March 13, 2013
Tillett admits error of his ways, gets public reprimand
By SANDY SEMANS ROSS
North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission (JSC) has dropped the
charges against District 1 Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett in
exchange for an acceptance by Tillett of a Public Reprimand.
Public Reprimand was accepted and signed by Tillett on March 6. The
reprimand became final after it was signed by JSC Chairman Jim Martin
on March 8.
The reprimand includes the judge accepting and
acknowledging the specific findings of improper judicial conduct that
were in violation of three the Canons of the North Carolina Code of
He also acknowledged that his actions in
attempting to remove Kill Devil Hills Police Chief Gary Britt and
District Attorney Frank Parrish from their respective offices were a
significant violation of the principles of personal conduct and created
a public perception of conflict of interest that brought the judiciary
"Judge Tillett recognizes and admits that his
frustration in his dealings with the District Attorney's Office and his
embroilment in the affairs of the police department of the Town of Kill
Devil Hills is reasonably perceived as coercive and retaliatory, and is
conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Judge Tillett has
expressed his regret for his conduct and assured the Commission that he
will exercise caution and restraint in the future," notes the Public
According to the reprimand, Tillett is prohibited
from participating in any hearing or legal proceeding or communicating
his opinion or any pertinent facts to any judicial official unless
compelled to by subpoena concerning any petition to remove either Britt
or Parrish, any Kill Devil Hills police officer or any Kill Devil Hills
town officials. He also is prohibited from participation in any matter
specific to personnel matters or professional grievances related to the
Town of Kill Devil Hills.
If Tillett fails to abide by the
terms of the public reprimand, further disciplinary action will be
taken by the Judicial Standards Commission.
investigation of Tillett's actions, which was begun on the JSC's own
motion, the reprimand states that over a period of 12 months,
investigators interviewed more than 50 witnesses and collected
documentary evidence. The interviews and other evidence formed the
basis of the charges against him.
In related action, Tillett
also filed a petition with the North Carolina Court of Appeals asking
that the court hold another hearing after it handed down an opinion
that included a side note that indicated that Tillett did not have the
authority to issue an order demanding that the town provide him with
copies of the personnel records of the police chief, Kill Devil Hills
Assistant Town Manager Shawn Murphy and others.
Court ruling was in response to an appeal of an order issued by
Superior Court Judge Milton Fitch, which stated that police personnel
could take their grievances and complaints directly to Tillett, thus
bypassing the town's grievance procedures. According to filings, Fitch
issued the order at the request of Tillett.
Both Tillett and
Fitch neglected to hold a hearing before issuing their respective
orders and there was no legal action before the court that prompted the
action. That, stated the Court of Appeals opinion, was a violation of
due process in both instances. While the court overturned Fitch's
order, other than the brief mention of Tillett's, it did not address
that one because it was not part of the appeal.
In his petition
requesting the additional hearing, Tillett said he needed to tell his
side of the story because he understood that the JSC was investigating
The court refused to re-hear the case because Tillett had no standing because he was not a party in the matter.
North Carolina Supreme Court was the next stop in the Tillett saga. A
petition was filed asking the court to direct the Appeals Court to
re-hear the matter. In response to the filings, the town's attorneys
submitted a motion requesting sanctions because the filing on behalf of
Tillett broke the court's rules.
On March 8, Tillett withdrew
his petition to the court and agreed to pay the town's cost related to
the action in the Supreme Court.
Click here to read the Public Reprimand of Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett.
And just what is the Judicial Standards Commission?
The North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission was created through an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution in 1973.
purpose of the commission was first voiced in 1975 by Justice Exum in
the case of District Court Judge E.E. Crutchfield, the first judge to
be censured by the Supreme Court under the new watchdog agency.
wrote, "A proceeding before the Judicial Standards Commission is
neither criminal nor civil in nature. It is an inquiry into the conduct
of a judicial officer, the purpose of which is not primarily to punish
any individual but to maintain due and proper administration of justice
in our State's courts, public confidence in its judicial system, and
the honor and integrity of its judges."
In the 43 years of its
existence, 33 judges have been censured by the Supreme Court based on
recommendation of the JSC and nine have been removed from office. The
JSC cannot censure or remove judges, only the Supreme Court holds that
Since 2007, 18 Public Reprimands have been filed.
Three of those, including Tillett's, were issued to Superior Court
judges, one to a member of the Court of Appeals, and the remaining 14
to District Court judges.
In 2012, a total of 289 complaints
were filed against District Court judges who tend to have more cases
before them and a large number of domestic litigants, which is the
largest category of sources of complaints.
In the same year,
there was one complaint filed against a Supreme Court judge, 11 against
members of the Appeals Court, and 116 against Superior Court judges.
a five-year period beginning in 2008, about 11 percent of the
complaints led to formal investigations. Less than one percent resulted
in Public Reprimands and three-one-thousandth of a percent were sent to
the Supreme Court with a recommendation for discipline.
complaints included multiple allegations that fall into multiple
categories. The largest number of complaints is related to
legal/procedural error. The second and third largest are bias and abuse
of power, respectively.