Wilson County judicial commissioner sues county

By: - November 4, 2021 5:00 am
(Photo: John Partipilo)

(Photo: John Partipilo)

A former Wilson County judicial commissioner has filed suit against the county and the county’s director of judicial commissioners alleging she was ordered not to speak to county officials about work-related concerns — which include sexual harassment and secret cameras installed in her offices — before being forced out of her job in July.

Patricia Hamblen served as one of nine judicial commissioners in Wilson County beginning in  2010. Judicial commissioners, who do not have to be attorneys, are appointed by the County Commission. They can issue search and arrest warrants, orders of protection, appoint attorneys for indigent defendants and set bonds, alleviating caseloads in front of judges. 

The otherwise low-profile county division received unwelcome scrutiny last year when a Tennessee Comptroller investigation found that a since-retired judicial commissioner, Randy Hankins, falsely reported hours he did not work, while taking a side gig at a bowling alley. 

A lawsuit alleges a county official trained cameras on judicial commissioners and bathroom doors with feeds going directly to her cell phone.

In response, Wilson county commissioners appointed attorney Lisa Coltogirone in February to oversee the judicial commissioners. 

It is Coltogirone who is now being sued, along with the county, over allegations she forbade commissioners from sharing work concerns with elected officials then reprimanded them when they did. 

The federal lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. Middle District also alleges Coltogirone is the subject of at least one sexual harassment complaint. And it claims that Coltogirone placed cameras throughout the judicial commissioners offices, including cameras trained on restroom doors. The cameras sent live feeds viewable only on Coltogirone’s private cell phone, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit also claims that Coltogirone sent a memo to judicial commissioners directing certain offenses mandated a minimum bond based on the charge alone. Bail bonds under Tennessee law must be determined based on an individual assessment of the arrestee, including his or her likeliness to flee or to pose a danger to the community.

A spokeswoman for Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto directed questions to county attorney Mike Jennings, who did not respond to a reporter’s on Wednesday.

“Wilson County government has taken a hands-off approach to this,” Jerry Gonzalez, Hamblen’s attorney, said Wednesday. Coltogirone has “kind of gone off the rails.”

 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

MORE FROM AUTHOR