News

Tennessee Jails Struggle with Number of Inmates

Tennessee jails have more inmates than beds, and there's no solution in sight, reports The Tennessean. According to the paper, nearly half of the state’s 109 jails have more inmates than beds, with some housing two or three times as many inmates as they are certified to hold. Detainees in these counties find themselves sleeping on floors in common areas, using portable showers and toilets, or being moved around to other facilities. Counties with jail overcrowding also have troubles since they are more vulnerable to lawsuits, higher insurance policies and increased costs to house inmates elsewhere.

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Court Grants Review in 2 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review in two cases. The first case is one of first impression and addresses whether criminal contempt in a civil domestic relations case is subject to collateral attack in a post-conviction proceeding. The second concerns jury instructions where two offenses are committed during a common criminal episode. Read more about the issues and predictions as to how the new cases may be decided in the Raybin Perky Hotlist

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Haslam to Focus on Reducing Domestic Violence Rate

Gov. Bill Haslam says that while the crime rate is showing an overall decline in Tennessee, instances of aggravated assault, prescription drug abuse and domestic violence remain a major concern for his administration. He stated yesterday that domestic violence accounts for about half of all crimes committed in the state each year. This year, Haslam introduced and signed into law a measure to require mandatory jail time for repeat convictions for domestic violence, but it is too soon to tell if it has made a significant difference. Gov. Haslam said his Cabinet will continue to work with law enforcement to seek ways to reduce violent crimes and drug abuse.

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DUI Court Helps Change Lives

DUI Court is an effort by the Williamson County General Sessions Court and law enforcement officials to decrease the number of alcohol related crashes and fatalities, DUI arrests and repeat offenses. The two-year old court, modeled after the highly effective drug court, is open to offenders with between two and four DUI offenses. Read more in the Williamson Herald. 

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Judge Denies Accused Christian Newsom Murder Ringleader Delay in Retrial

Senior Judge Walter Kurtz denied accused Christian Newsom torture-slaying ringleader Lemaricus Davidson’s bid to put a hold on a hearing next week on whether Davidson should have been granted a new trial, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Davidson’s attorneys sought a Tennessee Supreme Court review of a midlevel appellate court’s decision to recuse Senior Judge Job Kerry Blackwood who ordered a new trial. "The issue is no longer one of recusal," Kurtz wrote. "In (appointing Kurtz), the chief justice exercised his statutory and inherent authority. This trial court is not in a position to overturn or modify the chief justice's order."

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Accused Christian Newsom Murder Ringleader Requests Delay in Retrial

Attorneys for Lemaricus Davidson, the accused ringleader in the Christian Newsom torture slayings, have filed on his behalf a motion seeking a stay of any retrial hearing or decision by newly appointed Senior Judge Walter Kurtz, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Davidson’s defenders requested time to seek a Tennessee Supreme Court review of an order by a lower appellate court ousting from the case Senior Judge Job Kerry Blackwood, who ordered the new trial after it was discovered that disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was abusing prescription drugs during the original trial.

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Plea Deal Avoids Fight Over Prosecutor, Judge Testifying

Jesse Mathews pleaded guilty on Friday afternoon to killing a Chattanooga police officer and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He also gave up all appeal rights. Mathews’s trial was to have begun on Jan. 23 with a Nashville jury. The plea deal also ends a defense lawsuit seeking to force the prosecutor to testify at the sentencing, as well as a possible fight over whether U.S. District Court Judge Sandy Mattice would be forced to testify. Mattice recently had denied the defense request under the federal Guide to Judiciary Policy, which prohibits federal judges from testifying in legal proceedings except in special situations. In addition, Mattice said that whatever testimony he could give was already in the public record; that sealed information could inadvertently come out; and that his testimony could reflect poorly upon his impartiality in future cases.

