News

Nursing Home Operator Accused of Fraud

Vanguard Healthcare, a Brentwood-based skilled nursing and rehab company that earlier this year filed for bankruptcy, is now facing a False Claims Act lawsuit from the federal government. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, six Vanguard facilities across the state and a former director of operations are accused of submitting false claims to Medicare and TennCare using forged physician and nurse signatures. The Nashville Business Journal reports.

read more »

AC out at Shelby County Juvenile Court Again

The air conditioning is out at Shelby County Juvenile Court for the second time in less than two weeks, as temperatures outside were projected to reach the 90s. Affected locations included part of the juvenile detention area, as well as some courtrooms and offices, the Commercial Appeal reports. Staff reportedly made sure that juveniles were spending time in other parts of the detention area not affected by the outage. The problem is partially due to an old HVAC system that needs custom-made coils, according to the court. The coils should be delivered and installed this week.

read more »

Tipton County Gets Domestic Violence Prosecutor

D. Michael Dunavant, 25th Judicial District Attorney General, has added Lindsey Williams as an assistant district attorney general in his office’s criminal division. She will work in a new Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit, which will serve the general sessions and circuit courts of Tipton County. Her office is located at 4709 Mueller Brass Rd. in Covington, Local Memphis reports. Williams, a 2011 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law, was sworn in last week. She previously practiced child, family and juvenile law in Shelby and Fayette counties.

read more »

Court Blocks Congressional Subpoena of Backpage

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday blocked a congressional subpoena seeking information on how the classified advertising website Backpage.com screens ads for possible sex trafficking, the Associated Press reports. Backpage had asked the high court to intervene, saying the subpoena threatens the First Amendment rights of online publishers. The Senate voted 96-0 in March to hold the website in contempt after it refused to produce documents for a congressional investigation into Internet-based human trafficking. A federal appeals court had directed the website to respond to the subpoena within 10 days. Roberts said the company does not have to comply until further action from the Supreme Court. The Times Free Press has the story.

read more »

Shelby DA Rejects Need for Marijuana Change

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich told Memphis City Council members this week that the number of those arrested for possession of half an ounce of pot or less has been dropping for years. Last year, she estimates that just over 300 people were taken to court for those amounts. “The notion that there are thousands of people in custody on misdemeanor marijuana is false,” she said. When asked outright whether a change is needed right now, Weirich said no, Local Memphis reports.

read more »

House Approves Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously Tuesday for legislation outlining a federal bill of rights for survivors of sexual assault. The legislation would ensure that survivors in federal criminal cases have a right to a sexual assault evidence collection kit, to be told of the results and to be notified in writing before the kit is destroyed. Lawmakers said they are troubled by the number of untested rape kits that remain in the country, despite efforts to reduce a national backlog. The bill now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation was approved this spring. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

read more »

ETSU, Family Justice Center Host Rape Education Event

East Tennessee State University and the Johnson City Family Justice Center are hosting a rape education and prevention conference Sept. 15 at the Millennium Center. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. with the program following from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The conference is designed to eliminate misconceptions about rape and foster better care for victims and survivors. Representatives from the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, First Judicial District Attorney General’s office and the Johnson City Police will educate attendees on prevention, response, advocacy and treatment for assault victims. The Erwin Record has details.

read more »

Procedure Set for Special Legislative Session

The special session called by Gov. Bill Haslam to fix an issue with the state’s drunken driving law will begin next Monday at 2 p.m. and end sometime on Wednesday, officials have announced. Haslam issued a proclamation Friday calling for the session. The proclamation limits action to revision of a bill passed earlier in the year that changed the punishment for persons aged 18-21 for drunken driving and any related matters. The “fix bill” is expected to be approved without opposition but must pass on three separate readings on different days to comply with the state constitution. A final vote is expected on  Wednesday. Knoxnews has more.

read more »

Nashville Police Change Position on Pot Bill

The Metro Nashville Police Department has gone from being opposed to Nashville’s proposed marijuana decriminalization ordinance to now having a neutral stance on the bill following a decision by the bill’s sponsors to give police more flexibility, the Tennessean reports. Bill sponsors reportedly will amend the proposal to allow but not require police to issue a citation for a civil penalty of $50. Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, whose office presides over Nashville’s jails, announced last week that he supports the spirit of the Nashville decriminalization ordinance. The council will hold the second of three votes tonight.

