News

Teen Seeks Damages For Being Jailed Due to Clerk’s Mistake

An attorney for a teenager arrested earlier this month on charges of driving with a revoked license is seeking $50,000 in damages for what he says is a wrongful arrest. The teen, Joshua Michael Kitts, was arrested Nov. 15 when Knox County Sheriff's deputies pulled him over and discovered his license was revoked in 2012 for drag racing. But Kitts and his lawyer say the drag racing charge was removed from his record when he agreed to attend driving school and that his license was never suspended. The situation, they say, is one of many resulting from mistakes made by the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's office. In Kitts’ case, he spent eight hours in jail and had to pay to get his car back. Knoxnews has more.

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DA: Lawyer in Vanderbilt Rape Case Destroyed Evidence

The Nashville district attorney's office on Friday accused Albert Perez Jr. -- who is representing Vanderbilt football player Brandon Vandenburg on rape charges -- of destroying evidence in the case. As first reported in the Nashville Scene, the DA's motion alleges that two witnesses said the California attorney “was directly involved with the destruction or attempted destruction of evidence in this case." The DA also filed a motion to disqualify Perez as Vandenburg's lawyer. Last week, Perez accused the DA of withholding evidence needed to prepare for trial.

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Lawmakers Look at Reforming Drug Task Forces

At a hearing Tuesday in Nashville, members of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee learned more about the history and governance of the state's drug task forces. After hearing testimony from a district attorney, a drug task force director and the state comptroller's office, several subcommittee members said it was clear that current statutory authority, governance and oversight of the task forces is insufficient. Others said they expect to file legislation in January to impose tighter controls on the offices, the Times Free Press reports.

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Study: Inconsistent Rape Data Creates Confusion

Sexual assault incidents are badly underreported and poorly counted, a new national study concludes. The review, by the National Research Council, examined various methods of counting assaults and found conflicting results. These discrepancies, according to the researchers, create confusion among the public, law enforcement, policy makers and advocacy groups, and limit the ability of support service agencies to help victims. The study concluded that some 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, but recommended ways to improve data collection of these cases. The Tennessean has more.

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Advanced Analysis for Competency, Evaluations and Sex Crimes

The TBA Criminal Justice Section is presenting a program that offers an advanced analysis of the practice of criminal law. This Dec. 6 program in Nashville will provide insight into psychological evaluations and competency testing for juveniles and adults, with special consideration given to cases involving sex crimes. The program also will discuss how to deal with a handwriting expert during trial. Find out more or register now.

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Bradley Attorney Seeking 10th District Judicial Post

Longtime Bradley County attorney Bill Brown tells the Cleveland Daily Banner that he is running in the Republican primary for 10th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge, Part 3. The seat is currently held by Judge Carroll Ross, who is retiring on Aug. 31, 2014. The 10th Judicial District covers Bradley, McMinn, Polk and Monroe counties. The judicial post traditionally has heard only criminal cases.

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Former Knox County Judge Released from Prison

Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner has been released from a federal work camp after serving most of the six-month sentence he received for lying to cover up his mistress’ involvement in a federal drug conspiracy. Attorney Donald A. Bosch said Tuesday that Baumgartner is on home detention for two weeks to finish out the remaining sentence and is barred from speaking to the media until his detention is complete. According to Knoxnews, Baumgartner is appealing his federal conviction.

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Weirich to Seek Re-election

Shelby County District Attroney General Amy Weirich opened her re-election campaign Sunday with a chilli cookoff judged by military veterans, the Memphis Daily News reports. Weirich ran in a special election in 2012 after being appointed the county’s chief prosecutor to replace Bill Gibbons, who had been named state commissioner of safety and homeland security. This time she is running for a full eight-year term.

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Hatchett Enters 10th District DA Race

McMinn County lawyer Stephen Hatchett has entered the race for district attorney general in the 10th Judicial District, the Cleveland Banner reports. He currently serves in the office as an assistant district attorney, handling cases in Bradley County. “It has been my distinct honor to serve the people of the 10th Judicial District for the past 7 1/2 years as a prosecutor, and I look forward to serving as district attorney general,” he said. Hatchett is a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law.