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Judge Requests Feb.1 Sentencing Date in Christian Newsom Conviction

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sent a letter to state and defense attorneys asking to schedule Vanessa Coleman’s sentencing date for Feb.1. Judge Blackwood also stated he would hear defense attorney Theodore Lavit's motion for a new trial at that time. Coleman, who was convinced of 13 of 17 counts related to facilitation of the Christian Newsom murders, could receive up to 45 years in prison.

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Judge Denies Request for Diversion in Towboat Homicides

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman denied pretrial diversion for a man charged with criminally negligent homicide in a 2010 crash between his towboat and a small fishing boat on the Tennessee River. The case also is scheduled for a federal civil trial in July 2013.

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Sender of Fake Anthrax Letter Gets 8 Years After Retrial

After a six-hour sentencing hearing yesterday, Marshall DeWayne Williams was sentenced to eight years in prison for sending a fake anthrax letter to U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen in 2008. He had previously been sentenced to five years for the crime, but that sentence was overturned and a new trial ordered because no pre-sentence report had been filed. Williams, who is serving time for killing his stepfather, admitted sending the letter to Breen as well as other judges and congressmen, shopping malls, restaurants and schools. According to the Commercial Appeal, he said the letters were designed to give him access to the courts so he could protest his sentence in the earlier case.

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Former Judge's Wife Ordered to Pay $63,000

The wife of former Hawkins County general sessions and juvenile judge James “Jay” Taylor was ordered to pay about $63,000 to a plaintiff who has brought several charges against the couple. Julia Taylor was ordered to make the payment after she failed to file a response in the case brought by Doris Colleen Burns. The former judge previously had been ordered to pay Burns $50,000 in restitution after being found guilty of stealing money from her while she was his client. Burns is still pursuing a claim that Taylor extorted $16,000 from her in 2010 by threatening he would file false criminal charges against her. The Kingsport Times News has more

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Cobbins Asks Judge to Dismiss Lawyer in Christian Newsom Retrial

Letalvis Cobbins, on retrial for the 2007 Christian Newsom torture-slayings, asked Judge Walter Kurtz to assign him a new court-appointed attorney, WATE Knoxville reports. Cobbins claimed his lawyer Kim Parton has not been representing him well or taking time to explain matters to him. Parton explained that she was prepared to go forward as his counsel and make an effort to keep Cobbins informed. Judge Kurtz denied the motion.

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Police Bust Gang Members in “Operation Gangsgiving”

The Chattanooga Police Department conducted a gang member roundup Monday and Tuesday termed “Operation Gangsgiving,” the Chattanoogan reports. It included a gang member warrant operation, traffic enforcement and a drug buy/bust operation. There were a total of 64 charges. Of the 34 arrests, 17 were identified as gang members.

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Jury Convicts Coleman in Torture-Slaying Re-Trial

Jurors reached a verdict today in the re-trial of torture-slaying suspect Vanessa Coleman, according to Knox News. The jury, brought to Knoxville from Jackson, convicted Coleman on charges of facilitation of the felony murder of Channon Christian. They also found her guilty of lesser facilitation charges related to the kidnapping and rape of Christian, but acquitted her outright of facilitation of felony murder in the kidnapping of Christian's boyfriend, Christopher Newsom. In all, the panel, which deliberated over two days, convicted Coleman of 13 of the 17 facilitation counts she faced.

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Judge Eyes Drug Court for Hawkins County

Hawkins County General Sessions Judge J. Todd Ross is actively working to create a drug court by the first of the year. He recently met with representatives of the attorney general’s office and other community partners to discuss his goal. He also has traveled to other counties to talk to judges and court officials to learn from their experience. Speaking about the changes he has made since taking office in September, Ross said, “I am working extremely hard to restore the public’s confidence in this court and to make sure that this court operates within the bounds of the law and provides justice to the community, the victims, and the defendants.” The Kingsport Times News reports

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Campbell Sworn in as New Criminal Judge

