Former TN Senator Seeks Bail While Challenging Prison Sentence

Photo: Former Sen. Brian Kelsey, flanked by attorneys Alex Little and Zack Lawson, leaves the Fred D. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Nashville on Aug.11 after being sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. Photo Credit: John Partipilo

By Sam Stockard [Tennessee Lookout -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0] –

Despite admitting he is a convicted felon, former state Sen. Brian Kelsey is trying to avoid reporting to prison by Oct. 1 as he appeals a 21-month term for breaking federal campaign finance laws.

Kelsey, formerly a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, filed a request for bail this week to stay out of prison, claiming his appeal will raise a “substantial question of law.” Kelsey and his attorneys say federal prosecutors violated a plea agreement when they sought a tougher penalty for obstruction of justice after he reneged on a guilty plea made in November 2022.


The filing contends that under the Bail Reform Act, a defendant who isn’t a flight risk should be allowed to remain out of prison on bail “if his appeal is not for purposes of delay and will raise a substantial question of law or fact that, if ruled in his favor, will result in reversal or an order for new trial.”

Judge Waverly Crenshaw sentenced Kelsey to 21 months in federal prison this month for directing a scheme to funnel more than $90,000 from his state campaign account through two political action committees to the American Conservative Union, which bought radio and digital ads for his failed 2016 congressional campaign. 

Federal prosecutors are to respond to the request for bail by Sept. 6, according to an order by Crenshaw.

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Kelsey’s attorney, Alex Little, argues in the filing that federal prosecutors violated the plea agreement by asking for a sentence of 33 to 41 months.

They argued that Kelsey obstructed justice by trying to take back his guilty plea. He then hired Little and Zach Lawson to represent him and fired two other sets of attorneys to embark on a new legal strategy that one prosecutor called a “delay tactic.” He is contemplating legal action against his first set of attorneys, Paul Bruno, Jerry Martin and David Rivera who represented him when he entered the guilty plea last year.

About the Author: Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state’s best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association. Follow Stockard on Twitter @StockardSam

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