Attorney's name surfaces in suicides, judicial investigations two decades apart

Attorney Bryan Lewis (WSMV file photo)

The name of well-known Nashville attorney Bryan Lewis has been in the news a lot lately in connection with the May 2016 suicide of Leigh Terry.

Police concluded Terry shot herself in the head with Lewis’ gun in an apartment in the Stahlman building Lewis had rented for her. Lewis told police the two had a sexual relationship.

According to a detective’s report, Terry, Lewis, General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland and several other people had recently taken a trip to Alabama. The trip ended early for Terry after an argument, during which witnesses said Terry threatened to expose something she said she knew about Lewis and the judge.

Lewis’ name also came up after an investigation into the suicide of a Davidson County judge 21 years ago.

Metro police said Probate Court Judge Jim Everett shot himself in the head on land owned by Bryan Lewis’ father, Jimmy Lewis, in October 1995. Jimmy Lewis found the judge’s body, according to Metro police.

Authorities said Judge Everett's suicide came 18 days before a federal grand jury was to meet.

Bryan Lewis was frequently in Judge Everett's court. He was appointed to handle the affairs of people who were in conservatorships.

In a conservatorship, people who can’t care for themselves, such as people with dementia, are appointed someone, often an attorney, to look after them. Their estates pay the legal fees.

After Judge Everett committed suicide, the District Attorney’s office and federal agencies stepped up a probe that was already underway into the judge’s office.

"The FBI, the IRS, and our office at this point are the ones that are looking into any possible violations for anything that occurred in Probate Court. I'm not saying that there are, I'm saying that's what we're involved in looking at," said District Attorney Torry Johnson during an interview the month after the judge’s death.

Everett's suicide accelerated other investigations into possible favoritism by the judge.

A team of reporters from the Tennessean newspaper poured through nearly a decade of Everett's court records. Jim East was on that team.

"We went way back. We sat down there, eight, 10 hours a day for about 10 days," East said.

"We spent about six weeks working on the stories,” East added.

The Tennessean looked at whom Everett was appointing as conservators and how much they earned in fees.

"We kept seeing the same names,” East said.

The lion's share of cases, worth more than $800,000, were assigned to a small circle of the judge's friends, the reporters found.

"Eighty-five percent of those were going to four people, three of them lawyers, including Bryan Lewis," East said. Two of the other lawyers were associates of Lewis, East said.

The Tennessean found Bryan Lewis was paid $172,000 in fees from the cases Everett appointed him to.

“They weren't criminally charged with doing anything illegal," East said.

Published reports said Everett was also under investigation for accepting free cars from a local dealership and for possibly altering the outcomes of sentences in DUI cases.

The Channel 4 I-Team had investigated Judge Everett a year before his death. The I-Team found court records showing Judge Everett was letting repeat drunk drivers out of jail on furloughs, which the law didn't allow.

"Judges are human, I'm going to make mistakes. I'll make mistakes tomorrow. I'll make mistakes next week. But I'll try not to make the same mistakes twice,” Everett told Channel 4’s Nancy Amons during a December 1994 interview.

Former District Attorney Torry Johnson confirmed to the I-Team that his office was investigating allegations of bribery. Everett died before the investigation ran its course.

According to investigators, there was never any indication that Judge Everett's death was anything but a suicide.

Police said he left notes with his family but they didn't reference the investigation.

"Notes the judge left did not give a specific reason. The reason, only the judge knew," said Don Aaron, the police department spokesman, in October 1995.

Jim East has his own opinion of why Everett committed suicide.

"Well, I think he was scared to death he was going to end up a judge in prison," East said.

The I-Team contacted Bryan Lewis for an interview. He declined, saying, “I will never speak to you for the entirety of my career."

Now another Nashville judge is under investigation - Judge Casey Moreland.

The name of Moreland's friend Bryan Lewis coincidentally comes up in connection with two suicides, two decades apart.

Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.



Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 I-Team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

Recommended for you