On Thursday, January 4, 2024, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded Judge Toby Gilley of Rutherford County for conducting independent online research during a trial.
According to the Board’s letter, Judge Gilley was presiding over a case where the value of a tree that had been cut down was the central issue in dispute between the parties. Instead of relying solely on the evidence and testimony presented in court, Judge Gilley performed his own internet search and found an online valuation calculator. He then questioned an expert witness about the differences between the methodology used in the online source versus what the witness had presented.
The Board stated that the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from independently investigating facts or considering information not introduced as evidence. All judicial decisions must be based solely on the factual record established by the parties in court. By conducting extrajudicial research and referencing an outside source during questioning, Judge Gilley violated rules ensuring a fair trial based only on evaluated information.
The letter noted Judge Gilley’s actions could also raise reasonable questions about his impartiality. As arbiters, judges must make rulings in a manner that promotes confidence in their neutrality. However, performing independent factual searches regarding a contested issue crossed the line into partial territory.
While acknowledging his misconduct, Judge Gilley accepted the public reprimand without dispute. The Board took into account his cooperation and acknowledgment of the error. However, his prior disciplinary history was cited as an aggravating factor.
The Board hopes this sanction will help Judge Gilley, and serve as a lesson to other judges, to avoid any future conduct that could violate judicial ethics. All judicial decisions must be based only on proper evidence introduced through approved legal channels, not outside information, to ensure fair and impartial trials.
Judge Gilley’s courtroom is located at 116 W. Lytle Street, Rutherford County Judicial Center, Murfreesboro, TN 37130, and can be reached at 615-217-1138.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.