Gibson resigns DA position
by: Mary Jo Denton
COOKEVILLE -- After almost two years of struggle and controversy, District Attorney Bill Gibson is resigning his elected position.
The resignation comes just as the state legislature, on the initiative of State Rep. Henry Fincher of Cookeville and other Upper Cumberland lawmakers, was seeking to remove Gibson from office. As the legislature worked toward that end, Gibson and his attorneys continued meetings and negotiations with authorities concerning the status of his law license, which was suspended in the fall of 2006. The legislature had set a committee hearing on the matter for April 28. But with Gibson's decision to resign, the removal issue is moot.
However, his effort to regain his license to practice law will continue with a hearing on that scheduled for August 4 by the Board of Professional Respon-sibility, which oversees lawyer licensing in Tennessee. Last week, Gibson confirmed to the Herald-Citizen that he has notified officials connected with the legislature that he has decided to resign, effective July 10.
"Putting an end to this at this time is in the best interests of the public and the district attorney's office, as well as for me and my family," Gibson told the H-C. He said he made the decision after careful consideration and consultation with his family, his attorneys, and longtime friends and advisors.
Gibson's troubles began in 2006 after letters he had written to a convicted murderer that his office had prosecuted came to light and showed that he had given the man legal and spiritual advice. His law license was suspended, which made it impossible for him to perform his job. State authorities had him investigated by the TBI, which attempted to bring criminal charges against him in connection with his actions in another case -- that of a woman who had been convicted of drug offenses -- but a grand jury here declined to indict Gibson. The suspension of his law license and being forbidden to perform his duties did not take the title of the office or the salary away from Gibson since the position is a constitutional office to which he had been elected.
Last month, Rep. Fincher of Cookeville, Rep. Charles Curtiss of Sparta, and Rep. Frank Buck of Dowelltown co-sponsored a resolution in the legislature to remove Gibson from office. Fincher said he wanted to stop Gibson from continuing to receive his full salary while another prosecutor serving in his place was also receiving that amount.
Gibson's attorney, Shawn Fry, said that the haste of the legislature's actions made it "extremely difficult to adequately represent General Gibson and successfully present our case under all the circumstances." He said Gibson was given no notice of an April 18 "organizational" meeting "and no opportunity to be present or have any input into the decisions being made." At that meeting, the committee set a due process hearing for April 28, a time when schedules of Gibson's attorneys would make it impossible for them to be present, Fry said. "It was further decided without our input that the rules of evidence would not apply to the hearing and that any witnesses we might seek to call would have to be pre-approved by the committee," Fry said. "We were given a time limit of four hours to present our entire case." Fry acknowledged that "in fairness to the legislature, the removal action was brought very late in the session, which necessitated a great rush to get it done before the end."
Gibson said that many area residents have encouraged him in his efforts to regain his position, signing petitions and providing "an outpouring of support that makes today's decision especially difficult." "It is easy to blame others or blame a process that does not always seem fair, but the bottom line is that my own inappropriate actions are what created this whole mess," he said. "It is my responsibility. I have fought the good fight for a long time, hoping and believing it could be turned around, but it is now apparent that it cannot and that it is in everyone's best interest that I step aside." Gibson said he informed his staff of his decision to resign and told them that "this is not a day to be sad, but a day of new beginnings." "We will all go on and the big adventure of life will continue to unfold its new chapters, and the love of God goes with us forever," he said.