News

New Firm Offers Reduced Rates for Criminal Defense

Three northeast Tennessee lawyers have opened the Criminal Defense Clinic (CDC) to provide legal services for those who need a criminal defense attorney but do not qualify for a court-appointed one or cannot afford to pay full price for one. Jim Bowman, Chris Byrd and Nikki Himebaugh maintain separate legal offices, but collaborate on cases accepted by the CDC, the Johnson City Press reports. The attorneys assess each client and apply a sliding fee scale for the service. The trio stress they are not trying to undercut fees other lawyers charge, just trying to help defendants who legitimately do not have the money to pay for a lawyer. The CDC is currently taking cases in Washington and Unicoi counties.

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New Domestic Violence Court Begins Sept. 2

Courtroom 4B looks like any other room in the Justice A.A. Birch Building, but beginning Sept. 2, it will be the site of Davidson County’s new Domestic Violence Court, the Tennessean reports. For the first time, all domestic violence cases will be referred here, with judges, prosecutors and security staff specially trained to handle such matters. “We’re going to see a major change in how the cases are handled,” said General Sessions Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton, who will be the first in a three-judge rotation to run the new court. General Sessions Judge Gale Robinson and newly elected Judge Allegra Walker will round out the rotation.

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TBI Launches New Anti-Trafficking Resource

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has launched a new outreach campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee, WRCB News 3 reports. The campaign, “IT Has To Stop,” provides information, research and statistics, contacts and links for visitors. The campaign also has a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

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Tennessee Sets 11th Execution Date

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Tuesday set an execution date for a man convicted in the 1991 burning death of his ex-girlfriend. Lee Hall, formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr., is scheduled to die Jan. 12, 2016. He becomes at least the 11th death row inmate currently scheduled to die in Tennessee. The Tennessean has the story.

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New ABA President Calls for Innovation in Delivery of Legal Services

South Carolina lawyer William C. Hubbard accepted the gavel as the new president of the ABA and urged lawyers to join him in his signature effort: closing the legal services delivery gap for the poor. Hubbard outlined several ways to accomplish that goal, including connecting lawyers, judges and academics with technology innovators who are spending millions of dollars on finding new ways of providing legal services. “We must marry this creativity with our own justice system to provide greater access while protecting the public,” he said. He also noted that several specific issues “clamor for our attention and rational evidence-based solutions.” These include a criminal justice system that is breaking down fiscally, the continued imprisonment of low-level offenders, the number of mentally ill in prison, the need for more pro bono representation for domestic violence victims, and the balance between privacy and security. Read more about Hubbard’s goals for the year in the ABA Journal.

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Deputy DA Honored for Child Abuse Prevention Work

The J. Stephens Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Crossville recently honored Deputy District Attorney Gary McKenzie for his years of advocacy on behalf of Upper Cumberland children at risk of abuse and neglect. In presenting the award, the center noted that McKenzie has worked for more than a decade to seek justice for victims of abuse/neglect, has been part of several grass-roots efforts to improve the services available to victims and has worked to strengthen laws concerning abuse and neglect. McKenzie has worked in the district attorney’s office since graduating from law school in 2000. He was named deputy in 2007. Last week he won election as 13th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge, Part I. See a photo of the award presentation in the Crossville Chronicle.

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State Fights Release of Execution Team Identities

State officials on Monday fought to block the lawyers for 10 death row inmates from getting information about who will serve on the lethal injection team that will execute the prisoners, the Tennessean reports. Appearing before the Court of Appeals, attorneys for the state argued that Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Claudia Bonnyman improperly ordered them to reveal the names of those who would execute prisoners. The inmates have challenged a 2013 law that makes all details about lethal injection secret. Bonnyman ruled in January the state had to provide the information to the attorneys but could keep it secret from the inmates and the public.

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Kelsey Sets Hearings on Criminal Justice System

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, says he will hold three hearings on criminal justice issues during its study session Sept. 15-16 in Nashville. The hearings will look at the current state of criminal justice in Tennessee, what other states are doing to reform their systems, and suggested changes to Tennessee law. Issues to be addressed include truth in sentencing, pretrial release, reentry programs, probation and parole reform, community-based corrections and reduction in recidivism rates, Chattanoogan.com reports. In announcing the hearings, Kelsey noted that Tennessee has not comprehensively evaluated its criminal justice system in over 20 years and could “learn from other states that have successfully used data to reduce costs and increase safety.”

