weiss for not ruling on cases in 2013 and another in 2015, and then not responding to the judicial board about the complaints. 

The 2013 case involved a trial in a vehicle accident case over which Weiss presided. A jury awarded the plaintiff $3.7 million, which Weiss lowered to $2.1 million.

On appeal, the case was sent back to circuit court by the Tennessee Supreme Court for Weiss to explain his reason for lowering the amount awarded by the jury.

After repeatedly failing to explain the decision in January and February 2018, a complaint was filed against him and Weiss was given 30 days to respond in writing to the complaint. He failed to do so.

Weiss later told the conduct board he thought he did not need to take action because the monetary amount Weiss had determined had been paid by the defendant already.

In the second case, the conduct board said the complaint stemmed from a 2015 divorce case. Motions were made by attorneys in August 2017 and again in May 2018 seeking a ruling on granting the divorce.

In June 2018, a complaint claimed an “unreasonable delay” in the case. Weiss again did not file a written response to the judiciary board about the complaint.

Weiss’ attorney, Thomas Hansom, told the conduct board the judge’s conduct on the two cases was “atypical.”  

“Respondent can neither justify nor rationalize his failures in these matters but would submit that they are atypical of his conduct on the bench and his overall adherence to the canons governing his conduct,” Hansom said. 

In a phone interview, Hansom said his client made a mistake by not filing promptly the orders and then failing to file written responses about the complaints against him.

“The board is a screening process, if you will, to determine if the conduct constitutes something that is serious or is it merely something that you need to be admonished about and told not to do it anymore, and that was the case with Judge Weiss,” Hansom said. “Judge Weiss did not respond timely to the query from the board. His biggest sin is the failure to answer in a timely fashion. He acknowledged that.”

Weiss is the only judge in the state to date who has been issued a reprimand this year. In 2018, two judges were issued reprimands, according to the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary.

Two other Shelby County judges have been issued reprimands in recent years. Judge Bill Anderson Jr. received one in 2016 and Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett got one in 2009, according to the judiciary website.

A public reprimand is a letter that outlines the judicial misconduct and and lists reasons why the conduct is “improper and a discredit to the judiciary,” according to the conduct board’s website.

Weiss agreed to the public reprimand, which was issued Jan. 14.

Topics

Robert Weiss Shelby County Circuit Court Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct
Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones covers criminal justice issues and general assignment news for The Daily Memphian. She previously was a reporter at The Commercial Appeal.


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