News

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Nashville Loses Open Records Lawsuit

In a victory for open records proponents, Nashville has lost a lawsuit over the amount of time it takes its police department to respond to and fulfill records requests, the Nashville Post reports. The court found that the police department was waiting seven days to release accident reports even though they were available in about three days. The department argued it had the full seven days allowed by the Open Records Act to comply. But the court said that position did not meet the law’s provision requiring promptness. “As far as I know, this is the first time in Tennessee anyone has challenged the ‘promptness’ for producing records,” the attorney for the requesters said.

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19th Judicial District Hiring Assistant District Public Defender

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 hiring/start date will be Nov. 16, 2016.

Starting salary for this position depends on any qualifying prior service credits. Prior service credits may be given for prior experience as a public defender, district attorney, investigator for either public defender or district attorney, United States attorney, active duty judge advocate serving in criminal law slots, assistant state attorney general in criminal litigation, law clerk to trial or appellate judge with criminal jurisdiction, and/or for prior practice of law.

Full compensation package includes contributory retirement plan, health insurance, paid vacation days and holidays, State professional privilege tax paid on your behalf, required annual and additional CLE provided at no cost, 401(k) plan with limited employer match, professional liability covered by State claims act, and membership dues for Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

If you wish to be considered for this position, please submit the following no later than Sept. 9, 2016:

  • resume/c.v.
  • a recent writing sample (not from a publication, but from actual casework preferably); recent law graduates without actual casework writing may submit an academic writing
  • names and contact information of last three employers (if you do not wish a current employer to know you are seeking another position, let me know, but still provide the information); if you do not have an employer per se (e.g., solo practice, partnership, association), provide names and contact information of three individuals most closely associated and acquainted with your practice; recent law graduates should submit last three employers whether law-related employment or not
  • names and contact information of three lawyers who have worked on cases with you (preferably, opposing counsel); recent law graduates may submit names of professors or clinic supervisors
  • names and contact information of three other references
  • copy of current Tennessee law license (persons awaiting July 2016 bar results may apply)
  • statement of good standing from BPR (inapplicable for those awaiting July 2016 bar results)
  • provide full name, date of birth, driver license number and social security number (for background check)

The interview process generally proceeds as follows:

  • Aug. 29 - Sept. 9, 2016: receive applications
  • Sept. 16, 2016: selections for first round interviews notified
  • Sept. 19-30, 2016: first round interviews (with District Public Defender)
  • Oct. 7, 2016: selections for second round interviews notified
  • Oct. 10-21, 2016: second round interviews (with other attorneys and staff)
  • Oct. 24-28, 2016: extend offer

Please submit all required information to the following address:

Roger E. Nell
District Public Defender, 19th Judicial District
112 South Second Street
Clarksville, Tennessee 37040
(voice) 931-648-5538 x108
(fax) 931-648-5557
Roger.nell@tn.gov

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State Approves $25M Mental Health Hospital

A state board has approved a request by Erlanger Hospital to build a new $25 million, 88-bed mental health hospital in Chattanooga, the Times Free Press reports. While opponents argued that the real need in the state is not new beds, but more staffing for existing beds, Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes backed the project, saying too many of the people he sees in his courtroom have significant mental health issues but no place to go for treatment. “This week, I have seen 12 individuals who needed care at [the state mental health facility], but they can’t get in. So we try to keep them in a jail cell,” he told the panel.

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Haslam Not a ‘Fan’ of Reducing Marijuana Penalties

Tennessee’s two largest cities – Memphis and Nashville – are considering proposals that would make possession of a small amount of marijuana more like getting a speeding ticket. But Local Memphis reports that Gov. Bill Haslam is not a fan of the idea. “While I do think we’ve had some people who have spent more time in jail than they need to for that. I’m not in favor of decriminalizing that,” he told the station.

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