read more »

ACLU: Marijuana Reform a Matter of ‘Racial Justice’

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, is urging supporters to contact Memphis City Council members about a proposal to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Calling the issue a “matter of racial justice,” Weinberg cited statistics that African Americans in the county are 4.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, though the two groups use the drug at comparable rates. The Memphis Flyer has more from the ACLU statement.

read more »

Haslam Calls Special Session over Highway Funds

Gov. Bill Haslam is calling a special legislative session to try to resolve an issue that could cost the state $60 million in federal highway funds, the Tennessean reports. The moves comes after lawmakers approved legislation to increase the allowable blood alcohol limit for 18- to 20-year-olds and increased penalties for violations. Federal authorities say the state’s law is not in compliance with its zero tolerance law, which forces states to set 0.02 as the allowable blood-alcohol level for drivers under 21. After weeks of discussion with federal authorities, Haslam announced the need for a special session.

read more »

Cumberland County Group to Host Criminal Justice Discussion

The Fairfield Glade Neighborhood Watch will host a criminal justice presentation and community discussion from 9 a.m. to noon on Sept. 15 at the Fairfield Glade Community and Conference Center. Criminal justice professionals will be on hand to talk about the current status of the county’s criminal justice system and highlight any issues or concerns for the future. Those invited to participate include Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Lee Young, Criminal Court Judges Gary S. McKenzie and David Patterson, District Attorney Brian C. Dunaway and Public Defender Craig Fickling. The Crossville-Chronicle has more on the event.

read more »

Poll: Majority Want Drug-Free School Zone Reform

A bi-partisan majority of Tennessee residents support reforming the state’s drug-free school zone law according to a recent poll conducted by icitizen and Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris. The poll found that more than eight in 10 support reform of the Tennessee Drug-Free School Zone Act, which enhances penalties for drug crimes that occur within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare, library, recreational center or park. “Although drug-free school zones may sound good on the surface, they seem to create some troubling inequities,” Harris told the Memphis Flyer. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk previously has said that the law is applied inconsistently with the legislation’s intent. While the intent “was to keep drugs away from schoolchildren … this enhancement puts … violations on par with second degree murder.”

read more »

Democrats Blame Harwell for DUI Snafu

State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, is blaming Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, for creating an environment that put the state in jeopardy of losing $60 million in federal highway funds, Knoxnews Politics reports. “This was not an accident,” Stewart said Wednesday. “This was the direct result of specific policies put in place by Speaker Beth Harwell.” He went on to say that Harwell’s decision to accelerate the pace of legislative sessions, place a cap on the number of bills lawmakers can introduce, and ignore concerns about the state’s fiscal review process all have led to the current situation. The state is facing the loss of federal funding after increasing the blood alcohol level allowed for 18- to 20-year-olds found driving drunk.

read more »

Governor Gets Reprieve from Indigent Defense Case

Missouri Gov. and lawyer Jay Nixon, who was ordered by the state’s public defender to provide legal aid to indigent defendants, has received a reprieve from a local judge who says the public defender does not have authority to appoint private counsel without approval by a judge. The director of the public defender system had utilized an obscure legal provision to assign the governor to cases after Nixon cut funding for indigent defense and vetoed a bill that would have provided caseload relief. Following his reprieve, Nixon named three new members to the commission that oversees the public defender’s office. The positions had been vacant for some time, the ABA Journal reports.

read more »

Drug Court Gets Grant to Expand Program

The 10th Judicial District Drug Court has received a grant of nearly $800,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Cleveland Banner reports. The grant will be paid out over three years and will allow the program to grow from 40 to 75 participants and expand substance abuse and mental health services. The court, which began in 2004, serves Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe counties.

read more »

Obama Commutes 111 Sentences, Sets 1-Month Record

President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal inmates yesterday, the ABA Journal reports. Combined with the 214 commutations issued earlier this month, Obama has set a record for the most orders issued in a one-month period. He has issued 673 commutations since he took office. Commutations are coming at a “breakneck pace” as the White House works through a backlog of 11,477 cases that were pending as of Aug. 11.

