Women of Achievement
for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and
shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:
Sandy Sanders and Patty Wallace
Sandy Sanders and Patty Wallace wear classic clothes and perfect makeup. They cook in country blue kitchens and have husbands who go duck hunting. But now their privileged lives have changed forever.
In December 1992, between kids’ basketball games and church suppers in Dyersburg, Patty Wallace and Sandy Sanders raised their right hands and swore to tell the truth about being sexually assaulted by Judge David Lanier, one of West Tennessee’s most politically powerful men. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for using his authority to violate the civil rights of five women, and he was removed from office by the Tennessee Legislature.
The heroic action of these two women set a national precedent and drew national publicity as the first case in which a judge was sentenced under federal guidelines producing a long prison term.
In all, 13 women worked with federal investigators to track Lanier’s history of sexual assault and harassment in his courtroom and in his chambers. Eight testified about how Lanier pressured female courthouse workers and women with custody cases in his court to submit to his sexual assaults. One woman said he kept a sleeping bag in his office for the assaults. Another said he forced her to perform oral sex and another said the judge fondled her from behind his bench where no one could see.
Lanier was convicted for actions involving five women. Fear of further harassment kept most of them from allowing their names to be used in news accounts. However, two women, Patty Wallace and Sandy Sanders, agreed in April 1993 to let the public know how their experiences changed their lives. Maybe then, they hoped, the insulting banter would be replaced by compassion and respect for women who endure the crime of sexual harassment and choose to fight back.
For Judge Lanier, the jurors were in a courtroom. But Sandy and Patty found themselves on trial in shopping malls and grocery checkouts, where the comments and looks from neighbors continued. And so did the nightmares.
Patty and Sandy were heroic enough to go the extra mile. They shared their stories with The Commercial Appeal, U.S. News and World Report and television’s Inside Edition.
They are saluted as representatives of all the women who dared go to federal court, day after day, to describe the horrors of sexual abuse.