A special judge refused to dismiss a case of extortion against Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, Tuesday in Hamilton County Criminal Court.
Judge Andrew Freiberg, a Bradley County judge who is hearing the case as Hamilton County judges recused themselves, said there is a factual dispute if Boyd’s recorded phone calls with East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert were politically protected free speech or extortion.
He set an August 9 date for Boyd to enter a plea or for a trial to proceed where a jury will determine whether Boyd threatened/coerced Lambert to gain some advantage, as Tennessee law defines the crime of extortion.
The case stems from three phone calls in February in which Lambert taped Boyd without Boyd’s knowledge. During that time Lambert had announced that he was running for the Republican nomination for the District 8 county commission seat held by Boyd. In those conversations Boyd said that his campaign team had damaging information on Lambert. The information apparently centered on a column published in East Ridge News Online where public records showed Lambert accepted thousands of dollars in campaign donations from developers 12 days after the city secured financing for a road project that could benefit the developers.
Defense attorney Lee Davis argued in his motion to dismiss that Boyd’s conversation was political speech that was protected under the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions.
Davis said that if the state prevailed in this extortion case every political campaign could eventually turn into “investigations and criminal prosecutions.”
District Attorney Neal Pinkston argued that Boyd made coercive statements to Lambert in the recorded conversations. He cited a portion of a phone call in which Boyd said that the information wouldn’t be good for Lambert politically or for the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum where Lambert works as Chief Operating Officer.
“There’s an absolute dispute on whether Mr. Boyd committed extortion,” Pinkston said, calling for a jury to hear the evidence.
Judge Freiberg said that it was common for political opponents to communicate with one another.
“However what may be said or the tenor of those statements, whether it’s truly protected political speech, or whether it rises to extortion or coercion, is a fact that is in dispute. And, therefore, the court should not consider the motion to dismiss,” Freiberg said.
_ Lambert has hired attorney Bill Speek to respond to the defense having subpoenaed bank statements, e-mails and records of phone calls related to the Lambert campaign.
Speek said some of the requests involved personal information that is unreasonable, oppressive and irrelevant to the case. He’s asking Judge Freiberg to quash the subpoena.
Speek said that on Tuesday he had spoken with attorney Davis and turned over information that is “fully compliant” with the subpoena.
If convicted, Boyd faces the possibility of up to four years in prison for the Class D felony.