Poll: Tenn. Voters Don't Want Politics in Judicial Races

A post-election poll of Tennessee voters who participated in the Aug. 7 election found a strong majority opposed to partisan politics playing a role in the courts or judicial elections, Justice at Stake (JAS) reports. Eighty-five percent of voters polled said it is “very” or “somewhat” important to keep politics out of the courts, with a full 70 percent calling it “very important.” The poll was conducted by Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, which surveyed 500 Tennessee voters the evening of the election in which all three justices were retained in spite of well-funded efforts to oust them by both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and out-of-state groups such as the Republican State Leadership Committee and Americans for Prosperity. More than $1.4 million was spent on television advertising alone. “Tennessee voters decisively rejected efforts to politicize their courts,” said Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director. “They want judges to answer to the law, not political pressure.”

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
01 - TN Court of Appeals
06 - 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









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TN Supreme Court

QUANTEL TAYLOR v. STATE OF TENNESSEE

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys:

Marty B. McAfee and Gregory D. Allen (on appeal), Memphis, Tennessee; and S. Jasper Taylor IV (at trial and on appeal), Bells, Tennessee, for the appellant, Quantel Taylor.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Garry G. Brown, District Attorney General; and Hillary Lawler Parham, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: WADE

The petitioner pled guilty to charges of attempted first degree murder, second degree murder, and especially aggravated robbery. Later, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that his trial counsel was ineffective and that his guilty pleas were not knowingly and voluntarily made. When the petitioner subpoenaed his three co-defendants to testify at the post-conviction hearing, the State filed a motion to quash because the co-defendants were all incarcerated. The post-conviction court granted the State’s motion. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the post-conviction court had erred, but held that the error was harmless under the circumstances. We hold that the post-conviction court committed prejudicial error by applying an incorrect legal standard and by failing to consider whether the proposed testimony by the co-defendants was material to the petitioner’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Because the record is insufficient for the issue to be resolved on appeal, we remand for the post-conviction court to reconsider the motion to quash under the proper standard. The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded to the post-conviction court for additional proceedings consistent with this opinion.


TN Court of Appeals

DORAH ELIZABETH JOHNSON v. JEFFREY WALTER JOHNSON

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys:

David W. Camp, Jackson, Tennessee, for Defendant/Appellant Jeffrey Walter Johnson

Plaintiff/Appellee Dorah Elizabeth Johnson, self represented

Judge: SUMMERS

This appeal stems from a divorce proceeding and child support modification. On appeal, the appellant husband challenges several decisions made by the trial court after it had entered an order purporting to be the final decree of divorce. Because prior orders reserved issues not addressed in this divorce decree, we find this divorce decree was not a final order, and thus, subject to revision by later orders. Consequently, we find the trial court had jurisdiction and did not abuse its discretion in later revising awards contained in the non-final divorce decree and affirm the later changes in part. Additionally, in a later order purporting to modify the child support award, we find the trial court failed to properly make findings of facts and conclusions of law in compliance with Rule 52.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and remand in part on this issue.


TN Court of Criminal Appeals

CUMECUS R. CATES v.STATE OF TENNESSEE

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

Cumecus Cates, Appellant, Whiteville, Tennessee, pro se.

Robert Cooper, Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Assistant Attorney General Criminal Justice Division, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: WALKER

The pro se petitioner appeals the summary dismissal of his motion to correct an illegal sentence, per Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. Following our review of the parties' briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we find the petitioner’s motion stated a colorable Rule 36.1 claim for review of illegal sentences. Therefore, we reverse the trial court's summary dismissal and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.


TRACY LYNN COPE v. STATE OF TENNESSEE

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

Tracy Lynn Cope, Henning, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Ahmed A. Safeeullah, Assistant Attorney General; and Barry P. Staubus, District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: WEDEMEYER

In 2007, a Sullivan County jury convicted the Petitioner, Tracy Lynn Cope, of especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, and false imprisonment, and the trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of forty years. State v. Tracy Lynn Cope, No. E2009- 00435-CCA-R3-CD, 2010 WL 2025469 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Knoxville, May 20, 2010), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 22, 2010). After the Petitioner filed two petitions for postconviction relief, both of which were denied, he filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, which the trial court summarily dismissed. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the lower court erred when it dismissed his petition. After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the coram nobis court’s judgment.


