Judge Accused of Illegally Expunging Criminal Records

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Tennessee Circuit Court Judge Jim Hamilton is accused of expunging the criminal records of two convicted felons when he did not possess the authority to do so.  This was only discovered after employees of the Sheriff’s office recognized one of the felons names on a request for a gun permit and could not locate his records.  The District Attorney in Maury County is  looking to reinstate those convictions immediately.

A criminal record that has been expunged would not show up on a background check.  Expunging a record from a person’s criminal history means that it’s gone, it never happened.  Typically, serious criminal convictions do not qualify for the expungement process.  This story does not indicate what crimes these two individuals committed, but does say that the individual applying for the firearm was convicted three times and served time in prison.  That sounds pretty serious to me.

This judge has some explaining to do.

Judge Accused of Illegally Expunging Criminal Records

By Nick Beres, NewsChannel5.com – July 7, 2010

COLUMBIA, Tenn. –Senior Maury County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hamilton is accused of illegally wiping the records clean for felons. Now, District Attorney Mike Bottoms wants to know why.

“We’ve got a judge who is granting pardons and he doesn’t have that power,” said District Attorney Mike Bottoms.

Bottoms has filed lawsuits to reinstate the criminal records of two men with multiple felonies. His petition reads: “The state seeks to have illegal orders of expungement set aside …. The judge who signed the expungement orders was without the legal authority to do so.”

Bottoms said Hamilton illegally expunged the felony records of Phillip Williams and Rodney Gillespie. Typically expungement orders have the approval of the district attorney, defense attorneys and the judge. But in both cases, the orders only had Hamilton’s signature.

Hamilton was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Newschannel5 questioned the Circuit Court Clerk Kathy Kelley.

“Mike Bottoms is alleging the judge gives pardons to felons,” said NewsChannel 5’s Nick Beres.

“I don’t know anything about this,” said Kelley.

“Does Judge Hamilton expunge records illegally?” asked Beres.

“Not to my knowledge,” answered Kelley.

Bottoms called this a public safety issue. He says one of the men involved, Gillespie, was already taking steps to get a gun.

“I was shocked that someone convicted three times and served time in a penitentiary could have his record expunged. And now he has a gun permit,” said Bottoms.

At this moment, Gillespie and Williams are no longer felons. Their records have been cleared. Bottoms said they can buy guns, vote, even apply for jobs in law enforcement.

Gillespie and Williams could not be reached for comment.

Bottoms said there’s no indication Hamilton was bribed for the expungements. So his reasons for granting the expungements remain unclear. It’s all part of a growing investigation that may now include the TBI.

Bottoms said he only learned of the expungements after Gillespie applied for the gun permit and employees at the Maury county sheriff’s department recognized his name, but couldn’t find his record.

Bottoms said he worries there may be others who have received similar pardons.

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