Danny Tate’s latest hearing provides ‘inside courts’ teachable moment

A Friday hearing once again brought the conservatorship of Nashville musician Danny Tate to the docket of Judge Randy Kennedy’s Davidson County probate court.  The proceeding addressing Danny Tate’s case was enlightening as ever, but prior to his case being called, observing the interaction of Judge Kennedy and the attorneys before him reaffirmed impressions from previous visits to this and other courts of the disjointed relationship between members of the legal industry and the industry outsiders they theoretically serve.

Despite courts being a taxpayer-funded entity supporting a theoretical pursuit of justice, Friday’s court schedule illustrated how the court system is a workplace seemingly more attuned to the pursuit of income-generating employment endeavors.  Within this environment, legal practitioners oversee the creation, advancement or termination of legal cases.  Free markets and conditions that support healthy business enterprises are always a desirable goal.  The legal industry’s “closed shop” protectionist attitudes along with ever changing, unpredictable interpretations of the law, procedures or rules are why the general public views the legal system with skepticism and those with direct experience may come closer to views bordering on complete contempt.

Judge Kennedy’s Friday sessions evidently provide a legal bureaucracy catch-up opportunity.  They additionally appear to serve as a probate payday of sorts as attorneys line up to submit to the court legal fee approval requests for services rendered in estate cases.  Administrative ease and casualness of process in executing major actions affecting people’s property and long-term welfare is something to watch and fear. While distinguishing the good guys from the bad isn’t something a court observer can necessarily determine, it’s easy to see that process and/or positioning often appear to outweigh any discussions of right and/or wrong.

Entering the courtroom to a view of lawyers amassed and awaiting time with Judge Kennedy is reminiscent of The Godfather scene in which people lined up for an audience with Don Vito Corleone in hopes the Mafia boss would grant a favor or help fix a problem.  A kiss to his ring signaled respect and all involved had a tacit understanding that favors received would ultimately prompt future favors being returned. A significant degree of metaphoric ring-kissing indeed seemed the practice at Friday’s court session.

Upon Danny Tate’s case being called, attorney Michael Hoskins used sworn deposition testimony of former conservator David Tate to illustrate how David Tate’s basis for petitioning the conservatorship was fraudulent and included his fabricating the extent of Danny Tate’s drug use plus creating a false sense of emergency to justify this drastic legal measure.  A three-part series Musician Danny Tate’s conservatorship: a case of caring or corruption? explains this and other key contentions presented.

Hoskins additionally discussed the deposition testimony of Dr. William Kenner in which he acknowledged that prior testimony of having performed a physical exam to determine Danny Tate’s need for a temporary  conservatorship was actually nothing more than his having “observed” Danny.  Dr. Kenner detailed that he did not take Danny’s blood pressure, did not ask for a urine sample, did not weigh him or examine the functioning of his bodily organs.  He made no attempt to review Danny’s medical records nor did he inquire as to Danny’s physical status affecting management of his financial affairs.  The doctor basically admitted affirming need of the conservatorship based upon allegations made by David Tate, but with having taken no steps to independently verify the claims.  Perhaps failure to take these steps was necessary as a credible physical examination would have revealed Danny Tate’s condition to be at a level that did not justify the conservatorship?

In representing former conservator David Tate, Danny Tate-funded attorney Paul Housch stated that no evidence of fraud had been committed.  Housch responded with what appeared a demonstration of how, given the right audience, style over substance can be an effectively applied.

Michael Hoskins based substantive arguments regarding the extent of Danny’s drug use on financial documentation that directly countered allegations made by David Tate to, per Hoskins, a “mathematical certainty that claims (of Danny’s drug use) were inflated.”  Conversely, as Housch used stylized remarks with pointed and multiple references to Danny Tate’s “crack” addiction, promotion of a “Danny Tate is a loser drug addict” position seemed both a goal and a strongly held belief.

The contradictions in claims and documented realities were discounted in place of a heavily-used theme that the amount of drugs consumed by Tate was irrelevant.  While quantifying Danny Tate’s alleged drug use was accepted as a major argument for institution of the 2007 temporary conservatorship, a 2010 refutation of the claim’s factual accuracy brought Housch and Judge Kennedy shared use of a talking point that the Danny Tate’s level of drug usage wasn’t ever an issue.

“The conservatorship is over and Danny Tate needs to get on with his life,” Housch said. “Mr. Danny Tate instead of attacking his brother should be thanking him for saving his life.”  Once again, while Housch’s “stylish” assertion is mired in the appearance of compassion, it also attempts to mask the “substantive” reality that Danny Tate’s prior financial security may never be reclaimed and for that reason, he continues to rally against both his court-appointed conservator and his court-sanctioned impoverishment.  As Danny Tate, the man with a $1.5 million estate at the onset of the conservatorship, is now a functionally indigent person facing mounting legal debt and uncertainty as to potential future financial assaults flowing from his probate court experience, “getting on with his life” is perhaps easier said than done.

Understanding that ever changing interpretations of the law assist courts in generating desired outcomes, a common sense analysis of “legal perspective” can serve to generate an outcome of increased concern regarding the credibility and motivations of our judicial system.  As discussed previously, Judge Kennedy was obviously on board with the popular “quantity of Danny Tate’s drug use doesn’t matter” point.

