Judge Blackett slapped for ignoring state code
Took 7-plus years to rule on death-penalty appeal
By Lawrence Buser
Friday, April 17, 2009
A Shelby County Criminal Court judge was publicly reprimanded Friday for taking more than seven years to rule on an appeal in a death-penalty case.
The Tennessee Court of the Judiciary issued the reprimand against Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett, citing state laws that require the appeal -- called a petition for postconviction relief -- to be handled within one year of its filing and ruled on within 60 days after the petition has been heard.
The petition of Perry Cribbs was filed April 13, 1998, but Blackett did not enter her ruling for seven years, five months and 21 days.
"In this case, a draft final revised order was in your possession ... and you did not enter your decision until May 23, 2006," wrote Don. R. Ash, presiding judge of the Court of the Judiciary. "Your conduct in this matter has detrimentally affected the integrity of the Tennessee Judiciary and undermines public confidence in the administration of justice."
Ash said Blackett violated the Code of Judicial Conduct that requires judges to decide cases in a timely manner, to give judicial duties preference over all other activities of the judge, to be faithful to the law and to maintain professional competence in it.
He said the matter is now closed.
Blackett declined comment Friday and referred questions to her attorney, Bill Massey.
"In cases where a citizen can be put to death, the law demands that every effort be made to ensure fairness and accuracy," Massey said. "Judge Blackett did that and would do no less.
"There is a rule, however, which makes time of paramount importance and requires postconviction death proceedings be concluded -- start to finish -- within one year. Judge Blackett respects the law and acknowledges the case exceeded one year."
Cribbs was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for the murder of medical researcher Linda Harris, 31, after breaking into her Parkway Village home in January of that year.
Cribbs, who had three prior violent felony convictions, had served three years of a 12-year sentence and was on parole for about a month when Harris and her husband were attacked.
Blackett denied his petition and Cribbs remains on death row. No execution date is set.
The 16-member Court of the Judiciary includes 10 judges, three attorneys and three lay people who, after investigation and hearings, may recommend removal, suspension, or other discipline of a judge.
-- Lawrence Buser: 529-2385