Drug court founded by Judge Moreland criticized - WSMV News 4

Drug court founded by Judge Moreland criticized

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Judge Casey Moreland (WSMV file photo) Judge Casey Moreland (WSMV file photo)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

If someone you care about has a problem with drugs and breaks the law, you'd want them to get help and a second chance.

But some are becoming skeptical about Davidson County’s General Sessions Drug Court, which, until recently, was run by Judge Casey Moreland.

Judge Michael Mondelli told Channel 4 he has lost confidence in drug court.

On Feb. 10, Mondelli sent an email to the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office saying he has not approving any cases where a referral to drug court is involved.

The Channel 4 I-Team’s Nancy Amons recently went to sit in on a session of drug court, without a camera. Within a few minutes, drug court officials told all the defendants in the courtroom they could go home.

“These are trying times,” Nan Casey told the defendants before dismissing everyone from the courtroom.

Casey later told Channel 4 that taking video of any participants in the courthouse hallway as they left court would violate medical privacy laws, but did not cite the statute she was referring to. 

Moreland used to oversee drug court until he stepped down from that docket last month, amid a series of I-Team stories about allegations he had sex with two women who had been defendants in General Sessions court.

Our I-Team reported Moreland had exchanged graphic texts with Natalie Amos, a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

Some of those texts were sent while Moreland was sitting on the bench.

Since our investigation began, people have been suggesting cases they wanted us to investigate.

One case involved a former drug court defendant named Jerry Dillon Burkhart. 

In January, Burkhart posted a picture of himself on social media handling a long gun. That would be a probation violation, since he is a convicted felon.

Burkhart's story is an example of what one woman believes is wrong with Moreland's drug court. She asked us not to use her name or show her face, since Burkhart fathered a child with her daughter.

Drug court, she feels, has not held Burkhart accountable for his actions.

"It's a joke. I think it's a joke," she said. "He just kept picking up random violations.”

Court records show Burkhart had a felony theft conviction from Cheatham County in 2011 followed by a 2012 DUI in Nashville.

Then in 2015, police said Burkhart had been drinking when he shot out the window in his apartment building, where his own baby and others were inside. The sheriff’s department records show he served three months in jail. 

Burkhart was sentenced to rehab, then, to Moreland's drug court, even though its own guidelines say they won't accept anyone with weapons charges.

While on probation, in February 2016, Burkhart was charged with driving on a revoked license and giving police a fake name.

Instead of sending Burkhart to jail, Moreland sentenced him to "time served.” Jail records show Burkhart spent less than four hours in jail.

"He may have helped numerous people with his drug court, but from what I've seen with Dillon, it's just a joke. If you can go in and get off that many times, it's a waste of taxpayer money," the woman said.

Burkhart has been flaunting his ability to get out of trouble, posting on social media, "They let me drive away with warrants and no license," he wrote, "and I had a crack pipe and needles.

According to court records, Burkhart now does have outstanding warrants.

We looked to see if Burkhart had any connections to others we've been reporting about. His defense attorney in 2015 was Sean McKinney.

That name surfaced in text messages between Moreland and his girlfriend, Natalie Amos.

The judge wrote that McKinney was his "travel buddy.” In another text to Amos, Moreland wrote that he had "Sean's condo in the Gulch all week." 

Another well-known friend of Moreland's also had close ties to drug court - Bryan Lewis. Lewis and Moreland traveled to Alabama together in April 2016. The following week, one of the women who'd been on the trip, Leigh Terry, committed suicide in the apartment Lewis had rented for her. 

Lewis was the president of the foundation that raised money for the drug court until he resigned in late February, after our I-Team aired stories about the suicide of his female companion.

Moreland started drug court in 2003. There are success stories to be sure; Channel 4 has interviewed graduates before.

"I didn't like him when he sent me to jail," Suzanne Durham told Channel 4 in a 2014 story. When asked, "But now?" Durham said, "I love him."

For many, Moreland’s drug court was a life-changing experience; but the court's own numbers show there are far more who don't graduate.

According to a year-end General Sessions court publication, drug court had 34 graduates in 2016. There were a total of 157 participants.

The drug court founded by Judge Moreland for now is continuing, with the docket being handled by presiding General Sessions Judge Gale Robinson.

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