Instead of viewing with concern sworn testimony offered both in his court and in depositions whose conflicting content suggest Danny Tate’s conservatorship could have been established under fraudulent claims, Kennedy opted to “hang his hat” on second-hand information (not necessarily given as sworn testimony) in which Danny Tate allegedly made statements about his drug use to medical personnel some of which he appeared to have voluntarily contacted in seeking treatment.

Judge Kennedy termed Danny Tate’s motion that his conservatorship was fraudulently conceived as “procedurally untimely.”  He was unphased with arguments that the new evidence was only uncovered earlier this year upon current attorney Michael Hoskins deposing key parties to the conservatorship.  That it had been expeditiously (by legal standards) brought to the court’s attention made no difference.  In the interest of protecting a ward’s best interest, one might think such a revelation would be worthy of investigation.  Certainly the pursuit of justice in other legal venues allows newly discovered evidence as a basis for re-examination of old cases.  Evidently, the Danny Tate case is ineligible for such consideration.

The judge was additionally critical that none of Danny Tate’s previous attorneys had made allegations of fraud.  Much can be said about the challenges of finding a trustworthy attorney to vigorously pursue any legal dispute and the closed-shop nature of probate courts makes efforts in this arena all the more difficult.  The legal industry as well as probate court watchers understand that an attorney’s long-term professional welfare can be enhanced or destroyed based upon their relationship with local venues.  Much likely happened in the dynamics of Danny Tate and prior attorneys, but if the truth were told, parties involved understand exactly how and why these revelations are just now coming to light.  With that, Michael Hoskins’ vigorous representation of Danny Tate deserves the highest of marks for the courage he has shown in calling attention to a system that increasingly seems worthy of serious scrutiny.

One final note about Judge Kennedy’s comments come from his proclamation that the court has “acted accurately and consistently with the law.”  Danny Tate was the target of a temporary conservatorship for 32 months.  During this time, the court did not schedule a final hearing that would have allowed Danny Tate his “day in court” to fight the conservatorship status.  Upon entry into the case, Michael Hoskins filed an extraordinary relief application with the Middle Tennessee Court of Appeals seeking to reverse a Kennedy ruling and compel the scheduling of a final conservatorship hearing.  The court in fact reversed Judge Kennedy with the ruling described by Nashville Scene as “meaning the Probate Court had strayed so far from established legal procedure that an extraordinary judicial slap on the wrist was dealt to Kennedy.  More remarkable still, Judge Frank Clement, the jurist who issued the Appeals Court decision, used to sit in Kennedy’s seat in Probate Court.”  Evidently, more than Danny Tate friends and supporters have found cause for concern regarding Judge Kennedy’s courtroom conduct.

WSMV-TV  was on hand at Friday’s hearing.  While coverage of probate issues is always appreciated, Songwriter Shouts At Judge, Escorted From Court exaggerates the exchange that occurred.  On his television program, Glenn Beck routinely encourages his audience to “question with boldness” the actions of government and that’s exactly what Danny Tate did.  Several additional points should also be noted.

Danny Tate has a beautiful voice.  Not just as a singer, but also his speaking voice.  As a trained entertainer, he knows how to naturally project his voice for the audience on hand.  With no microphone to amplify his voice and – not visible from the camera angle – Tate standing behind a table which was 30 feet or more from the judge, the WSMV’s microphone positioned at the plaintiff’s table captured a far louder version of Danny Tate’s comments than anyone in the court room heard.  Judge Kennedy absolutely did not want to hear from Danny Tate, but based on the tone of the entire proceeding, it appeared more to do with the content of his comments, not the volume.

Was Danny Tate animated?  Was he frustrated?  Yes, but while “shouts at judge” makes an attention-getting headline, it’s accuracy is arguable.  The same can be said for his having been “escorted” or “thrown” from court.”  The WSMV video twice broadcast an off-camera Judge Kennedy telling Danny Tate to “leave the courtroom” with Danny Tate doing exactly that.  Only by government work ethics and standards would the employee who walked out of the courtoom ahead of Tate be dumbed-down to constitute an escort or the action of being “thrown from court.”

Danny Tate summarized the day saying “What is very disturbing is the fact that due process was just trampled upon.”  Disturbing is a good term for this case and any American should be concerned with the ease and nearly non-existent standard of evidence under which Danny Tate’s personal freedom and property were hijacked.  Next step is an appeal.

For more info:

Musician Danny Tate’s conservatorship: a case of caring or corruption? (part three) (Aug. 18, 2010)

Musician Danny Tate’s conservatorship: a case of caring or corruption? (part two) (Aug. 16, 2010)

Musician Danny Tate’s conservatorship: a case of caring or corruption? (part one) (Aug. 15, 2010)

Nashville musician continues fight against probate court’s assault on personal, property rights (July 11, 2010)

Nashville probate court tags musician Danny Tate with conservatorship ‘freedom tax’ (June 16, 2010)

Nashville probate court still center of musician’s conservatorship (guardianship) dispute (June 7, 2010)

Musician Danny Tate freed from conservatorship, assets still targeted in Nashville probate court (May 30, 2010)

Danny Tate conservatorship cases sees increased media activity with AP coverage (May 22, 2010)

Musician Danny Tate’s conservatorship brings scrutinization of probate issue (May 18, 2010)

Musician Danny Tate shows “fight for your life” aspect of Nashville (and other) probate courts (May 3, 2010)

Austin musicians (and others) beware the guardianship plight of Nashville rocker Danny Tate (April 11, 2010)

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com and a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.