News

Judge Plans 10th Judicial District Mental Health Court

Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg has announced plans to create a new mental health court in the 10th Judicial District, the Cleveland Banner reports. Freiberg said the move recognizes the need to rehabilitate individuals through appropriate mental health treatment as well as the limitations of the traditional criminal justice system in dealing with repeat non-violent offenders with mental health issues. The court, set to launch in January, will serve every county in the district, including Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk.

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Nashville Marijuana Bill Survives 1st Vote

A proposal to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana survived an unexpected first vote by the Metro Nashville Council Tuesday night, the Tennessean reports. The group voted 32-4, with one abstention, to advance a bill that would decrease the penalty for knowingly possessing or exchanging a half-ounce or less of marijuana to a $50 civil fine or 10 hours of community service. Under state law, individuals convicted of possessing less than one ounce of marijuana face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

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Man Pleads Guilty in Loniel Greene Shooting

A 20-year-old man accused of shooting former Metro councilman Loniel Greene pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated assault and was placed on supervised probation for three years. Under the plea deal, Brandon Hunt-Clark also must participate in a “violence interruption” class, the Tennessean reports. Greene, who resigned from the city council in January, is facing legal action of his own. Last month, he pleaded not guilty to a count of coercion of a witness in a case involving his cousin.

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VW Likely to Face Criminal Penalties

Volkswagen is expected to face criminal and civil penalties for circumventing Clean Air Act standards, but prosecutors have not yet decided the specific criminal charges they might bring against the automaker, according to the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported today that the Justice Department is negotiating a settlement with the car maker but those familiar with the matter said there will be “significant” financial penalties. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has a summary of the article.

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DA: Increasing Juvenile Age Would Have Broad Complications

Responding to a proposal by Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael to expand the jurisdiction of state juvenile courts to individuals up to 25 years old, District Attorney General Amy Weirich said such a change would prompt a long, complicated process. The issues that would need to be addressed include expanding the number of personnel, facilities and treatment programs. Michael acknowledged his proposal would prompt a “massive change” and that he does not have easy answers on how to pay for it, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Moreland Named New Sessions Court Presiding Judge

Nashville General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland has been selected as the new presiding judge of the court. He will replace Judge Rachel Bell on Sept. 1. The court meets every August to select a new presiding judge. Bell had reportedly made it clear she was not interested in re-appointment. “I'm very proud he will be my successor,” Bell told the Tennessean. “He brings a wealth of knowledge, leadership qualities and a strong commitment to our general sessions courts.” Moreland became a judge in 1998 and served as presiding judge from 2003-2006. In 2003, he founded treatment court, a special program focused on providing rehabilitation to offenders.

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300 Inmates Moved out of Downtown Jail

The Davidson County Sheriff’s office on Friday transferred 300 inmates from the downtown Nashville criminal justice center to a facility on Harding Place. After 34 years of processing and housing criminals, the jail now sits empty, but workers will soon begin demolishing it with the goal of replacing it within three to four years. The new jail will provide needed features, including a separate place to house the mentally ill, who long have been housed with criminals. Fox 17 has the story.

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Indigent Task Force Holds Final Hearing

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force held its final listening session today in Franklin, hearing from more than a dozen members of the private bar and parents of children in the child welfare system. The task force will meet in September to consider all comments and recommendations submitted during the tour and discuss the timing of presenting its own findings.

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DEA Rejects Downgrading of Marijuana

The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how marijuana is treated under federal drug control laws, National Public Radio reports. The move keeps the drug in the most restrictive category for law enforcement purposes. The DEA said the decision was based on the FDA’s finding that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use and remains highly vulnerable to abuse as the most commonly used illicit drug.

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‘Making a Murderer’ Lawyers to Speak in Nashville

Defense lawyers Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, known for their Emmy-nominated Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” will speak Sunday at 7 p.m. in Nashville. The pair will wrap up a multicity speaking tour at TPAC’s James K. Polk Theater. The event, called “A Conversation on Justice,” will be moderated by the Tennessean’s courts and criminal justice reporter Stacey Barchenger and will provide attendees the opportunity to submit questions. Tickets are available online at TPAC.org, by phone at 615-782-4040 and at the box office at 505 Deaderick St. in downtown Nashville.