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Incumbent Judges, DAs, PDs Defeated by Challengers

Thursday was a day for incumbent wins overall, but there were exceptions, with several Republicans upsetting Democrats across the state. In District 6, incumbent Chancellor Daryl Fansler was beaten by Republican Clarence Pridemore Jr., and Circuit Court Judge Harold Wimberly Jr. was bested by Republican William "Bill" Ailor. Read more in Knoxnews. In District 8, Elizabeth Asbury defeated incumbent Chancellor Andy Tillman, who was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam in April 2013.  In the same district, incumbent District Attorney General Lori Phillips-Jones was defeated by Jared Effler. Both are independents, but made the news in the spring when Phillips-Jones fired Effler, a 14-year prosecutor in the district. Two other district attorneys general were defeated: Mickey Layne, a Democrat, lost to Republican Craig Northcott in Coffee County, the Manchester Times reports, and Democrat Hansel J. McCadams fell to Republican Matt Stowe in Madison County. In District 10 Criminal Court, Republican Sandra N. C. Donaghy defeated Democrat incumbent Amy Armstrong Reedy, Chattanoogan.com reports. In Distrtict 26, the Jackson Sun reports that incumbent Circuit Court Judge Nathan B. Pride lost to Republican Kyle Atkins.

Two incumbent public defenders lost their jobs in this election. In District 11, Democrat Ardena Garth lost to Steven E. Smith, a Republican. Democrat David N. Brady lost to Republican Craig P. Fickling in District 13.  Also, Smyrna Town Judge Keta Barnes was defeated by challenger Lynn England Alexander. The Secretary of State’s Office has more results.

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Michael, Kyle and Weirich Win in Memphis Races

Three races in Memphis caught the state’s attention in Thursday’s elections. Shelby County Juvenile Court Special Judge Dan Michael was elected to the court’s top job with 54 percent of the vote, besting challenger Tarik Sugarmon in the race to become Juvenile Court judge. Michael will replace outgoing Judge Curtis Person, who is retiring. Sugarmon currently serves as Memphis City Court administrative judge. Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle claimed the open seat in Chancery Court Part II, besting three opponents to replace Chancellor Arnold B. Goldin, whose seat opened up when he was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Kyle has said that he would resign from the legislature if he won. A special election will be held this year to fill Kyle’s seat for the remaining two years of his four-year term. The Commercial Appeal has these stories. In the race for district attorney general, incumbent Amy Weirich garnered 65 percent of the vote over Joe Brown to retain the job she has held since January 2011 when Gov. Bill Haslam appointed her as the county’s first female district attorney. Weirich credited widespread support from all parts of town and from both parties. 

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Sheriff’s Office Responsible for ICE Checks

A story in yesterday’s issue of TBA Today indicated that metro Nashville officers are responsible for checking arrestees’ immigration records under the Secure Communities program. Instead, it is the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department that is participating in the federal program and is responsible for conducting the checks.

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FedEx Could Face New Drug Charges

FedEx could face new charges related to the alleged distribution and conspiracy to distribute drugs for illegal Internet-based pharmacies, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Last Friday, federal prosecutors in California said they intend to present a "superseding indictment" by Aug. 28, which would modify or add to the original indictment. The first indictment, filed July 17, included 15 counts of shipping or conspiracy to ship drugs to questionable online pharmacies.

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DA Praised for Work at Retirement Reception

Colleagues and friends of 23rd Judicial District Attorney General Dan M. Alsobrooks gathered last week at the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum in Dickson for a reception to honor his work. Local attorneys Jerry Smith and David Wolfe, along with state Rep. David Shepard, Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons and TBI Director Mark Gwyn spoke about Alsobrooks’ character and work ethic. State Rep. Mary Littleton also presented Alsobrooks with a proclamation from the General Assembly recognizing his service. Alsobrooks will retire from office Aug. 31, after 24 years as the district attorney general. The Tennessean has more on his career and the reception.

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Free Conference Focuses on Death Scene Investigations

The Forensic Institute for Research and Education (FIRE) is hosting a free two-day conference on death scene investigations Aug. 13-14 on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. The program, sponsored through a federal Department of Justice grant, will address topics such as the role of the medical examiner, forensic anthropology, mass fatalities, drug overdose cases and child death investigations. Speakers include representatives from area district attorney and medical examiners’ offices. Download an agenda or handout for the event.

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Nashville Magistrates Using Summonses for Domestic Violence Suspects

Some domestic violence suspects in Nashville are no longer being arrested, being ordered to stay away from victims or being subjected to 12-hour “cooling off” periods, the Tennessean reports. The reason, according to the paper, is a change in state law that went into effect on July 1, which has led judicial commissioners to begin issuing court summonses instead of warrants to domestic violence suspects. It is unclear who is responsible for the shift in how the suspects are being managed. A spokesman for the commissioners blamed the new law. The legislator who wrote the law says the magistrates are not following it properly. Meanwhile, prosecutors warn that victims may be in danger as there are no meaningful consequences for ignoring a summons.

