VOL. 130 | NO. 40 | Friday, February 27, 2015
Brooks Plea Coda to Political Whirlwind
By Bill Dries
It could have gone either way for Henri Brooks at just about this time a year ago. The Shelby County Commissioner had plans to continue a nearly 20-year political arc beyond a political track record that included seven terms in the state House and the two-term limit on the Shelby County Commission.
Instead, Brooks stood before a judge Tuesday, Feb. 24, and entered an Alford plea to the exceedingly rare charge of falsifying an election record by listing an old address where she no longer lived.
In another court, prosecutors dismissed a separate misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a parking lot fracas during a four-month political spiral.
The Alford plea is one in which Brooks did not admit guilt but acknowledged that the proof by the District Attorney General’s office likely would have led to a conviction. Brooks is to be sentenced April 9 by Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan on the plea in the felony case.
Brooks had come close – within 12 votes – of winning the Democratic primary for the state Senate seat that John Ford gave up in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting of 2005 as she first sought a political change of scenery.
The next year, Brooks ran for the Shelby County Commission and won a seat on the body, which by the terms of the county charter limits its members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms of office. She was reelected to the second consecutive term in 2010.
By May of 2014 when county primary elections were held, Brooks secured the Democratic nomination for Juvenile Court Clerk over nominal opposition by former city division director Ken Moody that reflected opposition to Brooks within her own party.
Brooks’ political appeal was that she had sought a review of Juvenile Court in 2009 by the U.S. Justice Department. In May 2012, the Justice Department issued a scathing report on due process procedures at the court. The report also led to a settlement by Shelby County government and the court that set up reform milestones as well as monitoring by the Justice Department.
On the other hand, Brooks had already filed the qualifying petition with the Shelby County Election Commission that listed an old address that resulted in the charge she pleaded to last week.
A month after winning in the May primaries, Brooks pulled her car into a public parking lot for at Methodist University Hospital, where she worked as an executive, and got into an altercation with another driver as both went for the same parking space. The other driver swore out a warrant charging Brooks with assault.
Also in June 2014, Brooks told a Hispanic businessman who compared the experience of Hispanics in Memphis as a minority to the experience of African-Americans that there was no comparison.
“You chose to come here. We didn’t,” Brooks said in an exchange over the larger issue of minority business contracts with county government.
While her specific comments were controversial, they also prompted renewed calls for the issue of minority business to move beyond bureaucratic red tape.
As the larger issue gathered momentum though, Brooks was being investigated by the county attorney’s office after fellow county commissioner Terry Roland challenged whether she lived in the commission district she represented and thus whether she could vote on commission business.
Interim county attorney Marcy Ingram concluded that Brooks had moved out of her long-time residence to another address that Ingram could not verify. Ingram also concluded Brooks could be removed from her commission seat immediately under terms of the county charter.
Brooks hired attorneys and contested the report’s recommendations in Chancery Court. Chancellor Kenny Armstrong ruled that absent the commission’s own investigation, Brooks couldn’t be removed.
The commission delayed following through with its own investigation as Brooks entered the last two months of her term of office on the commission because a special prosecutor, acting in place of the District Attorney General’s office, was investigating whether Brooks had broken the law when she listed her old address on election forms.
Through her attorneys, Brooks acknowledged she had moved to another house that was within her district.
The criminal investigation and case wasn’t about her residency in the district but about whether she gave an accurate address on a form in which the candidate’s signature indicates they are telling the truth and are liable if they aren’t.
With a month left in office and the two court cases delayed several times, Brooks was among a slate of Democratic contenders for countywide office who, with the exception of Assessor Cheyenne Johnson, lost their bids for countywide office. Brooks lost to Republican incumbent Joy Touliatos.
Brooks left county office quietly at the end of August, returning to the public eye briefly for the court appearance in Shelby County Criminal Court this month, booking at Jail East following the plea and a quick exit from both stops without comment.