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Assistant Public Defender Sought in Memphis

The Office of the Federal Defender for the Western District of Tennessee is accepting applications for an assistant federal public defender in Memphis. The candidate must be committed to representing the indigent and have excellent writing, legal research, advocacy and communication skills. In addition, fluency in Spanish, experience in federal court, and knowledge of federal criminal law and sentencing guidelines is preferred. Those interested should send a cover letter, resume, references and writing sample by Dec. 15 to Doris Randle-Holt, Federal Public Defender, 200 Jefferson Ave., Suite 200, Memphis, TN 38103. Download a job description.

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Paine Explains Lay Opinion, Reviews Lindbergh Book

In the November issue, Tennessee Bar Journal columnist Donald F. Paine explains lay opinion, using as his example the trial of current death row inmate Jerry Ray Davidson. Paine also reviews the book The 16th Rail: The Evidence, the Scientist and the Lindbergh Kidnapping, by Adam J. Schrager, which Paine heartily recommends.

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Emails Reveal New Cases of Wrongful Arrest

New documents released yesterday by the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office reveal additional cases of wrongful arrest, as well as cases that were at risk of mishandling but were caught in time by an employee. The documents also show that at least one supervisor had no sympathy for those wrongfully arrested, Knoxnews reports. As charges of mismanagement continue to mount against the office, Clerk Joy McCroskey met with the county’s five general sessions judges yesterday to discuss the situation.

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Judge Durham Announces Retirement

Criminal Court Judge David Earl Durham will retire at the end of his term next August, The Tennessean reports. Durham, who serves the 15th Judicial District, has been criminal court judge since 2009. Prior to taking the bench, he was deputy district attorney general. The judicial district includes Wilson, Jackson, Macon, Smith and Trousdale counties.

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Police Director Says MPD has 12,000 Unprocessed Rape Kits

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said yesterday that the total number of unprocessed rape kits in police possession will be about 12,000 — a number far higher than previously reported — even after an initial round of 2,226 kits are tested. Last month, Mayor AC Wharton issued an executive order directing city police to test all backlogged, unprocessed rape kits. Some of the untested kits date from the 1980s, a situation that has outraged advocates for rape victims. Armstrong told City Council members that clearing the entire backlog will cost more than $4.6 million, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Copyright Infringement Awards, Increases for Appointed Counsel Covered in This Issue

Nashville lawyer Tim Warnock writes about the best ways to set an appropriate award of statutory damages in a copyright infringement case in the latest issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal. In his regular column, Knoxville lawyer Wade Davies discusses policy changes on mandatory minimum sentences in federal court, rate increases for appointed counsel and more. The Tennessee Supreme Court has raised the caps on payment for counsel representing indigent defendnats in non-capital first-degree murder and Class A and B felonies, Davies writes.  "If anyone thinks people are getting wealthy from representing poor people at state expense, take a look at the rule. The rates have not changed since 1994. The state pays $40 per hour for out-of-court work and $50 for in-court, which does not include the time spent in court waiting."

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Sumner County Judge Recuses Himself from Murder Trial

Sumner County Criminal Court Judge Dee David Gay recused himself yesterday from a decade-old murder case, the Hendersonville Star reports. Gay acknowledged he did some minor work on the case while he was as assistant district attorney in the 18th Judicial District, which encompasses Sumner. Gay said he would refer the case to Sumner County Chancellor Tom Gray, who he expects will assign the case to another judge. The Tennessean has more.

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New Judicial Building Proposal Unveiled

Leaders in Rutherford County are considering a new justice center given the area’s explosive population growth, the Murfreesboro Post reports. The panel reviewing the plan will vote in November whether to move forward with the design phase. Officials predict the total cost of the new facility could run as much as $72 million. Under the proposal, the center would consist of a 200,000-square-foot courthouse, with 16 courtrooms and a secure underground parking garage. An additional free standing parking garage with 366 spaces would be constructed nearby. The new building would be located on Maple Street across from the Rutherford County Clerk’s Office.

