News

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Appointed

Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Deputy Shelby County District Attorney General John Campbell as Division 6 Shelby County Criminal Court Judge. Campbell fills the vacancy created when John Fowlkes became a federal court judge in early August. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Baumgartner Jury Still Divided

For the second day, jurors weighing six federal counts against former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner could not come to a verdict. Knoxnews reports that the panel told Judge Ronnie Greer they’d reached unanimous verdicts on some counts but were deadlocked on others. After deliberating for more than 12 hours over the past two days, the jury will try again tomorrow morning to reach a full and final verdict.

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Former Police Officer Sentenced on Drug Charges

News Channel 3 reports former Memphis police office Michael Jane Sinnock has been sentenced to four years in jail on drug charges after he attempted to buy marijuana and Lortab pills from an informant. He arrived to pick up the drugs in full police uniform and in a squad car. “Mr. Sinnock brazenly abused the trust placed in him by the citizens of our community and today he faced the consequences of his actions,” said Edward L. Stanton III, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

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Court Hears Arguments Over Police Dog Use

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about the use of drug-sniffing dogs in investigations following complaints of illegal searches and insufficient proof of the dogs’ reliability, the Times News reports. The arguments revolved around cases involving two Florida police dogs. Confiscation of 179 marijuana plants came after one dog sniffed the odor from outside the front door, but a trial judge threw out the evidence claiming the dog’s sniff was an unconstitutional intrusion into the defendant’s home. Another dog alerted his officer to the scent of drugs during a traffic stop which resulted in an arrest, but the dog’s training and certification to detect narcotics did not hold up in court. The state of Florida appealed both cases to the Supreme Court which will rule in the cases sometime next year.

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Jury Unable to Reach Verdict in Baumgartner Case

Judge Ronnie Greer sent federal jurors home around 4:30 p.m. today after the group deliberated throughout the day without reaching a verdict in the case against former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. The trial, which began last week, was in the second day of deliberations. The jury will resume 9 a.m. Thursday. Knox News has the story. 

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New Judge Appointed to Christian Newsom Case

Retired Davidson County Judge Walter C. Kurtz, who has been serving as a senior judge, will oversee the cases of three men previously convicted in the Christian Newsom murder trial, WBIR.com reports. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Gary R. Wade appointed Kurtz after the Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Judge Blackwood removed from the case earlier this month, saying he had lost his objectivity in the case.

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Sex Offenders Under Tight Rules For Halloween

State probation and parole officers will be making random visits to the homes of registered sex offenders as part of the Department of Correction’s “Operation Blackout” to ensure they are not participating in Halloween trick-or-treating, the Tennessean reports. Offenders are required to remain in their homes between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m., and they can’t open their doors to trick-or-treaters, display decorations, or dress in costumes. A federal judge upheld similar provisions in California, but struck down a ruling requiring offenders to display “No candy or treats at this residence” signs on their front doors, citing a violation of the First Amendment.

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Former MTSU Student Denied New Murder Trial

Former MTSU student Shanterrica Madden, who was convicted in May of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence in the killing of her college roommate, will ask a higher court for a new trial after Circuit Court Judge Don Ash denied her request Monday afternoon. Madden’s attorney Joe Brandon argued that the first trial was unfair, her 25 year sentence was too harsh, and her rights were infringed upon when the judge allowed jurors to ask witnesses questions. Brandon says they will be filing a brief with the appeals court within 30 days and plans to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. Read more at the Tennessean.

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Judge Denies Access to Evidence in West Memphis Three Case

An Arkansas judge ruled that evidence collected from the high-profile 1993 murders of three Cub Scouts cannot be released to the victims’ parents, Knox News reports. The lawsuit seeking access to evidence comes in the wake of the release of the three men convicted of the murders known as the West Memphis Three, who were released last year after years of questions about the case. Lawyers for the victims’ parents said they would not appeal right now due to another hearing on the common law rights.

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Jurors Begin Deliberating Baumgartner Case

Jurors deciding the fate of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner began deliberations in the case at 2 p.m. today and retired for the evening without reaching a verdict. The jury spent about two hours conferring about the case before U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer sent them home, reports the News Sentinel. The panel will return Wednesday morning.

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Federal Judge Hears Plan to Improve Jail

Responding to complaints that jail administrators ignore or delay requests for medical treatment, withhold nutritious meals and fail to maintain a safe and sanitary facility, lawyers for Maury County were in court yesterday detailing improvements taking place at the county jail. The county is facing 23 suits filed by inmates, according to the Columbia Daily Herald. U.S. District Court Judge William Haynes seemed most concerned by claims that inmates were losing “100, 35, and 50 pounds” and said that protecting their health was the most important priority for the facility.

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Judge Dismisses 1 Count in Baumgartner Trial

One felony count was dismissed against former Judge Richard Baumgartner today, according to WATE. While the defense had filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the whole case, Judge Ronnie Greer dismissed just one count, which related to a conversation in which Baumgartner allegedly made material misrepresentations about his mistress to an Anderson County judge. The presiding judge said there was not sufficient evidence on that issue for a rational jury to find elements of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Tuesday morning.

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Haslam Appoints Siskin to 16th Circuit

Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Keith Siskin to the 16th Judicial District Circuit Court, which serves Rutherford and Cannon counties. He fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Don Ash to a senior judge position earlier this year. Siskin has been a juvenile court magistrate since 2004 and is a past president of the Rutherford and Cannon County Bar Association. The Daily News Journal has more.

