News

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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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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