Former Prosecutor Tim Discenza Revisits Memphis


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Tim Discenza
  • Steven Sondheim
  • Tim Discenza
Former Assistant U.S. Atty. Tim Discenza, who prosecuted John Ford and Roscoe Dixon in Operation Tennessee Waltz, was back in Memphis Sunday to talk about his new job investigating ethical complaints against judges.

Discenza now lives in Nashville where he is chief disciplinary council for the Court of the Judiciary. He was on a panel on conflicts of interest hosted by the Public Interest Forum at the main library, along with state senator Beverly Marrero and state representative Mike Kernell.

Discenza said the greatest number of complaints that come to him involve domestic cases, usually divorces or child custody.

"I have never seen such bitterness," said the former federal prosecutor for 30 years.

He said those making the complaints "are mad at me, the spouse, and the judge" and that security of court officers is a big concern.

The second greatest number of complaints come from prisoners, many of whom mistakenly believe that the Court of the Judiciary has the powers of the state Court of Appeals.

Discenza knew as much about the down and dirty of politics and government as anyone, but he shakes his head over the current political climate in Nashville.

"When you see what has happened to state government, it's scary," he said.

He says he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican partisan, but he has been struck by the willingness of the supposedly anti-government Tea Partiers to try to override local ordinances they don't like. And he sympathized with Marrero's complaint that lawmakers are inundated with bills filed late in the session and often drafted by lobbyists.

Tennessee Waltz was founded on a bogus computer recycling company set up by the FBI. Investigators introduced bills "that made no sense" (and withdrew them before action could be taken) and found that "good honest lawmakers" signed on without reading them because they were swamped.

I always disagreed with Discenza on the believability of the bogus company. I thought the idea of a computer-recycling company that shipped high-tech junk to a Far Eastern site for salvage was very believable and, in fact, it was more or less the business model for some going concerns including one that made The Wall Street Journal during the Dixon trial. As a columnist, I have learned that humor and satire must be broad, not subtle, because people tend to take reporters seriously (I know what you may be thinking). And I suspect that goes for legislation too.

Anyway, I'm glad Discenza is on the job in any capacity. Can't see much going on in the federal prosecutor's office these days in the way of corruption investigations.

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