The Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee (TBPR) has launched an investigation related to Coffee County Attorney General Craig Northcott’s conduct.
The investigation is in response to a complaint filed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) over a series of anti-Muslim social media posts.
TBPR notified CAIR on June 7 that the “office has opened an investigation,” according to Robert McCaw, director of government affairs department for CAIR.
CAIR’s complaint alleges that Northcott violated two rules of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct, said McCaw.
The complaint alleges that Northcott violated Rule 3.8 of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct, a comment to which states that prosecutors are expected “to be impartial in the sense that charging decisions should be based upon the evidence, without discrimination or bias for or against any groups or individuals.”
It also alleges that Northcott violated rule 8.4(d), which stipulates that, “A lawyer who, in the course of representing a client, knowingly manifests, by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status” engages in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
CAIR’s complaint states in part: “As an elected official, Mr. Northcott represents a wide constituency with individuals who hold beliefs different than his own. This overt antiMuslim racism calls into serious question his ability to fairly represent this diverse constituency. Claiming that following Islam, a peaceful religion practiced by 1.6 billion, is “no different than being part of the KKK,” a violent, racist hate group, is evidence that he cannot possibly act impartially. Mr. Northcott’s belief that all Muslims are evil precludes any hope for fairness.”
About TBPR investigations
The TBPR supervises the ethical conduct of attorneys. The board responds to informal ethics inquiries by Tennessee attorneys, publishes ethics opinions and hosts an annual ethics workshop for Tennessee attorneys and conducts legal education seminars on various topics throughout the state.
Each year, the board issues an annual report detailing its work.
The board’s Disciplinary Counsel investigates complaints alleging unethical conduct.
If the investigated complaint reflects a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, Disciplinary Counsel can recommend diversion, private informal admonition, private reprimand, public censure or the filing of formal disciplinary charges.
In FY18, the board received 1,542 complaints.
About 80 percent of the cases were resolved in less than 15 days.
The resolutions of the complaints were as follows: two dismissals, four public censures, 28 suspensions, 23 disbarments, 31 transfer to disability inactive, 22 temporary suspensions and 9 retired and 14 reinstatements.
“While TBPR can disbar Northcott, it cannot remove him as Coffee County DA because he is an elected office holder. Governor Bill Lee does have the authority to remove him from office,” McCaw said. “That said, if Northcott is disbarred, it would be nearly impossible for him to carry out the duties of his office.”
Northcott was asked to comment on this story; however, he has not responded.