News

Justices Appear Sympathetic to Intellectual Disability Issues

A majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared ready to side with a man sentenced to death for a 1980 Houston murder who is challenging how Texas gauges whether a defendant has intellectual disabilities that would preclude execution, Reuters reports. The court ruled in 2002 that execution of the intellectually disabled violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. At issue in this case is whether Texas is using an obsolete standard to assess whether the defendant is intellectually disabled.

read more »

Tennessee Waltz Defendants Get Rights Restored

Three former elected officials made infamous for their involvement in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting have had their rights restored, the Tennessean reports. Former state senators John Ford and Roscoe Dixon and former Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr. all served federal prison time, but have received orders from two judges that restored their rights as citizens. Dixon and Hooks participated in a press conference Monday to discuss the challenges of becoming full citizens again and to encourage others to seek restoration of their rights. The men may vote, serve on a jury and obtain professional licenses, but may not hold public office or own a gun. The FBI’s undercover operation “Tennessee Waltz” ensnared 12 legislators, lobbyists and local officials across the state.

read more »

Former Prosecutor Selected as Alumna of the Year

Dr. Jamie Carter was named the 2016 Lee University Department of History, Humanities and Political Science Distinguished Alumna of the Year. Carter serves as the assistant attorney general for the District of Columbia, but was instrumental in establishing a so-called “good-faith exception” in Tennessee, which allows unconstitutionally-obtained evidence to be presented in court if collected “in good faith” by law enforcement. A graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, Carter has also held positions as Knox County assistant district attorney and acting assistant district attorney in Davidson County. The Cleveland Banner has the story.

read more »

Report: More Than 800 Staff Vacancies in State Prisons

There are more than 800 staff vacancies at Tennessee’s public and private prisons, accounting for a significant portion of the workforce that is supposed to keep these facilities safe and running smoothly, the Tennessean reports. The staffing issues persist after many months of complaints about pay, benefits, hours and safety from correctional officers, inmates and their families. The Tennessee Department of Correction says a stronger economy has increased competition for workers. To respond, it says it is looking at new methods to recruit and retain the best staff.

read more »

Man Incarcerated on False Allegations Granted Parole

The Tennessee Board of Parole has voted to release Robert E. Polk, a Nashville man who has been in prison for two years on false allegations, the Tennessean reports. The board said a release plan, which includes information such as where Polk will live, must be finalized before he can be released. Polk was previously released from prison on parole in 2012 in a drug case. The board revoked parole after he was arrested on domestic violence charges in 2014. Soon thereafter, prosecutors learned that Polk’s wife made up the domestic violence allegations and dropped the charges. Polk has been waiting for release ever since.

read more »

Obama Hits 1,000 Mark for Commutations

President Barack Obama surpassed the 1,000 mark for commutations granted during his presidency after shortening sentences for another 79 people yesterday. Obama has been granting commutations at rapid-fire pace in his final months in office. All told, he has commuted more sentences than the past 11 presidents combined, according to the White House. Most of those who have received clemency are nonviolent drug offenders, though many were also convicted of firearms violations related to drug crimes, the Associated Press reports. Though Obama is expected to grant more commutations in his final weeks, officials acknowledge a large number of applications will be pending after the president leaves office. WRCB-TV has the story.

read more »

DOJ Announces ‘Listening Sessions’ in Memphis

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has announced its first two community listening sessions to be held in Memphis. On Nov. 29, a session will be held at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Midtown from 6 to 9 p.m. The second meeting will be Nov. 30 at the Hickory Hill Community Center from 5 to 8 p.m. The meetings are part of a lengthy review of the Memphis Police Department’s community policing and use of deadly force policies, according to Memphis Flyer.

read more »

Chattanooga Hosts Drug Court Conference

The city of Chattanooga will host the Tennessee Association of Drug Court Professionals conference Dec. 7-9 at the Chattanooga Convention Center. A highlight of this year’s conference will be an art exhibit featuring works by recovering addicts and staff members, according to Kevin Batts, president of the association. The keynote address will be given by Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark, a strong supporter of the Drug Court model. The new commissioner of mental health also will speak at the event, Chattanoogan.com reports.

read more »

