COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee judge has been publicly reprimanded for engaging in sexually explicit communications with a woman who formerly had a child custody matter before him and another woman whose law firm does business with the judge’s court, among others.
A letter of reprimand sent last week to Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Lee Young from the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct stated, “The messages include content ranging from flirtatious to overtly sexual. Most of these communications depict you in your judicial robe.”
The communications were “sent to multiple women on various social media platforms from 2015 to 2020,” according to the letter. Young became a judge in 2014 and hears cases in Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam and White counties.
The board found that Young’s behavior violated a number of ethical standards including a prohibition on behavior that could be seen as coercive.
“Engaging in sexual conversations and soliciting pictures while in your judicial robe would appear to a reasonable person to be coercive, particularly when the recipients of those communications include former litigants and persons whose job responsibilities intersect with the court system,” the reprimand stated.
The letter does not go into specific findings but says that in at least one instance a party used knowledge of the judge’s behavior “to their strategic advantage in a case.” In another case, the judge had to recuse himself after a party learned of his behavior and asked him to step aside.
“Although you may have thought that your social media communications were private, your activities have adversely affected the administration of justice,” the board wrote.
In addition to the public reprimand, Young is required to attend a judicial ethics training, refrain from engaging in further misconduct and recuse himself from all cases involving a list of specific attorneys that was not disclosed publicly. In opting for a reprimand, rather than a harsher punishment, the panel considered that Young acknowledged the misconduct and fully cooperated with the investigation against him.
Young did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday left with his office by The Associated Press.