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Blackwood Removed from Retrial Cases

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals yesterday ordered Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood removed from the retrial cases of three defendants previously found guilty in the January 2007 torture slayings of a Knoxville couple. The ruling comes after a series of hearings, legal maneuvers and decisions about the case following revelations that the judge presiding over the original trials – Richard Baumgartner – was involved in activity that may have impacted his ability to conduct a fair proceeding. The state attorney general and the Knox County district attorney sought to have Blackwood removed, arguing that he had lost his objectivity because of his anger over Baumgartner’s behavior. The News Sentinel has more

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Court Grants Review of 3 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review of two criminal cases that address retroactivity of a new rule regarding guilty pleas in certain sex offender cases and the sufficiency of evidence in an attempted murder case. A civil case accepted concerns the standard of review in modification of domestic relations Permanent Parenting Plans. The Raybin Perky Hotlist reviews the cases and predicts how they may be decided.

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Opening Statements Presented in Baumgartner Trial

Prosecution and defense attorneys gave opening statements this morning in the trial of former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner. According to WBIR.com, U.S. attorneys said they will prove that Baumgartner used his power and influence as a judge to cover up the crimes of his mistress Deena Castleman. They also revealed that Baumgartner's former judicial assistant and court clerk of 15 years will testify against him. The defense said it will explain "honest reasons why Baumgartner said what he said and did what he did" for Castleman. Baumgartner won't deny his pill addiction or the relationship with Castleman, but will fight the allegation that he covered up her involvement in a drug conspiracy.

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Judge to Rule on West Memphis 3 Evidence

An Arkansas judge says he plans to rule next week on whether to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the mother of one of three boys killed in 1993. Pam Hicks filed a civil suit in June in hopes of viewing evidence in the slaying of her son and his friends. Three men, known as the West Memphis Three, were convicted in the boys' deaths, but released from prison last year. Hicks is seeking to examine items from the case, including her son's bicycle and clothes. The state argues that physical evidence is not covered by FOIA law and has asked for dismissal of the suit. Hicks also is seeking three affidavits filed in the case last winter. The state argues these documents also are exempt from disclosure laws. The Commercial Appeal reports

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Jury Selected for Baumgartner Trial

Ten women and two men were picked this evening after two days of jury selection to hear the federal case against former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, Knox News reports. The panel consists of primarily middle-age people, with one African American woman. Two alternatives, a man and a woman, were also chosen. Opening statements begin Thursday in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

Vet Goes on Trial in Animal Abuse, Starvation Case

Jurors saw photos of dogs who were allegedly starved to death as the trial of a former Memphis Animal Services veterinarian got underway this week, the Commercial Appeal reports.  Angela Middleton faces six counts of cruelty to animals for her part in the case, which has already seen two former employees receive jail time for aggravated animal cruelty charges. Shelby County Sheriff's Office deputies raided the animal shelter in 2009 after tipsters complained of abuse and cruelty there.

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Jury Selection in Baumgartner Case Underway

Jury selection in the federal case against former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was to begin today, Knox News reports. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Lewen and Zachary Bolitho filed various motions indicating how they intend to prove Baumgartner is guilty on seven counts of misprision of a felony for allegedly lying to cover up a drug conspiracy involving Baumgartner's pill-supplier and mistress. U.S District Judge Ronnie Greer has summoned 100 potential jurors from East Tennessee counties.

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Vanderbilt Sues Former Employee, Partner Convicted of Fraud

Vanderbilt University has filed a civil lawsuit against the two men convicted of defrauding the school of more than $560,000, the City Paper reports. On Oct. 9, Jason Hunt, former administrative manager at Vanderbilt Law School, and his partner Samuel Wakefield pled guilty to fraud, theft and statutory rape. The lawsuit asks for compensatory damages, interest, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

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State Rep. Graduates from TBI State Academy

State Rep. Eric Watson was among the inaugural class of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) State Academy, an intensive six-week training program to help Tennessee law enforcement personnel expand their education and training in the crimination justice field. Watson chairs the House Judiciary Committee and co-chairs the National Conference of State Legislatures Law and Criminal Justice Standing Committee, the Cleveland Daily Banner reports.

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Magistrate Leave Request Denied, Stricter Timeclock Rules Set

Hamilton County Commissioners voted to deny a request by Magistrate Larry Ables to cash out 787 hours of annual leave before moving to a lower paying position on Nov. 1, the Chattanoogan reports. Commissioners questioned if the hours had been verified, contained prior accumulated leave time transferred from the district attorney’s office, and the fairness of allowing the magistrates benefits other county employees do not receive. The Commissioners also passed a resolution requiring magistrates to be on a timeclock and check out each time they leave the premise to curb “three hour lunch breaks and going to civic club meetings” while on the clock.

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Memphis Lawyer’s Diverse Career Brings Him Full Circle

Memphis lawyer Josh Spickler began his legal career at the Shelby County’s Office of Public Defender, and 12 years later he has come full circle. The Memphis Law grad left the public defender after a few years, started his own firm, then moved on to The Hardison Law Firm PC where he did defense work for hospitals, long-term care, nurses, and doctors instead of criminal cases. He took a break from the legal field for a while to serve as social media manager for a start-up company, but returned to his love of law when offered a position back at the public defender’s office. Spickler is now director of the nascent Defender’s Resource Network, a program that helps people in custody receive services if they are suffering from serious mental illness or substance abuse. Read the full feature on Spickler at the Daily News.

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DOJ Wants End to Fast and Furious Lawsuit

The Justice Department is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a Republican-led House committee that demands Attorney General Eric Holder release records about Fast and Furious -- a failed law enforcement operation in which agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives tracked illegal weapons to high-level arms traffickers in the hopes of dismantling their networks. Of the 2,000 illegally purchased guns federal agents identified, they lost track of about 1,400.  Holder is being held in contempt by the House for refusing to turn over records that explain why the department initially denied utilizing the controversial tactic. WATE.com has the story.

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