Family questions attorney's ties to bail bonding company - WSMV News 4

Family questions attorney's ties to bail bonding company

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Attorney Bryan Lewis (WSMV file photo) Attorney Bryan Lewis (WSMV file photo)

James Bratten is no choir boy. He was arrested on a felony drug charge in December 2014.

What happened after that has Bratten's family and friends raising questions about a bonding company, its relationship to a well-known Nashville attorney, and what happened when the district attorney's office was asked to investigate.

"I don't understand none of it," said Bratten, a former client of Brooke’s Bail Bonding.

"There was no investigation. Nobody investigated anything,” said Jack Moriarty, a family friend of the Brattens.

It all started on Jan. 20, 2015. That's when James Bratten's brother Ricky said he went to Brooke’s Bail Bonds with $10,000 cash to make James' bond.

Ricky Bratten said attorney Bryan Lewis walked into the bonding office.

"I'm thinking, who is this?” Ricky Bratten said.

It's against state law and local rules for bonding companies to refer their clients to one specific attorney. The Brattens and Moriarty said that’s exactly what Brooke Harlan did.

"That's who Brooke recommended, that's who she uses. She had an inside track, a friendship with him. She just felt it would be beneficial for Bryan to represent James Bratten," Moriarty said.

Two days later, James Bratten said a guard told him he had a visitor -- Bryan Lewis.

"I didn't know who it was. I met Bryan, he came up there and told me, 'You want to get out of jail?' I said, 'Yeah.' And he kept asking me about money and stuff. 'You got any money?'" James Bratten said.

James Bratten already had a lawyer, Jody Faison, who had done a lot of work on the case. Jail records show he had been meeting with James Bratten every few days since his arrest.

"The attorney (Faison) called me personally, on Thursday the 22nd, and said he had been fired by Brooke," Moriarty said.

Brooke Harlan declined an interview. Through her attorney, James Weatherly, she said she recommended several lawyers, not just Lewis.

Weatherly referred the Channel 4 I-Team to James O’Brien, who said he heard Harlan give three attorneys’ names to Ricky Bratten. O’Brien declined an on-camera interview.

The Brattens and Moriarty have other concerns about the bond. They have receipts with dates and amounts that they said don't add up.

"We know that nobody gave her $20,000 on the 23rd," Moriarty said.

There's a receipt from Brooke’s that shows the family paid $20,000 on Jan. 23, the same day that jail records show James Bratten was released.

But Brooke’s Bonding confirmed in a letter that some of that money wasn't really paid until four days after James got out, on Jan. 27.

That would appear to violate local court rules that say you're not supposed to collect money after someone is released from custody.

And Moriarty said he believes the Brattens overpaid the amount due.

By law, a bondsman can't charge more than 10 percent of the bond as a premium, meaning the maximum should be $20,000. Moriarty said they eventually paid more far more.

"I can follow the trail very easily because I was there,” Moriarty said.

"How much do you think was really paid?" asked the I-Team’s Nancy Amons.

“Thirty-seven-thousand-three-hundred dollars,” Moriarty said.

Brooke’s attorney disputes that amount and said the receipts are confusing because one receipt adds together amounts paid in other receipts. Brooke’s referred to it as a "global receipt."

"I've never heard that in my life. Global receipt? What in the hell, what is a global receipt? I've never heard of that. I've got to Google that,” Moriarty said.

There's yet another twist – one that caused James Bratten to temporarily lose legal title to his house.

Brooke’s involved a second bonding company in the transaction, since the $200,000 bond amount exceeded their bonding capacity. Brooke’s could only write $18,000 of the bond, according to Brooke’s attorney and records on file at the courthouse.

Elite Bonding partnered with Brooke’s for the remainder of the bond.

Because James Bratten could only come up with half the bond money at first, Elite Bonding had him sign a quit-claim deed to his house.

The documents quit-claimed James Bratten’s house to a principal at Elite Bonding.

The quit-claim deed transferred James Bratten’s interest in his home to Billy Lowe at Elite Bonding.

"They wanted money, plus my house," James Bratten said.

James Bratten got the deed back to his house about two months later. Lewis prepared the paperwork to reverse the quit-claim.

"I said, ‘You-all got your money, I want my house back in my name,’" James Bratten said.

Moriarty mentioned the confusing arrangements to a competing bonding company. That company made a complaint about Brooke’s Bonding.

In Davidson County, those types of complaints go to the Criminal Court judges.

Judge Steve Dozier said he referred the complaint to the Davidson County District Attorney's Office.

The complaint was handled by Assistant District Attorney Tammy Meade.

"And when I got that complaint, I sent it over to our chief investigator at the time, Norris Tarkington, and asked him to investigate. And he did," Meade said.

There are contradictory stories about what happened next.

The district attorney's office provided a copy of an email asking Tarkington to investigate.

Tarkington himself, who retired from the district attorney's office in January, told the I-Team he has no memory of ever working the case.

“I know the name Bryan Lewis. I would have remembered a case that involved him. I never looked into that case, I’m sure,” Tarkington said.

Moriarty said he wasn't contacted either, even though his name is on the complaint.

"Nobody ever called me. Nobody ever called me,” Moriarty said.

Brooke Harlan's lawyer said she was never contacted, and never even knew there was a complaint.

The I-Team asked the district attorney's office for copies of Tarkington's reports, his interview notes or any emails.

Meade wrote in an email that there was no formal report, because the complaint turned out to be unfounded and no wrongdoing was found.

"That was the complaint that came into this office. And we investigated it and we didn't find anything that would trigger any violation of the rules," Meade said.

Lewis has a special connection to the bonding companies. He represents many of them, and he had a connection to Meade.

Meade oversees programs that help sex trafficking victims.

The programs get funding from the Drug Court Foundation – that's a non-profit that until recently had Lewis as its president.

"The fact that it's Bryan Lewis would have no bearing on how I handle these things," Meade said.

"There's no favoritism among bonding companies. Our job is to look just like criminal cases. What is the allegation? What can we do about it?" Meade said.

"The courts don't enforce the rules, so it's the wild, wild West," Moriarty said.

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