Judge barred from opioid trial after using case to boost his reelection bid

By: - April 21, 2022 10:00 am
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

An appellate court is barring a Tennessee judge from presiding over a governmental lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies for billing himself on Facebook as a warrior against the drugs and using the case to bolster his own reelection campaign.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals is removing 13th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Young from the bench in the opioid case and vacating a ruling he’s already made against the accused drug makers, distributors and pharmacies.

The opinion was made public Wednesday and involves a lawsuit filed by a slew of Middle Tennessee cities and counties against the opioid-pipeline firms seeking damages for the deadly epidemic the prescription painkillers have wrought in their communities.

Young told a digital legal news publication the opioid defendants were guilty of “document hiding” before he ruled against them on that issue in pre-trial litigation in the case, the opinion stated.

He then took to his Facebook page and complained, “Why is it that national news outlets are contacting my office about a case I preside over and the local news is not interested?”

Judge Jonathan Young. (Photo: Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts)
Judge Jonathan Young. (Photo: Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts)

“Screenshots of the trial judge’s Facebook page reveal that the page appears to be devoted in part to a re-election effort given a ‘Re-Elect’ picture banner next to his name,” the court’s opinion stated.

Young also posted in response to a question, “Is a $1.2 billion opioid case. Our area has been rocked with that drug for decades. Lots of interesting and new developments about the manufacturers in this case … This is an earth-shattering case, especially for our community. Fake news is not always what they publish, but what they choose not too (sic) also.”

The judge “liked” a comment saying pharmaceutical companies had “power” in Tennessee and another labeling the Tennessean newspaper a “liberal rag.”

“(Young) appears to us to be motivated to garner interest in this case and draw attention to his stated opposition to opioids within a community,” the appellate court wrote. “Regardless of the specific motivation, however, it is clear here to us that the trial judge’s comments and social media activity about this case are easily construable as indicating partiality against entities such as the (opioid defendants.)”

Young is a Republican elected to the bench in the five-county 13th Judicial District, which includes Cumberland, Putnam and Clay Counties. He faces Republican challenger Caroline E. Knight in the May primary.

Young was reprimanded by the Board of Judicial Conduct in October 2020 for sending messages to women via social media “ranging from flirtatious to overtly sexual” accompanied by a photo of himself in his judicial robe.

A new judge will be appointed to the opioid case. The appellate court vacated Young’s ruling against the opioid defendants for allegedly withholding documents from the suing governments.

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.

Jamie Satterfield
Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield is an investigative journalist with more than 33 years of experience, specializing in legal affairs, policing, public corruption, environmental crime and civil rights violations. Her journalism has been honored as some of the best in the nation, earning recognition from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards, the Green Eyeshade Awards, the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Managing Editors Association, the First Amendment Center and many other industry organizations. Her work has led to criminal charges against wrongdoers, changes in state law and citations in legal opinions and journals. She was married to the love of her life for 28 years and is now a widow and proud mother of two successful children of good character and work ethic.