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Austin critic in favor of restoring rights

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By Damon Lawrence

Former judge Thomas Austin declined to discuss why he feels he’s entitled to his citizenship rights back.  

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“I don’t have any comment about that because my lawyer is handling it for me,” Austin said Friday.

“He told me not to comment to anybody, so I’m going to listen to my lawyer,” he added. “That’s what I’m paying him for.”

Austin’s attorney is Browder Williams. He said Austin is seeking to have his rights restored because the law allows him to.

Austin was indicted in January 2006 for crimes he committed while a Roane County General Sessions Court judge.

He later pleaded guilty to three counts of extortion, and was sent to federal prison. He was assigned to a halfway house in 2008. Austin’s supervised release ended last year.

Williams filed a petition for restoration of citizenship rights on Austin’s behalf.

Having paid his debt to society, Williams said he sees no reason why Austin shouldn’t get his rights back.    

“I think he’s entitled to have his rights restored,” Williams said. “If someone would have come into my office in a similar set of circumstances, I would have filed it for them.”

Williams isn’t just Austin’s attorney. Williams said the two have been friends since seventh grade.  

“I was very disappointed in his actions before, but he’s been my friend all my life,” he said.

Williams said he’s not aware of any plans Austin has to run for office if his rights are restored.

“I expect he’d like to have his citizenship rights back, so he can vote like the rest of us,” he said.  

Austin’s petition is still pending. District Attorney General Russell Johnson has made it known that he plans to oppose it.

Johnson also said it was his understanding that Assistant U.S. Attorney Chuck Atchley would also oppose the petition. Atchley prosecuted Austin on behalf of the U.S. Government.

One of Austin’s former rivals said he believes the ex-judge should have his rights back.

“That may sound odd because I’ve been in opposition to Tommy Austin for a long time,” Attorney Chris Cawood said.  “But once he was caught, he got arrested, he was convicted, he’s done his time, he should get his rights back.”

Cawood said his opinion isn’t particularized to Austin. He said those are his general feelings.

“I would adopt that for everybody who is convicted of something,” he said. “Once they serve their time, pay their penalties and pay their debt to society, they should have all their rights back as citizens.”

Cawood was often at odds with Austin when he was on the bench. Cawood chronicled those feuds in his 2006 book, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.”

Before Austin was sentenced, Cawood also wrote a letter to U.S. Judge Thomas Phillips.

“I must agree with the U.S. Attorney that Austin is rotten to the core and has been almost since the beginning of his tenure as judge,” Cawood wrote.

“We never had proof up to the level of filing charges in court or with the Court of the Judiciary,” Cawood continued in the letter, “so I had to practice law with his conduct in the back of my mind. Austin is also very vindictive and would retaliate against anyone causing him any trouble.”

Cawood said Austin deserves to show he’s a different man.

“I never have cared for the way he did things, but let’s see if he’s straightened out,” Cawood said. “I’m willing to give people second chances.”