read more »

Gasaway Turned Away from Alabama Jail

Former Clarksville attorney Carrie Gasaway was supposed to serve 40 days in an Alabama jail after pleading guilty in July to theft over $10,000, but when she went to check in she was turned away, the Leaf Chronicle reports. “Despite previous consent, the Sheriff of Henry County ultimately declined to accept Ms. Gasaway without an order approving such from a judge in Alabama and no judge in Alabama would consent to such an order,” read a motion asking the court to reassign her to the Montgomery County Jail. Gasaway was given a three-year sentence with 40 days to be served in jail, 90 days on house arrest and unsupervised probation for the rest of the time. She and her husband, former Circuit Judge John Gasaway, lived in Clarksville at the time the crimes occurred. She now claims an Alabama address.

read more »

Public Defender Sought in 19th District

The General Sessions Court in the 19th Judicial District is looking to fill an opening for an assistant district public defender. The assignment may be in either Robertson or Montgomery County. The start date will be Nov. 16. Interested candidates should send a recent writing sample, three employment references, three colleague references, a copy of their Tennessee law license, a statement of good standing from the Board of Professional Responsibility and information for a background check no later than Sept. 9. Learn more about the job on the TBA website.

read more »

Tennessee Gets Federal Funds to Fight Opioid Use

Tennessee is set to receive federal money to improve opioid overdose awareness and track overdose death rates and providers’ prescribing habits, the Tennessean reports. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is distributing $53 million to states that applied through a competitive grant process.

read more »

Chief Justice Highlights Court’s Accomplishments

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee recently spoke to chief justices from across the country at a national conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Lee focused her remarks on accomplishments achieved during her tenure as chief justice. She steps down from that role at the end of the month. Lee praised the state legislature for funding the court’s new electronic filing system and raises for staff. She also talked about efforts to ensure consistency of process and procedures in the state’s juvenile courts and highlighted the Access to Justice Initiative, civics education through the SCALES program, a new business court, a new human trafficking court and an indigent representation task force. Read her full remarks and see a photo gallery of her time as chief justice.

read more »

Court Solicits Comments on 2017 Rules Package

The Tennessee Supreme Court today published the annual package of recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Proposals include changing the place for filing a notice of appeal to the appellate clerk’s office, requiring payment of fees and taxes to the appellate court clerk at the time of initiation of an appeal, and changes to the Juvenile, Criminal and Evidence rules. Six TBA sections – Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law and Juvenile and Children’s Law – will be asked to review the recommendations and propose comments on behalf of the association. Comments on the proposals are due Nov. 23.

read more »

Legal Aid Reports $23M Impact on Middle Tennessee

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has tallied its annual impact on the region and found it provided $23.3 million worth of free legal assistance in 2015 – a 2.6 percent increase over 2014. The group also reported that it handled 7,022 cases across its 48-county service area; organized 76 free legal clinics, which served 1,447 attendees; coordinated 733 free legal educational seminars with almost 29,400 attendees; and distributed 64,607 self-help brochures. The agency this year also launched a re-entry program that helps people with criminal records deal with civil legal issues such as fairness in housing, employment and health care. Read more from the agency’s year-end report.

read more »

Feds Open Investigation of Rep. Durham

Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into campaign expenditures by Franklin Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham, the lawmaker’s lawyer confirmed to the Tennessean today. The U.S. attorney’s office reportedly has issued two subpoenas for records related to campaign finance issues and a possible tax violation. Durham’s lawyer Peter Strianse said his client was complying with those orders. The move comes in addition to an investigation by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which is looking at alleged discrepancies in Durham’s campaign records.

read more »

Birch Statue Unveiled Saturday in Nashville

An eight-foot-tall bronze statue of former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr. was unveiled Saturday at a ceremony in downtown Nashville, the Tennessean reports. The event also marked the 10-year anniversary of the city’s criminal courthouse, which bears Birch’s name. The larger-than-life statue, created by New Jersey artist Brian Hanlon and paid for by donations, sits at the courthouse’s main entrance on Second Ave. Among those speaking at the event were Birch’s son, Adolpho Birch III, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and Davidson County General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell.

read more »