Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

Shelby Co. judge reprimanded for comments on bail system, behavior toward MPD sergeant

By Joyce Peterson and Lydian Kennin

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has issued a public reprimand against Shelby County General Sessions Court Judge Bill Anderson stemming from comments he made last year.

Anderson is in charge of the 14 judicial commissioners who set bail at the county courthouse, and the bail reform program launched in February 2023.

On November 28, Tennessee Senator Brent Taylor sent a letter to the Administrative Office of the Courts detailing his concern about Judge Anderson’s alleged hostility toward the bail system based on public comments he made before the Shelby County Commission.

Taylor also expressed concern about Judge Anderson letting first-degree murder suspect Edion White out of jail on his own recognizance, despite the DA’s office asking for a $75,000 bond along with other conditions.

“My concern is Judge Anderson’s animus toward the bail system has put my constituents in Shelby County in more danger,” wrote Sen. Taylor. “Not only do I feel his contempt for the bail system influenced his decisions, but as the supervising judge over the judicial commissioner program in Shelby County, his influence is corrupting the judicial commissioners’ bail decisions too, which is evidenced by continued setting of low bail amounts.”

The letter was forwarded to the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, which then issued a public reprimand against Anderson this week.

“I am hopeful this increased accountability on our criminal judges will help bring law and order to Shelby County as I work to Make Memphis Matter in the Senate,” Sen. Taylor told Action News 5.

The reprimand letter, dated Tuesday, February 6, addresses two separate incidents from 2023.

In the first incident, dated March 16, 2023, Anderson allegedly raised his voice at a Memphis police sergeant at a bond hearing and became sarcastic about a warrant he had prepared, leaving the officer “feeling embarrassed and harassed.”

The second incident detailed in the letter states that during a Shelby County Commission meeting on September 18, 2023, Anderson said, “bail bond companies don’t do anything except collect money from poor people,” and, “I detest the bail bond system in Shelby County. I detest it across the state.”

In its reprimand, the board said Anderson’s comment could make it appear he wouldn’t follow the law or be impartial.

“It’s one thing for a judge to appear publicly and explain specific problems in an area of the law in which they have expertise,” the reprimand reads. “It is quite another for a judge to publicly declare that he or she detests the law the judge is charged with applying.”

Months before he visited the county commission, Judge Anderson sat down with Action News 5 to discuss bail reform.  He was highly critical of bail bond companies during that interview.

When asked how the bail system can be improved, he replied, “You get rid of bail bond companies making decisions about who gets out of jail. If they don’t post bonds, they don’t get out of jail.”

Judge Anderson said the courts can impose restrictions like curfews or drug testing on those released ROR, but bail bond companies cannot.

And that, he said, is a problem.

“The bottom line is bail bond companies make decisions based on who they want to get out of jail,” said Anderson, “and the repeat customer… just like any other business… the repeat customer is the one you want to keep happy.”

Judge Anderson told the board he follows the law, despite his personal views.

Action News 5 reached out to see if Judge Anderson wanted to talk about the reprimand and his reply was: “No comment. It is self-explanatory.”

The public reprimand can be read in full below:

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