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Nashville Expungement Clinic Attracts Hundreds

An expungement clinic in Davidson County last week attracted hundreds of people hoping to clear their criminal records, the AOC reports. People began lining up five hours in advance for the Community Court, which also featured shoe giveaways, free haircuts, health vendors and employment leads. All county general sessions judges were on hand as well as Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, Assistant District Attorney Katie Ladefoged and AOC Pro Bono Coordinator Patricia Mills. TBA YLD Diversity Committee Chair Amber Floyd also was in town from Memphis to help coordinate the event. For more information about the clinic, contact General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell, 615-862-8341, or learn more about the expungement process in Tennessee.

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‘Plunge to Expunge’ Set for Friday in Memphis

Just City, an organization that provides financial, legal and administrative services to those seeking expungements, will host its first annual Plunge to Expunge dunk tank fundraiser tomorrow from 4-7 p.m. at Memphis Made Brewing Co., 768 South Cooper. This year’s dunk tank target is Just City board member and University of Memphis law professor Daniel Kiel, who teaches constitutional, civil rights and educational law. The group also announced that the brewery will debut its latest beer – Justice Will PrevALE – at the event. Read more from the law school.

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Judge Sammons Indicted, Suspended from Bench

Campbell County General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons was indicted yesterday on four felony charges of official misconduct, including lying and misusing her authority in two cases. The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct responded by issuing a temporary suspension order barring Sammons from performing any judicial functions. Sammons’ attorney, Wade Davies, said she will plead not guilty and is prepared to show she has not committed any offense, according to Knoxnews. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee also today filed a standing order for substitute judges, authorizing Chancellor Elizabeth C. Asbury, Circuit Court Judge John D. McAfee, Criminal Court Judge E. Shayne Sexton and Claiborne County General Sessions Judge Robert M. Estep to hear cases on Sammons’ docket. The Campbell County Commission may also act to fill the seat until the case is resolved.

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Vandenburg Lawyer Withdraws from Rape Case

One of former Vanderbilt University football player Brandon Vandenburg’s lawyers has withdrawn from the case citing a conflict with his client. Morristown lawyer Troy Bowlin asked the court to remove him and Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins granted the request today, the Tennessean reports. The motion indicates that a rift between Bowlin and Vandenburg arose after trial and that release of any other details would violate attorney-client privilege. Vandenburg faces a sentencing hearing on Sept. 30. A jury found him guilty of five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery after a trial in June.

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Reminder: Indigent Task Force Hearing Thursday

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force will hold the final session in its listening tour this week. The hearing will take place Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Williamson County Administrative Complex, 1320 West Main St., Franklin, TN 37064. Sign up here to speak.

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Woman Released After 11 Years Pledges to Find Killer

Noura Jackson was released from prison this weekend after serving 11 years for the death of her mother. But she has always maintained her innocence and is now pledging to find the killer, the Commercial Appeal reports. “In the next chapter of my life, I plan to honor my mom by forcing the State of Tennessee to identify the person whose complete DNA profile was mixed with my mother’s blood in her bed,” Jackson said. Her lawyers successfully appealed her conviction because prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that could have discredited a key witness. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted a new trial, but Jackson instead accepted an “Alford plea” agreeing to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.

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NAACP Opposes County’s New Charge on Criminal Defendants

A new $45 fine on criminal defendants will have a disparate impact on the poor, African-Americans and other minority groups, according to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County chapter of the NAACP. The Chattanoogan reports that a resolution from the NAACP argues that the Hamilton County Commission was “ambivalent to the disparity rates, disproportionate ratios and disparate impact” such fees have on these populations. The group also maintains that the commission’s decision relies on a “narrow and stringent interpretation” of the applicable state law. Proceeds from the new fee would be divided three ways: $21 to the Partnership of Families, Children and Adults, $21 to the Children’s Advocacy Center and $3 to the county.