STATE OF TENNESSEE v. TERRY ODELL LUCAS

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Clarence E. Lutz, Senior Counsel; John Wesley Carney, Jr., District Attorney General; and Jason White, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

Gregory D. Smith (on appeal), Clarksville, Tennessee; and William Kroeger (at motion hearing), Springfield, Tennessee, for the appellee, Terry Odell Lucas

Judge: PAGE

A Robertson County Grand Jury indicted appellee for possession of over 0.5 grams of cocaine with the intent to sell. The charges were dismissed after the trial court granted appellee’s motion to suppress evidence. The State appeals the trial court’s granting of the motion to suppress and argues that appellee’s arrest and search were proper. Following a thorough review of the record, we reverse the ruling of the trial court, reinstate the indictment, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


BILLY D. SIZEMORE v. STATE OF TENNESSEE

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

Steven Garner (on appeal); and Talmage M. Woodall (at hearing), Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, Billy Sizemore.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Senior Counsel; Lacy Wilber, Assistant Attorney General; Kim R. Helper, District Attorney General; and Stacey Brackeen Edmonson, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: PAGE

Petitioner, Billy D. Sizemore, was convicted of theft over $1,000 and sentenced to twelve years as a career offender. Petitioner filed the instant petition for post-conviction relief, in which he alleged that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, petitioner argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel: (1) failed to challenge the value of the stolen goods and (2) failed to seek a continuance after the State filed a late notice of intent to seek enhanced punishment. After our review of the parties’ briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.


STATE OF TENNESSEE v. GABRIEL TORRES

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

Roger E. Nell (on appeal), Clarksville, Tennessee, and Timothy Richter (at trial), Springfield, Tennessee, for the appellant, Gabriel Torres.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Assistant Attorney General; John Wesley Carney, Jr., District Attorney General; and Jason White, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: OGLE

A Robertson County Circuit Court Jury convicted the appellant, Gabriel Torres, of rape of a child, a Class A felony, and the trial court sentenced him to twenty-five years in confinement to be served at 100%. On appeal, the appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction and that the trial court failed to fulfill its role as the thirteenth juror. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


WILLIAM L. VAUGHN v. STATE OF TENNESSEE

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

William L. Vaughn, Wartburg, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Senior Counsel; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Roger D. Moore, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: GLENN

Following a remand from this court, the petitioner, William L. Vaughn, acting pro se, was permitted a second evidentiary hearing on certain ineffective assistance of counsel claims which he had not presented in the first hearing on his petition for post-conviction relief. As we will set out, he filed massive pleadings, complaining of a multitude of wrongs visited upon him, from the moment of his arrest through his direct appeal. The evidentiary hearing was lengthy and free-swinging, with the post-conviction court’s concluding that the petitioner’s claims were “incredible” and, ultimately, without merit. We agree. Doggedness cannot substitute for substance. The post-conviction court’s denial of relief is affirmed.


Holloway Named to Court of Criminal Appeals

Gov. Bill Haslam today named Robert Lee Holloway Jr. of Columbia to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Middle Section. Holloway, 62, replaces Judge Jeff Bivins, who was recently appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Holloway has been a Circuit Court judge for the 22nd Judicial District, which includes Giles, Lawrence, Maury and Wayne counties. Haslam said that Judge Holloway "has distinguished himself both on the bench and in various ways in the community. This appointment will serve the Middle Section well.”


Longtime Nashville DA to Join Belmont Law Faculty

Metro Nashville and Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson will join Belmont University’s College of Law faculty as a visiting professor in January. Johnson, who has held the Nashville post for 27 years, will teach criminal justice courses on a full-time basis. “Bringing Torry Johnson on board as a faculty member is truly a significant coup for our College of Law," Belmont President Bob Fisher said. "His devotion to his work and to public service is exceptional, and the expertise he can transmit to our students will raise the bar again on the educational opportunities Belmont Law provides.”


Reminder: Chancery Court Applications Due Monday

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments is accepting applications for a vacancy in the 30th Judicial District Chancery Court in Shelby County. The vacancy was created by the appointment of Chancellor Kenny Armstrong to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Applicants must complete the application and submit it to the Administrative Office of the Courts by 3 p.m. Monday.


Elected Officials to be Sworn-In Through early September

Officials elected by Putnam County citizens earlier this month will be sworn into office within the next couple of weeks, the Herald-Citizen reports. Swearing-in ceremonies for county officials such as county executive, sheriff, property assessor, county clerk and others will take place Aug. 30 at 10 a.m. in the county commission chambers on the third floor of the Putnam County Courthouse, County Clerk Wayne Nabors says. Additional officials will be sworn in during other events throughout the coming weeks.


