TBA President Sets Record Staight on Judicial Selection

In a guest column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal today, TBA President Cindy Wyrick defends the state’s judicial selection system and corrects several mischaracterization made in a recent opinion piece from Washington, D.C., lawyer Stephen A. Vaden. Wyrick writes that the current system “provides a balance of accountability to the citizens and insulation from undue political influence and pressure, which are both very important to the selection of a well-qualified and diverse bench.” She also expresses opposition to a constitutional amendment that voters will consider in 2014. “If the … amendment … is adopted, a single individual — the governor — will be free to select whomever he wishes for the bench, without the input of anyone. The governor’s choice would then be subject to confirmation by the members of both houses of the General Assembly, which would certainly politicize the process.” Wyrick concludes by calling on readers to “contact their legislators and ask them to retain our merit selection system.”

Today's Opinions

Click on the category of your choice to view summaries of today’s opinions from that court, or other body. A link at the end of each case summary will let you download the full opinion in PDF format.

00 - TN Supreme Court
00 - TN Workers Comp Appeals
00 - TN Supreme Court - Rules
03 - TN Court of Appeals
05 - TN Court of Criminal Appeals
00 - TN Attorney General Opinions
00 - Judicial Ethics Opinions
00 - Formal Ethics Opinions - BPR
00 - TN Supreme Court - Disciplinary Orders

You can obtain full-text versions of the opinions two ways. We recommend that you download the Opinions to your computer and then open them from there. 1) Click the URL at end of each Opinion paragraph below. This should give you the option to download the original document. If not, you may need to right-click on the URL to get the option to save the file to your computer.

TN Court of Appeals


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Sharon T. Massey, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Willard Harrison Iman, Jr.

Mark A. Rassas and Julia P. North, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Megan Blanchfield Iman.


This case involves post-divorce modification of a parenting schedule. Mother sought modification of the schedule after moving to Florida to be nearer to Father and the minor child. The trial court considered the case and modified the schedule to allow Mother more time with the child. Father appeals, arguing that the trial court no longer had jurisdiction to hear the dispute, that the trial court should have declined jurisdiction on the basis of forum non conveniens, that Mother failed to prove a material change in circumstances, and that the modification was not in the child’s best interests. We affirm the trial court’s rulings with regard to jurisdiction, application of the forum non conveniens doctrine, and a material change in circumstances. However, because the trial court failed to make a finding that modification was in the child’s best interests, we remand to the trial court for the entry of an order containing appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law as to whether modification is in the child’s best interests. Affirmed in part, and remanded.


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Joy Davis Collier, Franklin, Tennessee, for the Respondent/Appellant, Susan Harwell (formerly Johnston).

Michael D. Cox, Columbia, Tennessee, for the Petitioner/Appellee, Geret Jesse Johnston.

Judge: KIRBY

This post-divorce appeal involves the termination of a parent’s obligation to pay support for his two college-age children. The parties were divorced in Hawaii. Under the Hawaii divorce decree, the father was obligated to pay child support for the parties’ two children until they finished their post-high school education or until they reached age 23, whichever was earlier. Subsequently, both parties and their children all moved to Tennessee. Years later, disputes arose and the parties eventually resolved them by agreement. The trial court entered an agreed order assuming jurisdiction over the matter, enrolling the Hawaii divorce decree, and adopting the parties’ agreed permanent parenting plan. The agreed parenting plan was silent on the duration of the father’s child support obligation. Later, after both children reached age 18, the father filed a motion to terminate his child support obligation, arguing that he is not obligated to support his children beyond the age of majority under Tennessee law. The trial court granted the father’s motion and terminated his child support obligation. The mother now appeals. We hold that, by consenting to the prior agreed order enrolling the Hawaii divorce decree without modification of the duration of child support, the father agreed to assume the obligation to pay child support until age 23. This agreement, incorporated into the Tennessee court’s order, is enforceable. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s termination of the father’s child support obligation.


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Robert Lewis Straight, III, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Cassandra N. J.

Theodore Kern, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Rebecca Ashley Means and Charles Howard Means.


