Twenty-two Anderson County residents have filed a petition in Chancery Court seeking to remove Law Director Jay Yeager from office, alleging misconduct that includes perjury, forgery, and having pornography on a county computer.
The ouster petition was filed Friday afternoon in Anderson County Chancery Court in Clinton. It alleges Yeager, who became law director in September 2006, committed perjury on his sworn application to become law director eight years ago, forged the signature of retired Anderson County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Avery Johnson two years ago, and had a pornographic image on a county computer that was found about three years ago.
The petition asks the court to immediately suspend Yeager from his official duties pending a decision by the court, and it requests a trial. If Yeager is guilty of one or more of the charges, the petition said, he should be ousted from office.
“I’m devastated,” Yeager said Friday evening. “It’s just another assassination on my character and on my good reputation and all I’ve done for Anderson County.”
He said he thinks the ouster suit is politically motivated, and he called it “baseless and unwarranted.”
The ouster petition alleged that former Anderson County Budget Director Chris Phillips complained to Yeager regarding some unprofessional conduct by Yeager in May 2011. Within about a week, Yeager complained to former Interim Mayor Myron Iwanski that Phillips had e-mailed pornographic images to Yeager, the petition alleged.
Phillips denied the accusation, and Iwanski retained a computer expert to inspect county computers, including Yeager’s, and confirm the source of the pornographic images, the lawsuit said.
That expert inspected the computers and concluded that the “source of the pornographic image was Law Director Jay Yeager’s county computer,” the petition said.
On Friday evening, Yeager said someone else had sent him the e-mail, and he did not solicit it and did not open it.
“Someone sent it to me as a joke,” Yeager said, adding that it had a “man versus woman” caption. He said he thinks pornography is disrespectful and degrading.
“I don’t search for porn,” Yeager said.
The image in question is not legally considered pornography, Yeager said. It shows a profile of about 10-11 nude women laying on their stomachs with towels wrapped around their heads. There is no frontal nudity, Yeager said.
Regarding the perjury charge, the ouster petition said the law director must be an Anderson County resident or capable of becoming a resident within six months of being appointed to the position. On May 11, 2006, when Yeager was still assistant county attorney and before he started as law director, he said in an affidavit that he planned to be a county resident within the next few months and had obtained a building permit from the Anderson County building commissioner, according to the petition.
But the assertion that he had already obtained a building permit was false and made under oath, the ouster petition said, and Yeager did not get a permit until the following year, on Feb. 8, 2007. A certificate of occupancy for the home was not issued until more than two years later, on July 17, 2008, the petition said. In the meantime, it said, Yeager continued to live in Knoxville, in Knox County.
In response Friday evening, Yeager said he filed the affidavit to get the job well before his term as Anderson County law director began on Sept. 1, 2006. He said his wife was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer on May 30, 2006. He said he told all the county commissioners and Iwanski that he would have a problem “getting here,” and all agreed that it would best for him to stay close to Parkwest Hospital in Knoxville for his wife’s sake.
“Everybody knew what we were up against and her condition,” Yeager said.
At the time, his wife was given about 10 months to live. She has had hours of operations, including four brain surgeries in the past few years, and continues to receive chemotherapy once a week, Yeager said.
“She still continues to hang on,” Yeager said. “That’s what was behind it.”
He said no one who filed the ouster petition asked him about his residency.
“It’s pretty obvious that they weren’t forthright in the facts,” Yeager said. “They never asked me about them.”
The ouster petition alleged that Yeager forged Johnson’s signature on an amendment to a contract between the county and Securus Technologies Inc., which provides telephone services to inmates at the Anderson County jail in Clinton. It alleged that Yeager feigned ignorance of the contract extension, repeatedly misrepresented his knowledge of the contract, and pressured Purchasing Agent Pamela Cotham to ratify the amendment to “cover up Mr. Yeager’s misdeeds.”
But Yeager said he did not forge Johnson’s signature. He said he had permission to sign for Johnson, and the document was a draft that Yeager filled in and gave to Johnson. If Johnson had had an issue with it, he would have said something, Yeager said. It’s not a case of forgery, the law director said.
He said he will expose the source of the ouster petition and show his innocence on every charge.
“I want all the citizens of this county to know where this came from,” Yeager said. “When the truth comes out, people will know.”
The office of law director was created by private act on Sept. 1, 2006. Yeager cannot by removed from his job except by a supermajority of both the Legal Services Advisory Committee and the Anderson County Commission, according to the ouster petition.
Yeager said a special judge will likely need to hear the case. The current chancellor, William Lantrip, is retiring at the end of June
Yeager plans to represent himself and not hire an outside attorney, saying he’s trying to keep the burden off the taxpayers’ back.
“I’m going to fight this to defend my good name,” he said.
The residents who filed the petition include Landle Byrge, Mark DeVol, Ray Hagan, Toby Geren, Barbara Gasper Gregory, Clyde Cook, Doug Walden, Carnelon V. Terry, Carl Warner, John E. Seiber, Larry Ownby, Hal M. Hagan, Phyllis H. Terry, Thomas T. Adams, Jason Stiltner, Dennis L. Pemberton, Virgil L. Rainey, Charles W. Jackson, Janice Sue Hagan, Gary L. McLemore, Earl T. McLemore Jr., and John Walker.
They are represented by Knoxville attorneys Gregory Brown and Jason H. Long.