Hawkins County woman wonders where her money is

Hawkins County woman wonders what disbarred attorney did with her money

Melissa Deering wonders if she will ever see her money. Melissa Deering wonders if she will ever see her money.
Former Judge James F. Taylor Former Judge James F. Taylor

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ROGERSVILLE (WATE) - He was convicted of theft and sentenced to three years in prison in 2012. Now, a former Hawkins County judge who was disbarred has been released from jail after serving about 16 months.   

One of the judge's victims is still asking if she will ever see the money he stole from her.

Melissa Deering is anxious because James F. Taylor, a disbarred attorney convicted of stealing money from her, got out of jail a few days ago.

"He had my case for five weeks, and he stole $55,754  of my worker's comp settlement," she explained.

Taylor, a former general sessions judge in Hawkins County, was disbarred in September 2012. He was then sent to prison in Nashville and later Blountville.

In a plea deal, the original 41 count indictment was cut to an even dozen.

Money laundering and theft were the charges. Among his victims were a disabled woman, three churches, and Melissa Deering.

"It was terrible. It was a nightmare. It is still going on. It has not ended," she said.

Deering is 58 years old, divorced, and a grandmother.

She was accidentally exposed to toxic chemicals while at work in 1998. After a nine year struggle, she was awarded nearly $130,000 in workman's compensation.

Deering says Taylor had been her third attorney, hired just weeks before they appeared at the Hawkins County Courthouse in spring 2007.

Deering received $74,000 of her $130,000 judgement in April 2007. Taylor handled the money.

"He tells me, the day of the hearing, he will cash it. I said, 'Do I need to go with you?' He said, 'No I will take care of it.'"

While the $74,000 was safely deposited, she says there was $55,700 "floating around." She has no idea where it is.

In a cell phone message in early 2008, Taylor assured Melissa her money is safe in a trust fund.

"First and foremost, I have not released that money from the trust," said Taylor's voice in the message.

"He's saying my money is in trust, but he never put it there," she said. "He lied."

She says the recording would help lead to Taylor's conviction. Deering says her two former attorneys were supposed to get roughly 40 percent of the money in trust, with Taylor receiving a much smaller amount.

But the majority of the $55,700 in the trust fund had disappeared by 2012.

"I was told by the TBI that James Taylor spent my money and they don't know what he did with it," said Melissa. They can't find it, can't find a paper trail or anything."

She says for two years, her former attorneys contacted her, wanting their fair share under the law.

"This is my phone log of 356 unreturned calls to James Taylor," she said as she showed us the log. 

She said she was calling him "because the other attorneys were trying to get their lien money. They had worked on my case, and they had liens against my case. They were wanting their money back."

Taylor was released from the Sullivan County Jail in Blountville on February 1. We were there the day before he got out.

With permission from the sheriff, we wanted to ask Taylor about his plans for restitution. He declined our interview request. Deering wasn't surprised.

"He just thinks of himself. He's a serial thief," Deering said. "I want him to pay back every penny he took from me."

Deering has filed a civil lawsuit in Hawkins County against Taylor, claiming embezzlement, concealment, and fraudulent breach of trust relating to the misappropriation of nearly $30,000.

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