News

State Appeals Sentence in Batey Rape Case

Prosecutors have asked for a new sentencing hearing for former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey, who is serving a 15-year prison term for the rape of an unconscious woman more than three years ago. Prosecutors argue they were not given notice of 11 emails and letters sent directly to Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins in support of Batey, and were not allowed to contest the appropriateness of the letters. They also are asking for a new judge to hear their appeal, the Tennessean reports.

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Sponsor of DUI Law Sorry for Special Session

The sponsor of the drunken driving law that forced state lawmakers to return to the Capitol this week for a special session says he is sorry. Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, tells Nashville Public Radio that his goal all along was to make it tougher on underage drivers convicted of DUIs. Though he still thinks 18 to 21 year olds should face up to 48 hours in jail if arrested for drunken driving, he is going along with the move to repeal the law given the time constraints. Federal authorities have given the state until the end of the month to fix DUI laws or lose $60 million in highway funds.

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Nashville Funds Legal Aid’s Work Against Domestic Violence

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands will receive $186,500 from the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County for the current fiscal year. The grant will fund services to survivors of domestic violence, including legal representation, attendance at order of protection hearings, and community education. Last year, the group used similar funding to provide legal assistance to 279 domestic violence victims, attend 136 court dockets where order of protection petitions and related motions were heard, and publish more than 1,150 educational materials and self-help guides for domestic violence victims. The group announced the partnership in a recent newsletter to supporters.

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Lawyer ‘Working on’ Deal for 3rd Rape Defendant

For more than three years, rape cases against two former Vanderbilt University football players have been essentially on hold while two other ex-players, Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, have gone to trial. With Vandenburg’s sentencing hearing coming up at the end of September, attention is now turning to the cases against Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie. Banks’ lawyer confirmed this week that a plea deal is in the works to avoid more trials for his client, the Tennessean reports. McKenzie’s lawyer did not comment. Both face rape charges and have pleaded not guilty.

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Opinions Differ on Jailing Domestic Violence Victims

Prosecutors and defense attorneys differ on the wisdom of jailing domestic violence victims who fail to appear in court. That question is being played out in the case of a Johnson City woman who could not get a ride to court to testify against her abusive spouse. She was jailed and said she was beaten there, the Johnson City Press reports.

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Missouri Ordered to Reveal Injection Drug Suppliers

Two Mississippi death-row inmates are entitled to learn the identity of Missouri’s lethal injection drug suppliers, according to a panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The inmates allege that Mississippi’s method of execution amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and are seeking to identify an alternative method, such as that used in Missouri. Officials in Missouri say they will ask the full Eighth Circuit to hear the case. The ABA Journal has more.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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