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Fedex Names Lawyers for Drug-Shipping Case

FedEx has named two law firms as its representatives in its coming drug trafficking case, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Both of the firms — Arguedas, Cassman & Headley LLP and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP — have offices in Northern California, where the charges were filed. The company was indicted last week for allegedly having lax controls on pharmaceutical shipments.

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TACDL Meeting to Feature Judge Fowlkes

The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL) will hold its 41st Annual Meeting Aug. 1-2 at the University of Memphis School of Law. Speakers include TACDL President Mike Whalen, 30th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee, Kansas District Court Judge Joe D. Johnson and U.S. District Judge John Fowlkes, who will give a presentation on the importance of judicial independence. Learn more on the association’s website.

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Lawyer with Shelby Public Defender’s Office Dies

Lawrence Russell “Rusty” White died July 12. White, 55, was a criminal defense attorney with the Public Defender's office in Shelby County. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made to the Mid-South Make A Wish Foundation, 1780 Moriah Woods Blvd. Suite 10, Memphis, TN 38117. Read tributes to White on the Memorial Park Funeral Home’s website. The Commercial Appeal has more on his life.

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Commission OKs Early Release for Drug Felons

Tens of thousands of federal inmates serving time for drug crimes may be eligible for early release under a cost-cutting proposal adopted Friday by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The panel, which earlier this year voted to substantially lower recommended sentences for drug-dealing felons, voted unanimously to retroactively apply that change to prisoners now behind bars. That could affect more than 46,000 inmates, the Associated Press reports. Under the proposed process, a judge would review the case of each prisoner to decide if release would jeopardize public safety. Releases would start in November 2015 and be phased in over a period of years. Congress has until this November to voice opposition to the plan. WATE has the story.

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Families of Victims Meet to Discuss Justices' Opinions

Several family members of murder victims gathered in Knoxville yesterday to discuss opinions issued by the three State Supreme Court Justices up for a retention vote. The group is pushing for more rights for crime victims, and one woman said she was upset that justices weren't in support of showing a photo of a murder victim during a trial and felt that their decisions limited victim impact statements. WATE has the story.

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Federal Judge Rules California Death Penalty Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled yesterday that California’s death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the LA Times reports. Carney called the California death penalty system “dysfunctional," with the result being an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding an actual execution.

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First Mom Charged Under Prenatal Drug Law

A 26-year-old Tennessee woman has become the first mother to be charged under a state law that criminalizes drug use by pregnant women, MSNBC reports. Mallory Loyola was arrested and charged Tuesday with simple assault after she and the baby girl she gave birth to on July 6 both tested positive for methamphetamine, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. Loyola told police she smoked the drug a few days before she gave birth. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of one year. Tennessee is the first state in the nation to allow such charges.

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Prosecutors Counter Claims Justices Are ‘Soft on Crime’

A bipartisan group of 13 district attorneys has come forward in support of Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee, saying they have “outstanding records and deserve to be retained.” The spokesperson for the group, 15th Judicial District Tom P. Thompson Jr., said though “prosecutors may not agree with every decision made by this court...the fact is these justices…have upheld almost 90 percent of death penalty cases. They are not soft on crime.” Thompson also said the three are fair and impartial, and protect Tennesseans’ rights under the state and federal constitutions.

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Pilot to Pay $92M, Avoid Prosecution

Pilot Flying J has reached a deal with federal prosecutors to avoid criminal charges against the company, Knoxnews reports. Under the deal made public today, Pilot must pay a $92 million penalty over two years and cooperate with an ongoing criminal investigation into diesel fuel rebate fraud. Federal prosecutors said in a news release that the Criminal Enforcement Agreement “expressly states that it provides no protection from prosecution to any individual” in connection with the case. A criminal investigation against individual employees is ongoing with 10 already pleading guilty to charges.

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Senators File Complaint Against Judge Moreland

Three state senators have filed a complaint with the Board of Judicial Conduct against Davidson County Judge Casey Moreland in the wake of his decision to waive a 12-hour "cooling-off" period and release a man accused of abusing his girlfriend. In the complaint, Sens. Mike Bell, Randy McNally and Brian Kelsey say Moreland's actions promoted “distrust, suspicion and a belief that the 'good ole boy' system pervades the judiciary” and he should be “severely sanctioned.” Moreland told The Tennessean he regrets his actions, but did what he thought was right at the time. “I regret it. I apologize for it, and I will make sure to get more information next time."

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