Sumner County Honors Chancellor Retiring After 32 Year

The Sumner County Commission on Monday honored retiring Chancellor Tom Gray for his many years of public service, the Tennessean reports. Gray presided over the 18th Judicial District Chancery Court since 1986. Before that he served as a Sumner County Family Court judge beginning in 1982. He announced in October that he would not seek re-election. “The term is for eight years and I cannot keep the pace that I set in 1982,” Gray said last year in a statement. “Another factor is that I would like to be available to do things with my family, travel a bit and do genealogy research.”


Longtime Judge Ready for Retirement

Longtime Circuit Court Judge Robert E. Burch will have many memories to take with him when he retires this month after more 30 years on the bench, the Tennessean reports. Some of his most satisfying ones come from the 23rd Judicial District Drug Court program, which was established 14 years ago. The Drug Court program is an alternative to incarceration, and integrates chemical-dependency treatment and community resources with the criminal justice system. After retirement, Burch — who was named the Tennessee Trial Judge of the Year in 2002 — said he hopes to continue working with the Drug Court program.


Wine Referendum Deadline Today

Today was the deadline for communities to qualify to have the wine-in-grocery stores question put on the November ballot, the Tennessean reports. Supporters in several counties across Tennessee secured enough signatures needed to add the referendum to the ballot, 10 percent of the number who cast a ballot in the 2010 gubernatorial election, said Deputy Williamson County Election Administrator Chad Gray. Grocery stores will be able to sell wine in cities and counties that allow bars or liquor stores starting in 2016 if local voters support the change.


Bank of America Agrees to Nearly $17B Settlement

The government has reached a $16.65 billion settlement with Bank of America over its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis, the Justice Department announced today. The deal calls for the bank, the second-largest in the U.S., to pay a $5 billion cash penalty, another $4.6 billion in remediation payments and provide about $7 billion in relief to struggling homeowners. At a news conference, Attorney General Eric Holder said the bank and its Countrywide and Merrill Lynch subsidiaries had "engaged in pervasive schemes to defraud financial institutions and other investors" by misrepresenting the soundness of mortgage-backed securities. WATE has more from the Associated Press.


Editorial: Let Audit Guide Changes for Knox County Clerk’s Office

An audit of the procedures in the Knox County criminal justice system released last week shows a need for improved quality control measures, training and computer systems, the Knoxville News Sentinel said in an editorial today. The findings affirm reporting on errors in the Criminal Court Clerk's Office that resulted in wrongful arrests and other problems. The Knox County Commission ordered the audit as a result of the news reports. The office handles the enormous amount of paperwork generated in Criminal Court and the Criminal Division of General Sessions Court. Now it is up to incoming Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond to implement recommended changes to make the office more efficient and effective, the paper says.


Supreme Court Orders Trial Court to Reconsider Subpoenas in Post-Conviction Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court today ruled that a post-conviction petitioner may be entitled to subpoena his co-defendants as witnesses, but only if he can first demonstrate that the co-defendants are competent witnesses whose testimony is relevant to his claims. In 2009, Quantel Taylor pled guilty to charges of attempted first degree murder, second degree murder and especially aggravated robbery. The next year, Taylor filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas because his trial attorney had provided inadequate representation. The trial court refused his request to issue subpoenas for Taylor’s co-defendants to testify at his post-conviction hearing. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the trial court had erred, but found that the error was harmless because Taylor’s petition would fail regardless of his co-defendants’ testimony. The Supreme Court held that in this instance, the trial court applied the wrong legal standard and did not properly consider the relevance of the co-defendants’ testimony, and sent the case back to the court to reconsider the subpoenas under the correct standard. Read more from the Administrative Office of the Courts or view the opinion.


Legal Aid Announces People’s Law School Fall Schedule

Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has announced its fall People’s Law School schedule. The free program, which is taught by Legal Aid Society attorneys and volunteer attorneys, provides an overview of common civil legal issues people may face, such as renters' rights and responsibilities and Social Security options. For the first time, People’s Law School is offering a class on child support. Learn more at www.las.org.


Retirement Ceremony Set for Chancellor Brown

Hamilton County Chancellor W. Frank Brown III will be honored at a retirement reception at noon on Aug. 29. The event will be held at the county courthouse, 625 Georgia Ave., in Chattanooga. For additional details call the Clerk and Master’s office at (423) 209-6600 or Chancellor Brown’s office at (423) 209-7380.


TBA Offers CLE Your Way

Remember to use the three hours of free CLE programming that comes with your TBA membership. Members can use this credit to cover all or part of the cost of live programs across the state, weekly webcasts or any of the 300-plus online courses offered in both video and text formats. Find a course now.


 
 

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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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