A Nashville-based attorney, acting on behalf of hundreds of additional lawyers, has asked The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility to suspend Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott’s law license.
Sunny Eaton is one of the more than 300 lawyers who signed the original complaint filed against Northcott in June, after Northcott’s anti-Muslim comments circulated on social media and a video of Northcott making anti-LGBT statements surfaced.
“It’s very clear impropriety,” Eaton said of the two instances. “Frankly, his statements were reprehensible, and they fly in the face of what attorneys in Tennessee stand for.”
On Monday, Eaton submitted a follow-up letter on the group’s behalf urging the board to seek the immediate, temporary suspension of Northcott’s license.
According to Eaton, this newest letter was submitted out of a sense of urgency based on Northcott’s written statement in response to that original complaint.
Eaton said all attorneys who have complaints filed against them with TBPR are required to respond to said complaints. While Northcott’s attorney filed a rebuttal on Northcott’s behalf, Northcott himself submitted a letter of rebuttal as well.
While the original complaint was based on the “appearance of impropriety” from the video of Northcott making anti-LGBT comments, Eaton said Northcott’s written statement proved he had “every intention of being defiant of the law and he has every intention of using his office for discriminatory purposes.”
“That can’t be allowed,” Eaton said.
Based on his written statement, Eaton said Northcott admitted to “making prosecutorial choices based on discriminatory purposes based on bias against particular groups that he arbitrarily has problems with.”
“We found this to be urgent,” Eaton said of Northcott’s reply.
Eaton was clear that her letter was not related to the motion filed by student activist Justin Jones in his case against former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada to have Northcott disqualified as special prosecutor.
“The reality is that this was something that I planned on doing and otherwise might have been working on even prior to knowing about Mr. Leonardo’s motion to disqualify,” Eaton said. “It has nothing to do with that.”
“I don’t have a dog in the Casada-Justin Jones fight,” she said. “I’m not representing Justin Jones; I’m not working with Nick Leonardo. But Mr. Northcott very clearly in the video-recorded statement says … essentially that he would look past any wrongdoings by government officials who acted on their biases.”
That admission, Eaton said, was relevant to “any case he prosecutes where he might have biases, of which his are many.”
Eaton said she saw news reports where Northcott “whined” about having a “religious test” imposed upon his office, but she dismissed Northcott’s complaint.
“Here’s the reality: he’s not a victim here,” Eaton said. “In fact, he’s refusing to protect victims. He’s the least victim here. He’s the person with the most power in this situation.”
Further, Eaton said, she did not care what his religious or political beliefs are, nor did many of the attorneys who signed onto the original complaint against Northcott.
“In fact, close to half of the attorneys who signed the original complaint are of conservative beliefs,” she said, “and many would share the same religious beliefs as him.”
The difference between Northcott and those other attorneys, Eaton said, is “they also acknowledge that they have an oath to uphold the law; they have an oath to uphold the Constitution, and when they took that oath that’s what they had to do. Mr. Northcott, on the other hand, decides he can operate his state of government however he wants to.”
Eaton said she knew “for a fact” that Northcott’s comments had frightened members of the LGBT community in Coffee County.
“Since our original complaint, multiple gay citizens of Coffee County have reached out to me, personally, and shared their stories of being fearful of their own government,” she said. “Many have told me if they found themselves the victim of crime, they would not seek assistance through his office.”
Eaton said she had originally planned to include signed affidavits from LGBT individuals in Coffee County in her letter but decided against it out of fear of their safety.
“They do not feel like Mr. Northcott would protect their interests or protect their personal safety, and in fact, they believe doing so might put their safety in further jeopardy,” she said.
Northcott called Eaton’s course of action “regrettable.”
“It is regrettable that Ms. Eaton has chosen to try this in the public arena rather than trusting the legal process to work as intended,” he said. “I will not be following her example and thus have no comment.”
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.