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Judge rebuked for sending inappropriate messages to women via social media

Judge Jonathan Lee Young presides in the 13th Judicial District, which includes Putnam and Cumberland counties.

A Cumberland Plateau area judge who admitted crossing the line in sending inappropriate messages over several years to multiple women via social media platforms has been publicly reprimanded and narrowly missed a 30-day suspension, records indicate.

"In short, as you have acknowledged, your use of social media has reflected poorly on you as a jurist," an Oct. 5 notice to Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Lee Young from the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct states.

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"The sanctions imposed today are among the most severe that can be imposed short of removal from office, and the Board trusts that it will be unnecessary to revisit these issues in the future."

Young presides in the 13th Judicial District, which includes Putnam and Cumberland counties. He often handles family matters.

An investigation by the board in August found Young sent inappropriate messages to various women from 2015 to this year. Besides sending flirtatious and even sexual messages, he sometimes asked for photographs, the investigation found.

Most of his communications on the social media platforms occurred while he used a photo showing him in his black judicial robes.

Among the women who got his messages were one whose firm has business in his court and an unnamed litigant who had a child custody case before him, the investigation found.

His activities at times put lawyers in awkward positions of having to seek counsel on whether they needed to disclose to their clients what they knew about Young, the board found.

In at least one case alluded to in the reprimand, board Chairman Dee David Gay noted that a party knew about the judge's activities and used it to their "strategic advantage."

Judges are supposed to act professionally and personally in a way that is above reproach. They're supposed to conduct themselves in a way that instills confidence by the public.

The board said Young's behavior failed to follow that standard of conduct.

Young cooperated with the investigation and admitted what he'd done, the Oct. 5 letter from Gay states. That worked in his favor.

In working with Young, the board imposed a 30-day suspension but agreed to hold it in abeyance if he remains trouble-free through his term. He's also not supposed to use a photo of himself in his judicial robe on social media unless it's official business.

He also must take at his own expense a judicial ethics program pertinent to social media use by the end of the year, and he'll have to recuse himself from handling any cases involving a number of unnamed attorneys "who will be identified separately from this letter."