Neal & Harwell Move Unearths Watergate Files

As the Nashville law firm Neal & Harwell was preparing to move to the new Eakin Building, it discovered files connected to the Watergate scandal. The late James Neal, a co-founder of the firm, had been hired by the U.S. solicitor general to prosecute President Richard Nixon and his top aides. He achieved convictions of the U.S. attorney general and two of Nixon’s closest advisors, and delivered “what some call one of the finest closing arguments in the history of trial law,” WKRN reports in a story on the discovery. The firm moved into its new offices at 1201 Demonbreun St., Suite 1000, Nashville 37203, on Monday. Its phone number remains the same.

read more »

Judge Rejects Cope’s Insider Trading Plea Deal

U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger yesterday rejected a plea deal agreed to by Murfreesboro lawyer and former Pinnacle Financial Partners board member James Cope. Trauger said the fine was too low compared to how much Cope is worth, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Under the deal, Cope was to pay a $55,000 penalty and serve two years of probation. He pleaded guilty in October to buying shares of Avenue Financial Holdings shortly before the Nashville-based bank announced its merger with Pinnacle, making more than $56,000 in the process. “What seems more appropriate to me is $200,000,” Trauger said about the penalty.

read more »

Criminal Law Forum to Focus on Digital Forensics

The TBA Criminal Law Forum will take place Dec. 9 at the Bar Center in Nashville. This year’s forum will focus on digital forensics with sessions on computer forensics data recovery;  processes and procedures used to collect cell phone evidence; recent case law on the issue; and ethical considerations when using digital forensic evidence. Learn more or register online.

read more »

Deposition Date Set for Jimmy Haslam

Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J, will sit down for a videotaped deposition on Dec. 13 in a variety of lawsuits brought by trucking companies that did not settle with Pilot as part of a nationwide settlement, Knoxnews reports. The remaining companies argue that Pilot conspired to shortchange customers on promised diesel fuel rebates. The suits follow a federal criminal investigation that led to charges against 18 Pilot employees, 10 of whom pleaded guilty and eight of whom still face trial. Pilot’s board of directors has admitted legal responsibility for the fraud but Haslam has maintained that he did not know anything about the scheme. Pilot paid $92 million to settle with the U.S. Department of Justice and $85 million to settle the class-action suit.

read more »

Nashville Law Director Disagrees with AG over Pot Law

Metro Nashville Law Director Jon Cooper disagrees with Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s opinion that municipal ordinances, including one in Nashville, allowing police officers to issue civil fines rather than criminal citations for marijuana possession cannot be enforced. Cooper issued a statement Monday saying in part that the city has a “good faith legal argument that the ordinance is not preempted by state law.” The Nashville Post has more from the statement.

read more »

Funk Seeks Sanctions Against Chase

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk is asking a judge to impose sanctions on David Chase and his lawyer, John Boucher of Knoxville, for filing a federal malicious prosecution suit against him. Funk argues the federal case is frivolous and seeks to force the pair to pay the legal costs of defending himself against the charges. The state is currently paying Nashville lawyer Jim Kay with Kay, Griffin, Enkema & Colbert to defend Funk. The Tennessean has more on the case.

read more »

FBI Focuses on Durham’s Campaign Finances

The FBI recently interviewed at least two people about Jeremy Durham's campaign finances, the Tennessean reports. One individual interviewed also said an investigator with the IRS was present during the session. Questions reportedly focused on specific transactions by Durham and his campaign, and whether there was any indication that Durham engaged in money laundering. The interviews come amid ongoing state scrutiny of how the former lawmaker spent his political contributions. State campaign ethics and finance officials have found a $191,000 discrepancy between campaign finance reports and bank accounts. 

read more »

Weirich Responds to BPR Charges

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich responded to the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) on Friday over charges brought in connection with the Noura Jackson murder case. Weirich said she never saw nor knew about a key witness statement in the case because the Memphis Police Department “failed to deliver” it to her, Memphis Flyer reports. The BPR has alleged that Weirich either had actual knowledge of the witness statement and hid it from defense attorneys, or she was negligent in failing to fully familiarize herself with the case.

read more »

DAs Conference Presents Annual Awards

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference recently met to address key criminal justice issues and present several awards, the Newport Plain Talk reports. John Zimmermann, assistant district attorney in the 16th Judicial District received the Patrick H. McCutchen Award. The President’s Award was presented to Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman, Senior Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore and Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman, all with the 20th Judicial District.

read more »