This is a parental termination case. The child at issue was removed from the mother as a result of the mother’s drug abuse. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence to support the grounds for termination of the mother’s parental rights and clear and convincing evidence that such termination was in the child’s best interest. The trial court further allowed the non-relative petitioners to adopt the child. The mother appeals. We affirm.

TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Randy Chaffin, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Stephen Baker.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Assistant Attorney General; William E. Gibson, District Attorney General; and Anthony Craighead, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: SMITH

Appellant, Stephen Dewayne Baker, was indicted by the Putnam County Grand Jury in January of 2010 for one count of first degree murder, one count of felony murder, one count of aggravated robbery, one count of arson, and one count of tampering with evidence. Appellant was convicted by a jury of all offenses as charged in the indictment. At a sentencing hearing, the trial court merged the first degree murder conviction with the felony murder conviction and imposed a life sentence. Appellant was also ordered to serve twelve years for the aggravated robbery conviction, six years for the arson conviction, and six years for the tampering with evidence conviction. The trial court ordered the arson and tampering with the evidence convictions to be served concurrently with each other but consecutively to the life sentence and sentence for aggravated robbery, for a total effective sentence of life imprisonment plus eighteen years. After the denial of a motion for new trial, Appellant initiated this appeal. On appeal, Appellant contends: (1) the trial court erred by denying a change of venue; (2) the trial court erred by denying Appellant’s motion to suppress; (3) the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions; (4) the trial court erred by admitting evidence of Appellant’s prior bad acts; (5) the trial court erred in admitting the dying declarations of the victim; (6) the trial court erred in admitting testimony of Harold Harp about Appellant’s behavior; and (7) the trial court erred in admitting a photograph of the victim’s body. After a review of the record, we conclude that the trial court: (1) did not err in denying a change of venue where there was no proof that the jury pool was tainted from exposure to information about the incident; (2) did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to suppress where consent for the search was valid and the search warrant was properly procured; (3) properly admitted evidence of Appellant’s drug use and past violent behavior; (4) properly admitted the dying declaration and excited utterances of the victim; (5) properly admitted the testimony of Mr. Harp; and (6) properly admitted photographs of the victim’s body. Additionally, we determine that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Leon Barnett Collier, Clifton, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; and Deshea Dulany Faughn, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: GLENN

The pro se petitioner, Leon Barnett Collier, appeals the Wayne County Circuit Court’s dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the court erred in summarily dismissing the petition because the State failed to comply with the statutory requirement of attaching to its response its authority for detaining him. Because the petitioner has failed to state a cognizable claim for habeas corpus relief, we affirm the summary dismissal of the petition pursuant to Rule 20, Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


J. Liddell Kirk (on appeal), Knoxville, Tennessee, and Mack Garner, District Public Defender (at trial), Maryville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jaron Lee Goodson.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Clarence E. Lutz, Assistant Attorney General; Michael L. Flynn, District Attorney General; and Clinton Frazier, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


The defendant, Jaron Lee Goodson, entered an open plea agreement to one count of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced the defendant to a term of twelve years, at 100 percent, in the Department of Correction. On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred in determining the length of the sentence. Following review of the record, we affirm the sentence as imposed.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Tracy Jackson Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Michael L. McMahan.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Deshea Dulany Faughn, Senior Counsel; Randall Nichols, District Attorney General; and Philip Morton and Eric Counts, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


Michael L. McMahan (“the Petitioner”) entered a guilty plea to one count of aggravated burglary, five counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, three counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and two counts of aggravated robbery. Pursuant to his plea agreement, the trial court sentenced the Petitioner to an effective sentence of twentyfive years. The Petitioner subsequently filed for post-conviction relief, which the postconviction court denied following an evidentiary hearing. The Petitioner now appeals, arguing that his plea was constitutionally invalid and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in conjunction with his plea submission hearing. Upon our thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Ashad RA Muhammad Ali, Tiptonville, Tennessee, pro se.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; and Meredith Devault, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


The Petitioner, Ashad RA Muhammad Ali, appeals the habeas corpus court’s summary dismissal of his petition for relief. He contends that the habeas corpus court erroneously concluded that his petition failed to state a cognizable claim for relief, noting (1) that this court has held that the trial court’s failure to include pre-trial jail credits on the judgment of conviction is a proper basis for habeas corpus relief and (2) that his judgment of conviction on “count three contains a facial error [because] count three cannot be ordered to run both consecutively and concurrently to the same sentence.” Following our review of the record and the applicable authorities, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Lawsuit: Family Says Conservator Stole $300K

