Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson said Friday morning that his office is launching an investigation into the actions of embattled Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence.
Torrence has been on the hot seat following a WSMV-TV report revealing he worked in his office only part time on the taxpayers’ dime, hired two of his sons and used a government vehicle to run personal errands (including to a wine shop).
Johnson said he has been in contact with state Attorney General Bob Cooper and Metro Legal Director Sue Cain. After several meetings all agreed the D.A.’s office was best suited to take on the investigation.
State law provides two ways that Torrence, a popularly elected official, could be removed from office. One method is by an ouster suit initiated by the district attorney’s office. The legal threshold for removing an elected official is very high. Johnson said the precedent that such action would set is a “very dangerous one,” and the legal system must be careful not to interfere with the will of the people.
Johnson did say his office had heard from members of the public asking him to investigate the allegations raised against Torrence. He stressed that currently there are no indications of criminal activity by Torrence.
The other option under which Torrence could be forced from office applies only to court clerks, elected or appointed. It has rarely been used, and Johnson said the procedures involved are very murky.
As part of the investigation, the district attorney’s office will take a closer look at not only the access log of the A.A. Birch Building to determine how often Torrence showed up for work but also WSMV footage from its story on Torrence as well as the Metro recordings of the Criminal Court Clerk’s office budget hearings.
Johnson pointed out that the Criminal Court Clerk’s office is running efficiently and working as it should.
The Metro Council last week did approve a memorializing resolution calling for Torrence’s resignation. That resolution, however, has no legally binding power. The council also called for an audit of the clerk’s office. The district attorney’s investigation will be conducted separately from that audit.
Based on what he knows so far, Johnson anticipates that some sort of filing will be presented before a criminal court judge (if it’s an ouster proceeding) or judges (if it’s a removal proceeding).
The last ouster proceeding in Tennessee came against Coopertown Mayor Danny Crosby. That action, brought forward in 2006, ultimately failed at both the trial and appellate court levels.
Johnson, whose office works closely with Torrence’s, said he had not spoken with the Criminal Court clerk since reports of his actions came to light.
“Anytime we find ourselves in the midst of investigating sort of one of our own within the local elected officials, that’s never anything you want to do,” Johnson said. “Again, I think we have to go where the evidence more or less leads us.”