Hundreds of attorneys from across the state of Tennessee are calling for an investigation into Coffee County District Attorney General Craig Northcott after a video surfaced of Northcott claiming he doesn’t offer the same protections for people involved in gay marriage in cases of domestic violence.
The lawyers are calling on the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility to investigate Northcott’s conduct.
As of Thursday morning, more than 300 Tennessee attorneys had signed the letter. (you can see the letter and a live update of the signatures by clicking here)
“We, the undersigned members and future-members of the Tennessee Bar, write to express our outrage and disappointment at Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott’s failure to uphold his oath of office, to maintain the ethical standards for licensed attorneys in this state or to protect the very citizens he is mandated to serve.
“We find (his comments) disturbing and unacceptable on multiple levels, the least of which being Mr. Northcott’s misunderstanding of domestic violence law in the State of Tennessee where marriage or even romantic status is not an essential element for a charge of domestic assault. But far beyond the issue of the marital status of gay individuals (though, gay marriage is the law of the land) are the ethical implications of a District Attorney who will not serve nor protect the constitutional rights of citizens without first subjecting them to a test of sexuality or religious-beliefs. This is the highest level of prosecutorial misconduct and abuse of discretion.”
Denouncing the policy
Chase Parker, an attorney in Chattanooga, has written a letter to the Coffee County Commission to address District Attorney General Craig Northcott’s stated prosecutorial policy on domestic violence.
“I understand his comments to mean he has established a policy of denying prosecutorial justice to domestic violence victims in your circuit. As an elected official of your county, I ask that you denounce this policy for what it is: shutting the doors of the courthouse to make a point of personal politics.”
Northcott said in a video posted by Dean Bible Ministries in August 2018 that recently surfaced on Facebook that “the reason there is an enhanced punishment on a domestic violence is to recognize and protect the sanctity of marriage, and I say there is no marriage to protect, so I don’t prosecute them as domestics.”
It is unclear at this time if Northcott has applied this thinking to actual cases. Northcott, a republican, was elected District Attorney of the 14th Judicial District in August of 2014, defeating longtime democratic incumbent Mickey Layne.
Coffee Co. Republican Party stands behind Northcott, cites free speech
“The Coffee County Republican Party stands behind DA Craig Northcott in his first amendment right to free speech,” said Richard Brooks Jr, chairman of CCRP.
“While some may or may not agree with any comment any elected official makes personally, that does not take away their right to make the comment.”
issue statement standing with all victims of domestic assault
In a statement issued Wednesday, June 5, Coffee County Young Republicans stand with the victims of domestic violence and say the law must protect everyone equally.
“The Coffee County Young Republicans recognize domestic abuse as a serious issue not only in our county but across the nation,” the statement reads. “Tennessee state law equally protects everyone regardless of race, gender, marital status, or sexual preference.
“The question of one’s stance on the issue of sexual preference is irrelevant as it relates to interpreting this law. We respect the right to freedom of speech and to hold an opinion, as long as that opinion does not crossover and become an instituted policy. We stand with all victims of domestic violence and believe that everyone should be treated equally in the eyes of the law.
About domestic violence law
Under Tennessee statute, the term for the crime of physical domestic violence is “domestic assault.” It is not limited to physical abuse. In addition to physical abuse, domestic violence includes emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse and spiritual abuse.
This issue impacts individuals of any age, gender and social status.
In Tennessee, domestic assault is a category of assault that has a specific type of victims.
The law doesn’t protect married individuals only. It’s a domestic assault when it’s committed against someone who is a: current or former spouse; cohabitant; dating or sexual partner; blood or adoptive relative; current or former relative by marriage; or adult or minor child of any of the above individuals.