After two days of testimony a jury was unable to come to a decision in the extortion case of Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, Thursday in Criminal Court.
Judge Andrew Freiberg had ruled earlier in the day on a motion from defense attorney Lee Davis to dismiss the charge of extortion. He charged the jury with considering the charge of attempted extortion. After five hours of deliberation the jury deadlocked.
A new trial date could be set in early 2019.
Boyd was indicted by the Hamilton County Grand Jury in early April on one count of extortion. The charge related to secretly-taped phone calls East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert made of Boyd in mid-February after Lambert challenged Boyd for the Republican nomination for the District 8 commission seat. The phone calls concerned “damaging information” that the Boyd campaign had on Lambert. In the tapes Boyd never specifically divulged what information his campaign had on Lambert, but that it would be an embarrassment to Lambert, his family and his employer if it was used in Boyd’s campaign.
Boyd’s attorney, Lee Davis, built his defense on the argument that the taped telephone conversations were part of “a calculated political strategy” employed by Lambert to unseat Boyd. Lambert had previously challenged Boyd for the post in 2014. Lambert used the fact that Boyd was under indictment in campaign mailers in an attempt to sway voters.
Lambert testified for more than three hours on Thursday. Under direct examination by Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston, Lambert told the jury about his eight years as mayor and his career at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
Lambert testified that he planned to hold a fundraiser in the form of a train ride on a TVRM train. He said he invited about 10 couples but nobody could make it. However, a number of people were willing to support him by writing checks to his campaign.
The Lambert campaign documented $5,000 in donations in June of 2017 on financial disclosure documents filed with the Hamilton County Election Commission. The principals of Exit 1 LLC – John Healy, Matt Wood and Ethan Wood – each contributed $1,000.
Lambert testified that he used the $5,000 to pay himself back for a loan that he gave his campaign in his 2014 mayoral race.
Later testimony by Ken Meyer – a former State Representative and political consultant to Boyd – would reveal that these contributions and the loan repayment formed the basis of the “damaging information” that Boyd’s camp would exploit in the county commission race.
Lambert told the jury that prior to qualifying for the race, Meyer left him messages discouraging Lambert from challenging Boyd in the Republican Primary. Lambert said he did not respond to the messages.
Lambert testified that he was then contacted by an attorney for the TVRM who said that Boyd wanted to speak with him. Lambert called Boyd from the TVRM on Feb. 16 but got no answer and left a message. Boyd returned the call and Lambert recorded it because, “I wanted to protect myself.”
In all, there were three telephone conversations with Boyd that Lambert recorded between Feb 16 and Feb. 23. Those taped conversations were played to the jury.
In the calls Boyd never revealed the nature of the damaging information that could compromise Lambert’s campaign and potentially embarrass his family and employer.
“It was very clear to me, you do what I want you to do or you’re going to get hurt,” Lambert responded when Pinkston asked if he felt threatened.
Under cross-examination defense attorney Davis drove home the point that Lambert knew exactly what damaging information the Boyd camp had on the mayor. And, that the information – all public record – was the June 17 contributions made to his campaign that was the subject of a Feb. 3 column in East Ridge News Online entitled “Timing is Everything.”
Davis showed Lambert the transcript of part of one tape recording in which Lambert states that he believed it must be the Dick Cook article and Facebook. Lambert told the jury that the transcript was wrong – distortion from wind caused the error to be made.
With Boyd choosing not to testify on his own behalf, the defense called only one witness, Meyer.
Meyer said that he had known Boyd for 50 years. Meyer has worked in all three campaigns for Boyd. He also said that he had helped Lambert in past elections, including hosting a fundraiser for the mayor’s re-election bid.
Meyer said that in any campaign, “due diligence” is performed against any opponent. Meyer testified that he looked at public records concerning Lambert’s financial disclosure forms documenting the $5,000 in contributions – in part from the Exit 1 LLC principals – in June 2017.
“That just doesn’t happen,” Mayer said. “It’s odd.”
Meyer said he then became aware of the fact that the East Ridge City Council had voted to secure a multi-million dollar bond just before the contributions were made.
Meyer told the jury that Boyd’s campaign strategy was to exploit the fact that Lambert had taken money from the developers after a vote was made to secure funding for a project that would benefit them.
A decision was made to try and get word to Lambert that this information would be used against him if he pursued a challenge to Boyd, Meyer said.
“That’s the core of what we’re talking about,” Meyer told Davis.