Without bothering with a hearing, Circuit Judge John A. Turnbull, of Livingston, Tenn., has removed himself from the case of Jones v. Hays et al – the $165 million lawsuit brought against WorldNetDaily, reporters Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays, and other defendants, by Tennessee Democratic Party official and Al Gore crony Clark Jones.
Turnbull had accepted the case from original trial judge Julian P. Guinn, who had stepped down on Nov. 29, 2001, after a brief hearing. Guinn had acknowledged representing the plaintiff’s mother in a divorce, custody and estate case that extended over seven years according to court documents.
Acting under Tennessee law, Judge Guinn asked Turnbull, whose jurisdiction lies some 200 miles from the Savannah, Tenn., epicenter of the lawsuit, to agree to hear the case. Turnbull accepted, but in a letter to defense counsel, advised of a number of potential conflicts of interest of his own.
According to that letter, the judge acknowledged that he was a longtime acquaintance of former Vice President Al Gore Jr. and had supported and raised funds for his presidential campaign. Turnbull’s circuit includes some areas once represented by Gore in Congress. He also advised defense counsel that he was a friend of Savannah Chancery Court Judge Ron Harmon, who had been a primary focus of one of Thompson and Hays’ articles, and that he was well-acquainted with plaintiff’s attorney, Houston Gordon, having served in the Tennessee Trial Lawyer’s Association with him.
Attorney Larry E. Parrish, representing WND, filed the motion for recusal, which Turnbull granted on Jan. 11, without a hearing, stating: “Even if the case is tried to a jury, the undersigned would be required to review any verdict as thirteenth juror, assess the credibility of witnesses, and make judgments as to facts. In that capacity, the impartiality of any judgments of the undersigned might reasonably be questioned.”
The assignment of a new trial judge will fall to the Tennessee Supreme Court, although courthouse sources in Savannah, Tenn., question whether Turnbull will be the last judge to recuse himself.
“In a case of this nature,” said one source, “the potential for conflicts of interest out there in the Tennessee judiciary is incredible.”
In an interesting occurrence on December 4, 2001, just four days after Judge Guinn recused himself, Gore appeared in Savannah with Clark Jones at his elbow. The former vice president was in town for the majority of the day, but spent only a few hours signing autographs at the newly opened local library. The visit occurred with just a few days’ notice.
Turnbull marks the second judge to step away from the case. Although Savannah Circuit Court Judge C. Creed McGinley would originally have been assigned the case, he informally passed on presiding because of his connections with individuals on both sides of the case.
The multimillion-dollar case was brought by Jones, a Savannah, Tenn., car dealer and former Tennessee State Democratic Party official. A comprehensive investigative series on Al Gore by Thompson and Hays, published by WorldNetDaily.com during the closing months of the November 2000 presidential election, reported that Jones had allegedly been under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation as a drug dealer. Jones vehemently denied dealing drugs, but TBI Deputy Director Ed Holt confirmed that such an investigation had taken place.
Jones, who had raised more than $100,000 for Gore’s campaign and, sources say, frequently bragged to other Tennessee businessmen about his close links to Gore, was reportedly humiliated by Gore’s loss of his home state, which cost Gore the election. The Thompson and Hays series on Gore and his cronies, including Jones, arguably played a significant factor in Gore’s loss, according to some Tennessee political observers.
Jones filed the lawsuit last spring.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that the No. 1 independent Internet newssite was targeted by powerful and wealthy friends of the losing presidential candidate – and that the suit pertained to an investigative series that may well have cost that candidate the Electoral College votes he needed for victory,” commented WorldNetDaily Editor and CEO Joseph Farah.
All activities in the case have been put on hold, pending action by the Tennessee Supreme Court to appoint Turnbull’s successor.
Readers wishing to make donations to help offset the enormous legal costs involved in the defense of this high-profile First-Amendment case may make a tax-deductible donation directly to the U.S. Justice Foundation.
Alternatively, donations can be made (but not tax-deductible) to WND’s Legal Defense Fund online, by calling WND toll-free at 1-800-4WNDCOM, or by mailing a check, made payable to WorldNetDaily Legal Defense Fund, to: WorldNetDaily.com, Inc., P.O. Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523.