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Senate Panel Considers Bebb’s TBI File in Closed Session

State Senate Judiciary Committee members voted to go into executive session yesterday as they began to review the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s file on 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb. The panel is considering whether there is sufficient evidence to go forward with a process to remove Bebb from office. Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, directed committee members to keep the information confidential. In August, a special House investigative committee said there was sufficient evidence to move ahead with a recommendation to the full House in January. Lawmakers are looking at evidence presented in a series published by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and a subsequent investigation by the TBI and state Comptroller’s Office. Allegations against Bebb’s office include financial misconduct and civil rights violations in the handling of arrests and prosecutions.

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McCroskey Addresses Complaints in Written Response

Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey made a brief appearance before county commissioners yesterday to take responsibility for one wrongful arrest and present a written response to allegations that her office conducted multiple wrongful arrests, filed court documents late and committed mistakes that led to suspended drivers’ licenses. Commission Chairman Brad Anders said the county needs to look into the operation of the office, which covers criminal, general sessions and circuit courts, Knoxnews reports. In related news, the Knox County Audit Committee was to meet today after some members said they would call for an audit of McCroskey’s office.

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State Schedules First Executions in Over a Year

Tennessee plans to execute two inmates in 2014 — Billy Ray Irick and Nickolus Johnson are scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Jan. 15 and April 22, respectively. The two execution dates come after Tennessee corrections officials decided on a new drug to use in lethal injections after the state’s supply of sodium thiopental — a key drug previously used for lethal injections — was seized in 2011 by federal authorities investigating whether the drugs were illegally imported. The Tennessean has the story.

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Knox County Court Clerk Readies Defense Against Critics

Knox County Criminal Court clerk Joy McCroskey said yesterday she is preparing to fire back at critics and spend the week getting to the bottom of the myriad problems raised by Knox judges, Knoxnews reports. “If we made mistakes, we’re going to admit that,” McCroskey said in a News Sentinel interview. “If someone else made the mistakes, I’m going to show that too. I’ll have an answer for (critics) and will prepare a statement.” McCroskey has declined to discuss specifics of the internal goings on in her office in the wake of the controversy surrounding her staff’s work.

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Mayor Issues Order to Resolve Rape Kit Backlog

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has issued an executive order directing city police to test all unprocessed rape kits as soon as possible and to work to improve the treatment of rape victims, the Commercial Appeal reports. Wharton said Monday that he hoped the action would help the city find the money to process the 6,889 untested items in police custody. The order also urges the police department to convene a community conversation on how it responds to victims of violence, rape and sexual assault, and to work with local advocacy groups to develop policies for handling sexual assault cases in the future.

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Knox Criminal Court Clerk Under Fire

Knox County judges are trying to resolve a range of problems stemming from errors tied to the criminal court clerk’s office, Knoxnews reports. The paper based its reporting on interviews conducted last week. Among its findings, it uncovered allegations of improper arrests, dismissal of cases due to missing paperwork, and the hiring of a collection agency that has reported payments late and was selected without an open-bidding process. Clerk Joy McCroskey defends her office and workers saying, "I think some of it is disgruntled former employees." Given the issues, Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond recently said he is considering a race against McCroskey in the Republican primary next summer. The paper has published several articles on the situation, including one this afternoon quoting Judge Andrew Jackson VI about the situation. WATE TV weighs in today as well, with news that the county sheriff has denied any responsibility for the improper arrests.

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Nichols Seeks Circuit Court Judgeship

Nathan Nichols, an assistant district attorney general in Rutherford County, has announced he is seeking the Republican nomination for circuit court judge in the 16th Judicial District. The party will select its candidate during a May 6 primary, the Murfreesboro Post reports. The circuit judge hears all criminal cases filed in Rutherford and Cannon county circuit courts. Nichols currently prosecutes a wide range of criminal cases. He previously worked as a criminal investigator with the office and as a deputy clerk for the Cannon County Circuit Court.

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Judges Choose Andre as Middle District Leader

Williamson County General Sessions Court Judge Denise Andre was selected by her peers to serve as middle district vice president of the Tennessee General Sessions Judges Conference. She was named to the post at the conference’s fall meeting in Gatlinburg, The Tennessean reports. Andre was elected to the bench in 2006. In addition to her criminal and civil dockets, she is founder and presiding judge of the General Sessions DUI Court, an intensive program for repeat DUI offenders.

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