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ABA Annual Meeting Includes FBI Director, Marcia Clark as Speakers

The American Bar Association (ABA) annual meeting in San Francisco continues today. Offerings at the meeting include updates about the legal implications of electronic devices such as home security systems, cellphones and fitness trackers that collect and exchange data, and the Zika virus. Today, FBI Director James Comey was among experts who examined the use of emerging technology by criminals and terrorists to evade detection, and Marcia Clark, who was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case, was on tap to discuss her new work of fiction.

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Batey Changes Lawyers, Strianse to Take on Appeal

Convicted rapist and former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey has hired Nashville lawyer Peter Strianse to handle the appeal of his conviction, where he was sentenced to 15 years. Worrick Robinson, who represented Batey in his trial, told reporters he believed it was unfair that two other men charged in the case were playing college football while awaiting trial. Each man also is charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Batey and another football player, Brandon Vandenburg, who faced the same charges, have gone to trial and were found guilty.

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Hargrove Elected VP of Public Defender Conference

The Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference has elected Donna Orr Hargrove to serve as the vice president of the conference for fiscal year 2016-2017. Hargrove is the district public defender for the 17th Judicial District, which includes Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall and Moore counties. The Public Defenders Conference is a statewide system of elected public defenders from each judicial district. The Elk Valley Times has the story.

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8 Tennesseans Among Obama’s 214 Commutations

Eight Tennesseans are among 214 drug offenders whose prison sentences were shortened today by President Barack Obama in the largest single-day grant of commutations in the nation’s history, the Tennessean reports. Deborah Lucille Blue of Alcoa, Debra Brown of Nashville, Thomas Duncan of Columbia, Steve Gillespie of Greeneville, Robert L. Matthews of Memphis, Kenneth Smith of Nashville, Jimmy Walden Jr. of Morristown and Byron Willis of Knoxville will see their sentences shortened as a result of Obama’s actions. All sentences will expire Dec. 1, except for Gillespie and Walden, whose sentences will expire Aug. 3, 2018, if they enroll in a drug treatment program.

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Shelby Mental Health Court Seeks to Grow

In January, Shelby County launched a new mental health court as a way to handle individuals with mental illnesses who chronically end up in jail. In just a few months, the court has reached capacity and is asking the state for additional funding, the Commercial Appeal reports. The court is seeking $78,000 to pay a full-time case worker so it can double the number of people served to 50 participants. The program requires defendants to plead guilty to their crimes but arrests are expunged if they finish the year-long program. Participants are given mental and physical health care, help with alcohol and drug abuse, housing assistance and employment assistance.

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Advisory Panel on Court Rules to Meet Next Friday

The Advisory Commission to the Supreme Court on Rules of Practice and Procedure will meet Aug. 12 to consider comments and proposed revisions to a number of rules and other proposals, including Tenn. R. Crim. P. regarding preliminary hearings, the 2016 Senate Bill 1618 regarding courthouse facility dogs, and Tenn. R. Civ. P. regarding appellate briefs and preliminary hearings. Review the full agenda.

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Batey Lawyer Asks to be Removed from Appeal

The primary lawyer for Cory Batey, a former Vanderbilt University football player convicted of raping an unconscious woman, is asking to be removed from the case, the Tennessean reports. Worrick Robinson said he made the request because he does not handle appeals. A hearing in the matter has been scheduled for Wednesday. Batey, 22, was found guilty after a trial in April and sentenced last month to 15 years in prison.

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New TBJ Looks at Clemency, Medical Battery

Nashville lawyer Ben Raybin researched recent clemency statistics in Tennessee and found some interesting trends. Read his article, “How Executive Clemency Works (and How It Doesn’t)” in the August Tennessee Bar Journal. Also in this issue, Hendersonville lawyer Clint Kelly details the rise of medical battery and informed consent and Tennessee Bar Association President Jason Long explains how meeting up with fellow lawyers helps with overall civil discourse and civility in the profession. Read the August TBJ.

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