On Tuesday, August 1, 2023, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct issued a letter to Judge James Jones Jr. of Shelby County Criminal Court, informing him that he is publicly censured for using his official position and stationery to advocate for his friends who were convicted of fraud in Florida.

The case is entitled “In the matter of James Jones, Jr.” with case no. B23-9328.

On March 13, 2023, Jones composed correspondence representing two individuals who had been found guilty of collaborating to carry out wire fraud within the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. These letters bore Jone’s endorsement of the defendants’ character and beseeched the court to exhibit clemency in their sentencing, emphasizing his personal connection as friends with the defendants. The letters were drafted on official court stationery, and within the text, he identified himself as a “Criminal Court Judge in Memphis, Tennessee,” appending his signature as “Hon. James Jones, Jr.”

Notably, Jones permitted his spouse to co-sign these letters. Regrettably, the letters omitted any mention that his spouse had shared legal involvement with the defendants in a civil case stemming from their criminal undertakings. In a subsequent response submitted on June 28, 2023, Jones conceded to having composed the letters and extended his apologies for this action, clarifying that his intention had not been to transgress the Code of Judicial Conduct. In a subsequent communication dated July 11, 2023, he elaborated that the defendants’ legal representatives had approached you to draft these letters, and you acknowledged being unfamiliar with the complete scope of their legal circumstances.

The letter states:

“The letters were written on official court stationery, you identified yourself in the body of the letters as a “Criminal Court Judge in Memphis, Tennessee,” and you signed the letters as “Hon. James Jones, Jr.” You allowed your spouse to sign the letters as well. The letters did not disclose to the court that your spouse had been a named party with the defendants in a civil case stemming from the defendants’ criminal activities. In a response submitted on June 28, 2023, you admitted to writing the letters and apologized for doing so, noting that it was not your intent to violate the Code of Judicial Conduct. In a follow-up response dated July 1 1, 2023, you explained that you had been asked by the defendants’ lawyers to write the letters and that you were unfamiliar with “the full extent of’ their cases.”

The letter continues:

“Second, in requesting favorable treatment of parties with pending cases, you lent the prestige of judicial office for the personal benefit of others. The ethics rules are clear that “[a] judge shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others, or allow others to do so.” Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, RJC 1.3. Third, the letters extolled the defendants’ personal attributes and virtues in requesting leniency in imposing their respective sentences. As such, the letters were prohibited. vouch for the character reference. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, RJC 3.3 (“A judge shall not . character of a person in a legal proceeding” absent limited circumstances not applicable here.).”

The letter additionally notes:

“Fourth, by permitting your spouse to sign the letters, you allowed a family member to leverage the prestige of judicial office to promote the personal interests of others with whom she had ties. This, too, violated Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, RJC 1.3 and 3.1(E). Finally, the letters to the court failed to disclose that your spouse had been a co-defendant with the subjects of the letters in legal proceedings collateral to their criminal cases. Although the civil suit was ultimately nonsuited as to your spouse, a lack of full disclosure under these circumstances and did, reasonably create an appearance of impropriety. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. I O, RJC 1.2 (“A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”).”

The investigative committee decided to issue a public reprimand for the behavior described above. This was the result of Judge Jones’ admission of full responsibility and the lack of excuses for his actions. The committee also considered Judge Jones’ full cooperation with the disciplinary authorities and his clean disciplinary record as factors that reduced the severity of his misconduct.

Judge James is a judge for Division III of the 30th Judicial District Criminal Court in Tennessee located at 201 Poplar Ave. Suite 4-01 Memphis, TN 38103. His info can be found on ballotpedia.org.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.