The family of Nannie P. Malone of Nashville has filed suit against a former court-appointed conservator, claiming he misappropriated at least $300,000 from the elderly woman’s estate. Malone, who died in 2012, was afflicted with cancer and Alzheimer's disease when the court appointed Nashville lawyer John E. Clemmons to be her conservator. The family alleges that Clemmons put Malone in a nursing home though they wanted her at home, and wrote the first of many checks to himself within two weeks of taking on her care. WSMV has more. Clemmons was suspended a few months ago for collecting more than $50,000 in unauthorized fees from the bank account of another disabled client.

NBA Looks at Revisions to E-Discovery Standard

The Federal Court Committee of the Nashville Bar Association is in the early stages of preparing proposed revisions to the Middle District of Tennessee’s Administrative Order No. 174, the district’s default standard for e-discovery. Riley Warnock & Jacobson lawyer Russell Taber is collecting comments and recommendations for proposed changes to the order through Aug. 15. Taber reports that after the deadline passes, the committee will circulate a draft of proposed revisions, seek input on the draft and plan a meeting to discuss suggested revisions. It will then present a proposal to the court. Email comments and suggestions to Taber at rtaber@rwjplc.com.

Opinion: Sequestration Hits PDs Especially Hard

An article from Gavel Grab today suggests that automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration have substantially impacted the judicial branch, but have hit public defenders’ offices especially hard. The article cites a new report by Federal News Radio that defenders are facing a nine percent decrease in their budget this year, which translates into a loss of $51 million and up to 20 furlough days for employees. According to the federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, the program “faces complete destruction unless both the Judiciary and Congress act very soon.”

Suburban Memphis Voters Approve New Schools

Voters in the Memphis suburbs approved the creation of new school districts again yesterday. A federal judge had thrown out last year’s vote. Though turnout was lighter than the first vote, the creation of school systems in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington had overwhelming support. The move to establish suburban districts comes on the heels of a merger between Memphis city schools and Shelby County schools, The Commercial Appeal reports. WREG 3 in Memphis, however, suggests the court still could ban the new districts if it determines they violate equal protection rights or re-segregate the schools.

Lawyers Look into Vanderbilt Layoffs

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has started what could be a two-year span of layoffs, but some employees are not walking away quietly. Civil rights and employment lawyer George Barrett will be holding a press conference tomorrow morning with former U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin to discuss their investigation of the terminations. Employees who have been affected by the layoffs contacted the lawyers with concerns of possible violations of state and federal laws, WZTV Fox News 17 reports.

Don’t Miss the 2013 Elder Law Forum Friday

It's not too late to join 130+ elder law practitioners from across the state at TBA’s Annual Elder Law Forum this Friday at the AT&T Building in Nashville. Get details on topics, speakers, exhibitors and sessions or register online now.

Panel to Discuss New Book on Blanton Scandal

The First Amendment Center is hosting a panel discussion this Friday with key players from the January 1979 “coup” that ousted then Tennessee governor Ray Blanton and installed Lamar Alexander into office early. The event coincides with the publication of a new book from Tennessee author Keel Hunt that provides a behind-the-scenes look at the days leading up to the decision. Alexander, Hunt, former U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin and John Seigenthaler will discuss the book and the drama surrounding the situation. A reception and book signing with Hunt begins at 6 p.m. followed by the panel discussion at 7 p.m. The center is located at 1207 18th Ave. S., Nashville 37212. Also look for the book -- Coup: The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early, and Stopped a Pardon Scandal -- to be reviewed in an upcoming issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal.


Questions, comments: Email us at TBAToday@tnbar.org

About this publication: Today's News is a compilation of digests of news reports of interest to Tennessee lawyers compiled by TBA staff, links to digested press releases, and occasional stories about the TBA and other activities written by the TBA staff or members. Statements or opinions herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tennessee Bar Association, its officers, board or staff.

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