Update: Friday, 5:00 a.m.
John Duncan III along with his father, Jimmy Duncan, released statements last night regarding the case against the former Knox County trustee.
Statement from John Duncan: "I'm thankful for all the kind words and support and encouragement I've received today. I'm also thankful that the case has been dismissed and I can finally put this whole ordeal behind me."
"The decision to plead a year ago was extremely difficult for me. My dad and my attorney, Jeff Hagood, both strongly recommend that I go to trial and fight the charges. They Both believe we would have won. However, I just couldn't put my family or myself through the emotional roller coaster of a trial when I knew the entire case would be eventually dismissed as it was today."
Statement from Jimmy Duncan: "I'm glad the case was dismissed and I am proud of John. For many years before coming to congress, I was a lawyer and a Judge. After studying the facts of this case, I don't believe he ever should have been charged in the first place. At worst, he made an honest mistake. I will always believe that this case was motivated by some personal and political vendettas against me and our family. Like Jeff Hagood, I encourage John to go to trial, where I believe his name would have been cleared entirely."
John Duncan III, the son of one of the area's most politically powerful families and Knox County's former trustee, admitted last year to committing a felony, but it will no longer be on his record.
Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz agreed Thursday to dismiss the case against Duncan since he completed a year of unsupervised probation and stayed out of legal trouble. He is now eligible to apply for an order to expunge his record, something his attorney did after the brief hearing.
"He paid his costs in full and to my knowledge there have been no further problems," Leibowitz said.
Duncan, the son of long-time U.S. Rep John J. Duncan Jr. and nephew of state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, did not appear in court, which is standard.
After the hearing, his attorney Jeff Hagood would only say that "it's been a good day for all of us."
Duncan, in early July 2013, pleaded guilty to official misconduct, a felony charge connected to bonuses he paid out to himself and a number of employees for educational studies they never completed.
At the time, he was still in his first term of office as the county's top tax collector and a little more than a year away from seeking re-election. He stepped down shortly after he was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation with the possibility of judicial diversion, which is common in cases that involve a first time offender whose offense was not a violent crime. Duncan also was fined $604.
Duncan, 34, was the third member of his administration to plead guilty in a bonus scandal that's tarnished his administration almost from the get go. In late December 2012, his ex-chief of staff, Joshua Burnett, and the office's former delinquent tax attorney, Chad Tindell, each pleaded guilty to facilitation of official misconduct, a misdemeanor. Both were sentenced to 11 months, 29 days probation and paid more than $600 in fines. They, too, have since received judicial diversion, so they're records also will be wiped clean.
Shortly after taking office in September 2010, Duncan, a Republican, gave himself and five other employees each a $3,000 bonus that was supposed to go only to those who attain the designation of "certified public administration."
None of them had. The following year, he again doled out the same bonuses, and by then a few of them were certified. Duncan, however, was not.
Prosecutor Bill Bright said in court Tuesday that Duncan told the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that "nobody at the time of either payment told me that it was improper to make the incentive payments prior to achieving certification."
Bright, though, told the court that was not true and that a number of employees specifically told Duncan it was improper.
The former Trustee paid out more than $50,000 in bonuses during the two years combined, although almost everyone eventually returned the money. Still, a state investigation ensued, and employees told authorities that they warned Duncan not to make the payments.
In the end, prosecutors only targeted the payments made in his first year.
State code allows for an annual incentive up to $3,000 for those who receive the certification. And, it's not uncommon for the county's other fee offices, like the register of deeds or the court clerks, to provide the bonuses, but they only do so to those who have graduated from the program.
The certification is administered by the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Services, or CTAS, and includes 60 hours of courses and several exams designed to teach officials the fundamentals of serving the public.
Officials must complete 16 hours of training each year to remain certified.
Duncan took office with relative ease in September 2010 because incumbent Fred Sisk pulled out of the Republican primary before it really began.
Although he hit a number of bumps during his short political career, he's credited with striking a partnership with three of the area's biggest banks, a move that essentially created more than 50 satellite offices, since the businesses agreed to accept tax payments at their branches.
Duncan also cut some $65,000 annually in office travel allowances and required that his employees file for mileage reimbursements.
Further, under Tindell, delinquent tax collections also increased substantially.