Sixth District Court Judge Don V. Tibbs won't preside over an upcoming drug case in that court and will be replaced by 4th District Court Judge Boyd L. Park.
The decision is the aftermath of an affidavit signed by Sevier County Sheriff John Meacham and filed by County Attorney Don V. Tibbs in which it was asserted that Tibbs has been biased and prejudiced in previous drugs cases.Tibbs denied the charges but issued an order stating that the matter should be assigned to another district judge to be determined by the State Court Administrator's office. Presiding Judge Cullen Y. Christensen reviewed the matter and issued a notice stating, "Under the regular rotation for assignment of cases, this matter has been assigned to Division 4, Judge Boyd L. Park, for further hearing."
The trial of John Gilbert Lopez and Tommy Joseph Paul was initially set for Sept. 17 but was postponed pending negotiations and scheduling of a new trial date. The defendants are accused of having a large quantity of marijuana in their possession.
In Meacham's affidavit, filed Aug. 30, the sheriff asked that Tibbs be removed from the bench for the trial, claiming the judge "has a bias or prejudice regarding stops or motor vehicles by Sevier County law enforcement officers where controlled substances are found subsequent to such stops." It concluded that "a fair hearing is impossible before such judge."
The affidavit cites several cases where it was contended that bias or prejudice was evident. It was contended in one case that several findings of the court "had no basis given the evidence presented to the court."
Tibbs has ordered suppression of evidence in some cases, concluding illegal arrests had occurred and that minority individuals were unfairly stopped and searched.
The sheriff said that despite a guilty plea in one case, the judge "went on to state that he was going to send a message to law enforcement that the court would not tolerate any questioning of individuals stopped on the highway except questions specifically related to the reason for the stop, even though the stop was legitimate and the person stopped voluntarily responded to the question."
The judge also angered local law enforcement officers and the county attorney when he ordered the return of more than $1 million in another case. The charges claimed the money was obtained from the sales of drugs, but the defendants contended it was received from the sale of diamonds. Tibbs said the court concluded that several witnesses falsely identified themselves, therefore impeaching testimonies.
Although Tibbs decided to let another judge rule on whether he should not be retained on the bench during the Lopez-Paul trial, he questioned Meacham's "sufficiency of the allegation of disqualifications," adding that the affidavit was not made in good faith and was without legal basis.