Federal Suit Filed Against Shelby County Jail

A class action lawsuit was filed yesterday against Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham seeking damages of $10 million for those kept in the jail for “unreasonable periods of time,” Memphis Flyer reports. The federal suit was filed by Just City after reports that the jail was plagued by administrative issues for two weeks while a computer system was updated. “Inmates are being lost in the Shelby County Jail system, those who have gotten bonds aren’t being released, inmates are sleeping on the floors” and the entire system is in “disarray,” according to the group’s executive director.

read more »

Implicit Bias Conference Draws 150+ in Memphis

The University of Memphis School of Law played host to more than 150 attendees today for a program called “Implicit (Unconscious) Bias: A New Look at an Old Problem.” Panelists explored the social science of implicit bias; examined the manifestations of bias in education, law enforcement, the media and business; and offered thoughts on a way forward. For more on the program visit the school's website.

read more »

Paper Sheds Light on Kirby Censure

The Tennessean reports that the censure imposed this week on James “Wally” Kirby, the former head of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, was for giving a part-time job to Glenn Funk after he was elected Nashville district attorney but before he was sworn into office. The censure did not name Funk, but Sandy Garrett, chief disciplinary counsel for the Board of Professional Responsibility, confirmed to the paper that the discipline was related to the hiring of Funk. Kirby responded to the censure saying creating such temporary jobs has been a longstanding practice in the prosecutors group. After the arrangement came to light, the conference suspended Kirby. Funk was required to pay back any financial benefits he received while working at the conference.

read more »

DAs Slowly Reworking Cases that Relied on FBI Hair Analysis

A year after the FBI announced its agents made errors when testifying about hair analysis in the 1980s and 1990s, some defendants have received relief. But the government has identified thousands of cases that could have been affected, including defendants on death row and some who already have been executed. In northeast Tennessee, district attorneys are cracking open decades old cases to make sure no innocent individuals were convicted, WJHL reports. “It’s a very difficult process,” says First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark. The district is looking at 10 cases. “We’re looking at every one of these one by one, and we really do not have the manpower to do it but we have to do it,” he said.

read more »

Court: School Zone Law Does Not Apply to Facilitating Sale of Drugs

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that the Drug-Free School Zone Act does not apply when a defendant is convicted of “facilitation of possession” in a school zone, overturning both the trial court and appellate court decisions in the case of Stanley Bernard Gibson, who had received a sentencing enhancement based on the proximity of his crime to a school. In a unanimous opinion, the court found that the state drug-free school zone law specifically lists the offenses to which it applies, and facilitation is not among them. They affirmed the underlying conviction but remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.

read more »

Cohen Asks DOJ to Investigate Justice Center Issues

U.S. Rep Steve Cohen has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice look into recent computer problems at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center, Local Memphis reports. The Memphis Democrat sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch Tuesday following reports that a system upgrade at the center resulted in inmates being "lost" in the system and  stuck in jail for hours after posting bail. “If true, these reports are deeply concerning,” Cohen wrote. “No one should spend one additional minute, let alone days, in jail when, under law, they are supposed to be free.”

read more »

AG: Local Marijuana Laws Not Enforceable

Laws passed by Nashville and Memphis that give police the discretion to hand out lighter civil citations for possession of small amounts of marijuana violate state statute and therefore are not enforceable, according to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, the Tennessean reports. In an opinion released today, Slatery said the local ordinances are preempted by state law, which classifies possession of small amounts of marijuana as a Class A misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. This afternoon, Memphis officials said they will suspend enforcement of their new ordinance while they review the matter. Initial reactions, however, downplayed the impact of the opinion with some saying it does not have the weight of law or the courts and others saying they doubted anyone would ever challenge the local law. The Commercial Appeal has more.

read more »

Newsom Named Special Counsel in AG’s Memphis Office

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III has named James R. Newsom III as special counsel and lead attorney in the attorney general’s Memphis regional office. In his new role, Newsom will assist on a broad range of cases. Newsom previously served as chancellor in the 30th Judicial District, special master for the Chancery Court and in private practice for more than 30 years with Harris, Shelton, Hanover Walsh and its predecessor firm, Hanover, Walsh, Jalenak & Blair. He was appointed to the bench in 2015 by Gov. Bill Haslam. A native of Memphis, Newsom received his bachelor’s degree from Rhodes College in 1976 and law degree from Vanderbilt Law School in 1979.

read more »