Judge steps down from lawsuit against county

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
A federal court judge presiding over one of two class-action lawsuits filed against the county and Sheriff John Henson citing "inhumane conditions" at the Carter County jail has stepped down from the case.
According to employees of the U.S. District Court in Greeneville, Judge Thomas Gray Hull filed a court order on Wednesday disqualifying himself from presiding over the first lawsuit filed against the county by attorney Scott Pratt on behalf of Michael Todd Davis and Donna Wells.
In the order, Hull transferred the case to the docket of Judge J. Ronnie Greer, who is presiding over the second lawsuit filed by attorney John Eldridge on behalf of Tony Berry.
Hull disqualified himself and transferred the case to Greer to simplify matters, court employees said. On Dec. 31, 2003, Pratt and Eldridge filed a motion asking the court to join the two lawsuits.
Having both lawsuits under a single judge will simplify the handling of the cases in the event that the motion to join is granted. As of Wednesday, no ruling had been made on the motion and court employees said they did not know when one will be issued.
The lawsuits contend that all three plaintiffs were incarcerated in the Carter County Jail and suffered some form of harm during their time at the detention facility.
Both lawsuits claim conditions at the jail, "fall beneath the minimum standards for human decency, inflict cruel and needless punishment on all of the inmates, and create an environment that takes a tremendous toll on the inmates' physical and emotional well-being," the first lawsuit claims.
The suits seek an injunction against the defendants to correct the conditions.
"Plaintiff and the class seek to alleviate unsanitary conditions, lack of adequate medical care, dental care and mental health care, lack of exercise and recreation, lack of access to legal materials and legal assistance, lack of fire safety, lack of basic hygiene materials, lack of adequate supervision, and other unconstitutional conditions at the facility," the second suit claims.
Knoxville attorney John Duffy has been appointed to represent the county and Henson. According to court records, he has not filed a response to either of the two lawsuits.
Duffy told The Star earlier this month that he was waiting for a possible joining of the lawsuits before he files a response.