The corruption saga of Roane County’s Judge Thomas Alva Austin continues this morning in two News-Sentinel pieces: one paints a tragic picture of a man distraught by his wife’s extramarital lesbian affair; the second reveals a coarse and corrupt parasite, extorting financial and personal gains from the public he was paid to serve.
The defense, led by Greg Isaacs, is pleading for leniency based upon the personal hardship he faced, which they claim drove him to reckless ruin.
The prosecution, led by US Attorney Charles Atchley, is pushing for a heftier sentence:
“This case represents an almost incomprehensible breach of the public trust”
“He is corrupt to his core”
Audio recordings of Austin’s own words support the US Attorney’s contention that a tougher sentence is warranted.
Austin on sexual harassment:
“See, back when I first started, you didn’t have to worry about that. They didn’t have no court judiciary and all that (expletive). I’ve granted girls divorces in the morning and (expletive) them that afternoon.”
Austin on financial kickbacks:
“Well, you need two books. What you don’t report, you don’t need to put in the bank.”
The two men who ultimately reported Austin to the FBI were a juvenile court employee tapped by Austin to head a driving school for motor vehicle offenders, and the probation chief. The video and audio recordings are damning.
The whole situation does illuminate the potential for corruption within law enforcement and the judicial system. Where a judge has the power to require persons before his court to participate in “fee for service” activities — whether driving school, parenting classes, or probation — there exists the necessity to keep a close eye on the money trail. Especially when the people in charge of those fee-for-service activities are handpicked by the judge who refers “customers.”
Properly conducted, these services provide value to the public… except when the goal is personal and/or financial gratification at the public’s expense. It’s worth thinking about the details of this particular corruption scheme, now exposed, and looking for similarities that may exist closer to home.