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Shipley, Ford Overstepped Legislative Role, Not Law: Nashville DA

Davidson County’s district attorney general on Monday defended probing two state lawmakers for political wrongdoing, even after an investigation by Tennessee’s most powerful law enforcement agency revealed nothing deemed worthy of criminal prosecution.

Victor S. “Torry” Johnson III told reporters Monday that Reps. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, were “particularly heavy handed” in convincing the state nursing board to reverse disciplinary action against three nurses, but they broke no laws.

“Where it gets complicated is it’s a free country,” District Attorney General Johnson told reporters in his Nashville office.

“They are legislators, and they can certainly make inquiries, but it seems to me there’s a fine line about where you make inquiries and where maybe you are overstepping what ought to be your proper role as a legislator and really try to force a conclusion and override what really is the process that is in place to protect the public.”

He continued, “When you start introducing legislation, or interfere with legislation that might lead to the reauthorization of the board, or when you file legislation to provide that the legislature somehow would oversee these things, that just seems to me you’re using legislation as sort of a club.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation launched an inquiry on June 22 into the two lawmakers and employees within the state Health Department to determine if they had committed any crimes, including misconduct and false reporting, in pressuring the Nursing Board to revisit their decision to discipline the nurse practitioners.

The three had been accused of over-prescribing medications contributing to the death of patients at the now-defunct Appalachian Medical Center in Johnson City.

Shipley and Ford have each acknowledged filing or supporting legislation to alter the board makeup or its oversight, or moving to shut the board down in an effort to convince the body to reconsider its actions. Both lawmakers have consistently maintained they did nothing wrong.

Ultimately, disciplinary actions against the nurses were reversed, although the TBI has yet to close its investigation into the actions of the three nurses.

Now that the district attorney has concluded there are no criminal charges to file, Shipley says he wants a legislative probe into where the original complaints came from and whether the state could pursue charges against the individuals who issued “fabricated” allegations.

“It had to be exaggerated in order to get the district attorney to act, and it’s just unfortunate that these people have wasted thousands of dollars of the taxpayer’s money by having this investigation,” Shipley told TNReport.

“So we’re going to inquire as to the cost and time spent by TBI and the DAs office and all that. I think as a minimum, the person who orchestrated this ought to reimburse the state for the expenses we incurred,” he added. “In a pre-election year when we’re trying to raise money, raising the concerns about the ethics of legislators, it’s not a healthy thing for us, and I intend for it to not be a healthy thing for the person that did it, if I can figure out who did it.”

Johnson said he has no intention to go after anyone who filed complaints against the two legislators.

“Nothing that I’m saying says it (was) a false complaint,” said Johnson. “In the end, I did not feel that the activities of the legislators — while I’ve obviously been critical of them  — I didn’t think they amounted to a crime. But that doesn’t mean that the initial complaints were false.”