Decision Overturned Due to Juror-Witness Communication

The Tennessee Supreme Court today overturned trial and appellate court rulings in a murder case, finding that the lower court failed to follow appropriate procedures after a juror contacted a witness during the trial. Though the witness informed the judge of the contact, the judge allowed the proceedings to continue and sentenced the defendant after the jury found him guilty. The judge also denied requests by the defendant to question the juror and order a new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld those decisions. In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed, ruling that when communication between a juror and a third party is brought to a trial court’s attention, the court must immediately inform the parties and conduct a hearing to determine the nature and extent of the communication and whether it affected the trial's outcome. Under the ruling, the trial court must now conduct such a hearing.

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.

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









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TN Supreme Court

STATE OF TENNESSEE v. WILLIAM DARELLE SMITH

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys:

Emma Rae Tennent (on appeal), Joan A. Lawson and J. Michael Engle (at trial), Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, William Darelle Smith.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; Chris Buford and Katy Miller, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: KOCH

This appeal concerns the appropriate response when a trial court learns during a jury’s deliberations that a juror exchanged Facebook messages with one of the State’s witnesses during the trial. A criminal court in Davidson County declined the defendant’s request to hold a hearing to question the juror and the witness to ascertain whether the communications required a new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the trial court had not erred by declining the defendant’s request for a hearing. State v. Smith, No. M2010-01384- CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 8502564 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 2, 2012). We disagree and, therefore, vacate the judgment and remand the case for a hearing consistent with this opinion.


TN Court of Appeals

MARGIE R. HUSKEY ET AL. v. RHEA COUNTY, TENNESSEE

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys:

Arthur F. Knight, III, and Jonathan Swann Taylor, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Rhea County, Tennessee.

Howard L. Upchurch, Pikeville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Margie R. Huskey and Norman Huskey.

Judge: FRIERSON

In this negligence action, the trial court, following a bench trial, found the defendant 51% at fault and the plaintiff 49% at fault for a severe injury plaintiff, Margie R. Huskey, suffered to her left arm at the Rhea County Convenience Center. The trial court assessed total compensatory damages at $298,376.65, which it reduced by 49%, awarding $152,172.09 to Ms. Huskey. The court further assessed damages of $25,000.00 for loss of consortium in favor of plaintiff, Norman Huskey, which it likewise reduced by 49%, awarding $12,750.00. The County raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred by finding the County liable for negligence; (2) whether the injured plaintiff was at least 50% at fault and therefore barred from recovery; and (3) whether the damages awarded were excessive. Discerning no error, we affirm.


EDWARD RAGLAND, ET AL. v. ROY MORRISON

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys:

Lewis K. Garrison, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Edward Ragland.

Jeremy M. Thomas, Osceola, Arkansas, for the appellee, Roy Morrison.

Judge: STAFFORD

This appeal arises from the grant of summary judgment in favor of Appellee. Appellants claimed that Appellee was liable for injuries caused by dogs that Appellee allegedly owned and allowed to run loose in the Appellants’ neighborhood. The trial court’s order fails to state the legal ground upon which the court granted the motion for summary judgment. Further, there is no indication in the record of the trial court’s reason(s) for granting the motion. Because Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.04 mandates inclusion of the trial court’s legal ground in the order on the motion for summary judgment, we vacate and remand.


TN Attorney General Opinions

Public Charter Schools Act and Article II, Section 24 of the Tennessee Constitution

Court: TN Attorney General Opinions

Date: 2013-09-10

Opinion Number: 72


Charter School Law Generates Dueling Legal Opinions

In what has become a case of dueling legal opinions, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper says the state law that allows charter schools to operate in Nashville does not impose a financial burden on local school districts in violation of the state constitution. That is an opposite conclusion to the one reached by a Metro Nashville Public Schools attorney, who said last month that the state’s failure to offset costs caused by the departure of students is unconstitutional. In an opinion released yesterday defending the law, Cooper said, “On its face, the Charter Schools Act does not directly or expressly require the expenditure of extra funds beyond what a [local school district] is already spending on education.” The Tennessean has more on the story.


