Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott has been in trouble before. In fact, he's already under investigation for stating that Islam is "an evil belief system.”
Now, LGBTQ groups are trying to prevent him from practicing law. That’s because Northcott refuses to recognize married same-sex couples, even declining to prosecute domestic violence cases involving queer people.
On Tuesday, Lambda Legal announced it was seeking his disbarment with the Board of Professional Responsibility. The group has joined the Tennessee Equality Project and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center of Rutherford County in filing a formal complaint against Northcott.
Northcott made national headlines in June after News Channel 5 released video of him telling attendees at the Chafer Theological Seminary Bible Conference last year that he prosecutes domestic assault cases for straight married couples but opts for lesser charges when the case involves married same-sex couples because he doesn’t recognize their marriages.
“I said, 'There’s no marriage to protect,’” he says in the video. “So I don’t prosecute them as domestics.”
The complaint also alleges that Northcott claimed he wouldn’t prosecute county clerks for denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and would advise them to “stand on God’s truth.”
Sandy Garrett, chief disciplinary counsel with the Board of Professional Responsibility, says state law prevents her from confirming the existence of the complaint or commenting on it unless her office issues a punishment.
Ethan Rice, senior attorney for the Fair Courts Project at Lambda Legal, says that if Northcott remains in office, LGBTQ people could be dissuaded from seeking justice in the county.
“District Attorney Northcott’s public comments revealed not only a bias against LGBT people but that he has made discriminatory charging decisions against an entire class of people and intends to continue to do so,” Rice said in a statement.
Kim Davis, former county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky.
A handful of public officials who have refused to comply with marriage equality nationwide since 2015 have found themselves in hot water. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who infamously refused to marry same-sex couples, could be sued by two couples for that alleged discrimination. Oregon Judge Vance Day was suspended in 2016 for allegedly refusing to same-sex couples, among other ethics violations.
Regardless, Rice argues that the Northcott case shouldn’t even be about marriage. Under Tennessee law, domestic assault can occur between anyone cohabitating, dating, or related to each other, as well as married people.
“This is marriage equality-related, but only because [Northcott] made it that way,” Rice tells NewNowNext.
Northcott did not respond to a request from NewNowNext to comment.