NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge has denied a request from a Tennessee lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct to publicly name the student who has filed a lawsuit against the Republican.
U.S. Judge Jeffrey Frensley on Thursday ruled against Rep. David Byrd’s argument the student should be named because the student was no longer a minor since filing the complaint. Frensley said a person’s continued age could not be considered as “newly discovered evidence.” The judge included the Black’s Law definition of evidence in his decision.
Byrd was sued last year after hosting a “Senior Day on the Hill.” A voice message was sent to families telling students to get shirts promoting Byrd and change into them.
In late March, Byrd was asked to step down from his role as the chairman of the House Education Administration Subcommittee.
“Following discussions with members of the House and after careful consideration, I have formally asked Rep. Byrd to step down from his position as chairman. … Rep. Byrd agrees that this is the best path forward in ensuring the House of Representatives can focus on the issues that truly matter to all Tennesseans,” House Speaker Glen Casada said at the time.
Casada later told WPLN-FM that while he didn’t regret assigning Byrd as chairman, he changed his mind when he received a letter signed by Republicans and Democrats on the House Ethics Committee questioning Byrd’s leadership. Casada’s office declined to provide the letter, calling it private.
Two women have said the Waynesboro lawmaker inappropriately touched them nearly three decades ago when he was their high school basketball coach. A third woman said Byrd tried to touch her.
Byrd’s appointment to the education panel had sparked outrage from advocates who held weekly protests during Byrd’s committee meetings.
Byrd has not outright denied the allegations since they were first broadcast in a media report nearly a year ago, but has said he’s truly sorry if he hurt or emotionally upset any of his students.
One of the women, Christi Rice, recorded a call to Byrd. The lawmaker apologized in the recording but he didn’t detail his action and denied anything happened with other students.
Byrd was 28 at the time and the head coach at Wayne County High School when Rice says he abused her.
“I think this is certainly a step in the right direction,” Rice said, reacting to Thursday’s news. “It feels really good to be heard by the leadership.”
Rice met with Lee — who was elected governor last year — to discuss the allegations earlier this month. Lee later said it took “a lot of courage” for Rice to meet with him, but stopped short of calling for Byrd’s resignation.
“Gov. Lee agrees with Speaker Casada and the House leadership’s decision today in removing Rep. Byrd from his subcommittee chairmanship,” Lee’s spokeswoman Laine Arnold said.
When the allegations first came to light last year, Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally and former GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell called for Byrd to resign.