Longtime prosecutor John Wheeler Campbell was sworn in as a Shelby County criminal court judge on Friday. He was to take the bench for the first time today. Campbell -- who replaces Judge John Fowlkes, who resigned in July to become a federal district court judge -- has worked in the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office since 1985, most recently serving as deputy district attorney general. Prior to joining the DA’s office, he was an assistant public defender. Read about his new post in the Commercial Appeal

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Fillers' Finances to be Reviewed by Court

Don Fillers, who was sentenced to a four-year prison sentence in a well-publicized asbestos case, still has a court-appointed attorney although documents presented to the court show he purchased more than $2 million in property and valued his home at $403,000, the Chattanoogan reports. Federal Magistrate Judge Bill Carter said there were still unanswered questions about Fillers' finances, and set another hearing for Tuesday. Fillers is scheduled to go into federal prison Friday.

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Lawyer Who Morphed Images as Exhibit in Child Porn Trial Must Pay Damages

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a $300,000 award against an Ohio lawyer, rejecting arguments that he had a First Amendment right to morph stock photos into child pornography as part of a defense trial exhibit and that no one was harmed by his doing so, the ABA Journal reports. Dean Boland was trying to show that overbroad laws against child pornography could entrap a defendant who didn't know whether the images were real or fake. But he wound up in trouble himself.

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7 Vying for New Washington County Judgeship

Washington County commissioners interviewed seven attorneys today vying for a new judgeship created to alleviate overcrowded criminal and civil dockets. The Johnson City Press reports that the finalists include four private practice attorneys -- Don Arnold, Doug Carter, Steve Darden and Dan Smith -- two assistant district attorneys general -- Ken Baldwin and Michael Rasnake -- and one assistant public defender, Bill Donaldson. Commissioners will hold a special meeting Jan. 3 at 10 a.m. to select the judge.

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Campbell to Take Oath on Nov. 16

John Wheeler Campbell will be sworn in as judge in Division VI of the Criminal Court at 2 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex, 201 Poplar Ave., Memphis, TN 38103. A reception will follow in the Division VI Courtroom on the 6th floor.

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Jurors in Knox Retrial Will Be From Jackson

Jurors will be selected this Friday in Jackson for the retrial of Vanessa Coleman, one of four defendants who had been convicted in one of Knoxville's most horrific crimes. New trials have been ordered for all of the suspects in the 2007 torture-slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, after revelations that the judge presiding over the original trials — Richard Baumgartner — was himself breaking the law. The state challenged the retrial orders in all but Coleman's case. The Knoxville News Sentinel has more.

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Assistant DA Retires After 26 years

Sumner County Assistant District Attorney (DA) Sallie Wade Brown retired last week after 26 years of service to the state. She spent the majority of her career prosecuting defendants charged with abusing children and most recently handled drug-related cases. Her daughter will continue her legacy, and was sworn in Thursday as the county’s newest district attorney. Read more at the Tennessean.

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Former Court Clerk Says He is 'Sovereign from U.S.'

Since being charged with four counts of official misconduct, former Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson has publicly declared himself sovereign from the Unites States, and recently told Judge Walter Kurtz that he doesn't believe in the procedures and he should not be in court. Jackson was indicted last year for allegedly coercing his employees to raise money for his reelection campaign. WMC-TV reports

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Baumgartner Sentencing Set for March 27

Sentencing is set for March 27, 2013, for former judge Richard Baumgartner, convicted in federal court last week of five counts of misprision of a felony. Baumgartner faces a three-year sentence and $250,000 fine on each count of the conviction, according to federal prosecutors. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports

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Baumgartner Found Guilty of 5 of 6 Federal Counts

On its fourth day of deliberations, a federal jury convicted former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner on five of six counts of misprision of a felony, reports the Knoxville News Sentinel. The panel found him guilty of lying to an Anderson County judge, a Knox County judge, a state prosecutor, a child support referee and the director of transitional housing at the YWCA. He was acquitted of lying to nurses at the former St. Mary’s Medical Center with the purpose of covering up a drug conspiracy. Baumgartner’s attorneys say they will appeal the five guilty verdicts.

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