Wyrick Urges Commitment to Pro Bono From Law Students

TBA President Cindy Wyrick encouraged law students to make a commitment to pro bono and public interest work during a conference this weekend in Knoxville. The Sevierville attorney told the students they possess both "the power to change the world and the responsibility to do it,” even when the pressures of being a new lawyer seem overwhelming. Wyrick’s comments came during a Pro Bono and Public Interest Law School Conference hosted by the University of Tennessee College of Law and the TBA’s Access to Justice Committee. Focus of this year’s event was on encouraging conversation and planning about the needs, opportunities, challenges and possibilities surrounding pro bono work and related access to justice issues. See photos and read more from the conference.


Prosecutor Defends Himself at Ethics Hearing

Paul Rush, assistant district attorney in the 10th Judicial District, defended himself yesterday against three ethics allegations brought by the Board of Professional Responsibility. The board contends that during a 2010 murder trial that resulted in a mistrial, Rush hid information that would have been helpful to the defense and questioned a witness about an issue he was ordered not to pursue. The board also alleges that he disobeyed the trial judge’s order to turn himself in for possible discipline after the case. Rush’s lawyer addressed each charge and summed up his client’s defense saying he made "good-faith" decisions and, if he made mistakes, they were not willful violations of ethics rules. The Times Free Press reports the hearing panel expects to issue a ruling in 10 days.


Adams and Reese Moving to East Memphis

Adams and Reese is moving its offices from the downtown Brinkley Plaza to the Crescent Center in East Memphis. It will occupy 13,500 square feet on the building’s seventh floor according to the Memphis Business Journal. “We look forward to our move to one of the city’s most prestigious and recognizable buildings,” Memphis partner in charge Jeffrey C. Smith said. “The Crescent Center’s sleek appearance and unique features were important factors in attracting us.” The firm says it does plan to maintain a small downtown Memphis office for those lawyers who physically need to go to court. Read more in a release from the firm.


FISA Judge: No Confidence in Government Surveillance Program

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, presiding judge of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), almost shut down the government’s domestic surveillance program after he “lost confidence” in officials’ ability to operate it. Walton issued a blistering opinion in March 2009 after discovering officials had been accessing domestic phone records for nearly three years without “reasonable, articulate suspicion” that they were connected to terrorism. His opinion was included in hundreds of previously classified documents released today as part of a lawsuit brought by a civil liberties group. The Washington Post has the story.


Retired Lenoir City Judge Dies

Thomas Franklin Ingram of Lenoir City died Sept. 1 at the age of 88. He earned his law degree from Cumberland School of Law in 1950 after serving in the U.S. Navy as a pilot in World War II. He worked for the FBI in Washington, D.C., before moving back to Lenoir City to practice law. He then was a general sessions judge in Loudon County and later Lenoir City judge. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to Central United Methodist Church, 301 Hickory Creek Rd., Lenoir City, TN 37771. Knoxnews has more on his life.


Sumner Lawyer Suspended

Sumner County lawyer Kenneth Scott Williamson was temporarily suspended on Sept. 6 after the Tennessee Supreme Court found that his continued practice of law posed a threat of substantial harm to the public. In 2010, Williamson began working with the U.S. Freedom Foundation, an organization claiming to assist federal prisoners with legal services. Williamson drafted pleadings and appeared in court on behalf of several clients. Williamson alleges he left the foundation in 2011, however, the organization has continued to accept fees and file pleadings under his signature and Williams has not withdrawn from the cases in which he entered appearances. The suspension remains in effect until dissolution or modification by the court. Download the BPR notice.


Davidson County Lawyer Moved to Inactive Status

The Tennessee Supreme Court transferred the law license of Davidson County lawyer Donald Ashworth Cox Jr. to disability inactive status pursuant to Section 21 of Supreme Court Rule 9. Cox may not practice law while on disability status. He may petition for reinstatement by showing by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law. Download the BPR notice.


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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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