News

Law School Externships, Misconduct Rules on ABA Annual Meeting Agenda

The ABA House of Delegates will meet Aug. 8-9 in San Francisco for its annual meeting. Items on the agenda include a proposal that would permit law school students to earn academic credit and compensation for externships at the same time; an amendment to the model rules of conduct to add anti-discrimination and anti-harassment provisions; a proposal urging states to abolish probation systems supervised by private, for-profit firms; and initiatives that expand ABA efforts to diversify the legal profession and the judiciary.

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Inmate Found Hiding in Clarksville Courthouse

The Montgomery County Courts Center was evacuated Tuesday morning after an inmate escaped from a holding cell and hid out in lower level of the building, the Leaf Chronicle reports. Jose Luis Garcia, 45, left his holding cell at about 10:45 a.m. At 12:10 p.m., a deputy and his K-9 dog found Garcia in the duct work above the holding area. Garcia was awaiting a 1:30 p.m. court hearing on charges of auto theft, property theft, fugitive from justice and two counts of driving on a revoked license. He will face additional charges for his escape attempt as well as vandalism, officials said.

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TBA Director to Speak on Indigent Pay Issues

TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur is among those who will address the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force when it meets Friday in Nashville for the next stop on its listening tour. The hearing will take place from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Nashville School of Law, Room 200, 4013 Armory Oaks Dr., Nashville 37204. The TBA has long supported an increase in the compensation rate for those who handle court-appointed cases. After Friday's session, the task force will hold one last hearing in Franklin on Aug.11.

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Report Alleges Little Has Changed for Memphis Juveniles

An in-depth profile of the Shelby County Juvenile Court system published by the nonprofit organization Next City argues that four years after the Department of Justice found that Memphis treated black juvenile offenders more harshly than white peers “little has changed.” The piece acknowledges that there has been progress, but alleges there is still “a serious lack of movement” to address racial disparities. The report also found “across-the-board deterioration … since the transfer of the [juvenile] facility to the sheriff” and continued patterns of trying black juveniles as adults.

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ACLU Sues State for Lack of Hep-C Treatment in Prisons

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has filed a federal lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Corrections alleging that its “systematic denial of treatment to inmates affected with Hepatitis C” is cruel and unusual, Fox 17 reports. The ACLU brought the suit on behalf of inmates at Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville and Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, who were diagnosed with the disease years ago but were never treated. Read the complaint here.

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Judge Rules Bitcoin Not Money, Tosses Laundering Case

A Miami judge has found that bitcoin is not the same as money and therefore tossed criminal charges against a man accused of selling $1,500 worth of the virtual currency to undercover agents. The case is believed to be the first money-laundering prosecution involving bitcoin and was “closely watched in tech, financial and legal circles,” according to the Miami Herald. Nashville lawyer Kathryn Edge wrote about bitcoin in the August 2014 issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal. She says the decision may prompt lawmakers to figure out how to regulate bitcoin and similar means of exchange. The ABA Journal has a synopsis.

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Arkansas Execution Drug May Be From Pfizer Subsidiary

An execution drug obtained by the Arkansas prison system this month appears to have been made by a subsidiary of Pfizer, even though the pharmaceutical giant says it does not want its drugs to be used in executions. The Associated Press reports that because Arkansas has an execution secrecy law, it may be difficult for the manufacturer to find out who sold the drug to the state. A comparison of the labels, however, suggests that the drug may have come from Hospira Inc., which Pfizer bought last year. WRCB-TV has the story.

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Computer Forensics for Lawyers

On Aug. 2, Lars Daniel with Guardian Digital Forensics in Raleigh will present a special CLE webcast on computer forensics. He will use real life examples to show how forensic artifacts recovered from computers are used in legal cases. Other topics will include best practices in data collection, understanding deleted data, challenging digital evidence and expert testimony. If you cannot join the webcast live, the program will be available on the website for up to one year. Learn more or register here.

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Attorneys Argue Self-Defense, Poor Policing in Mills Case

Attorneys for Christopher M. Ferrell, the man convicted of killing country musician Wayne Mills, asked the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals this week to grant their client a new trial, arguing that erroneous jury instructions and a botched police investigation tainted his conviction. They also argued that Ferrell acted out of fear and shot Mills in self-defense, the Tennessean reports. Ferrell was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing Mills after a tribute concert to music legend George Jones. The two were drinking in a downtown Nashville bar when they got into an argument and Ferrell shot Mills.

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Drug Task Force Gets Grant to Fight Meth

Tennessee’s Third Judicial District Drug Task Force has received a $153,000 grant to help get drugs off the streets, WJHL reports. Task force director Adam Arrington says the agency spends 95 percent of its resources fighting methamphetamine in Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, and Hancock counties and the new funding will go a long way to help in those efforts. The money comes from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. Arrington says the agency will receive payouts over a three-year period.

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TAJ Takes Back Trial Lawyers Name, Elects New Board

The Tennessee Association for Justice (TAJ) changed its name back to the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association during its annual convention last week. The group also elected new officers and board members. Memphis attorney Thomas Greer was named president for the 2016-2017 year. He replaces Eric Buchanan of Chattanooga. Bruce Fox of Clinton moved into the position of president-elect. See a complete list of board members in this Chattanoogan.com story.

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Washington County Family Justice Center Opens

Thursday marked the grand opening of the Family Justice Center in Johnson City, News Channel 11 reports. The center serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse, bringing victims’ services together under one roof, site coordinator Heather Brack said. Agencies with representatives at the center include the Johnson City Police, Washington County Sheriff, Safe Passage, a local domestic violence shelter, Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee and the First Judicial District Attorney General’s office.

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Inmate Charged for Threatening Judges, Supreme Court Justice

An inmate at the Maury County Jail is facing terrorism charges after allegedly sending threatening letters to government officials in Tennessee and North Carolina, including judges, district attorneys and a Tennessee Supreme Court justice, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. James Earl Dillehay of Mt. Pleasant was in the jail on unrelated charges when he began mailing the letters, 22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper said. The letters revealed he was upset because he was not going to be transferred to North Carolina, where he has a previous criminal record. The Columbia Daily Herald has the story.

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Coffee County Drug Court to Add Veteran Component

The Coffee County Drug Court program keeps growing under the leadership of Judges Craig Johnson and Timothy Brock, according to county Mayor Gary Cordell. Earlier this month, 17 participants graduated from the program – the largest number of graduates since the program began more than 10 years ago. The county also announced that later this summer it will add a veterans component to its drug treatment court. Judge Johnson will preside over the new Veterans’ Court, the Tullahoma News reports.

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Tennessee Courthouse Arsonist Gets Sentencing Break

An East Tennessee criminal will see his sentence reduced from 15 years to 77 months, thanks to a retrial provoked by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that changed the standards for career criminals. Rickey Dale Sikes Jr.’s crimes included setting fire to the Jefferson County Courthouse, two road rage incidents, escaping custody and lying about his felon status to buy guns. His evading arrest charge no larger qualified under the new standard, so he was granted a new trial. Prosecutors have not said whether they will appeal the ruling. The Knoxville News Sentinel has more.
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Ethics Complaint Filed Against Baltimore Prosecutors

A public-interest law professor has filed complaints seeking the disbarment of Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and two prosecutors in her office over the prosecution of police allegedly connected to the death of Freddie Gray, the ABA Journal reports. Professor John F. Banzhaf III of the George Washington University Law School said he filed the complaints because prosecutors failed to present enough evidence to support prosecution but brought the cases anyway. Six police officers were indicted on charges related to Gray’s death. Three have been acquitted. Three more are awaiting trial.

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Shelby DA Elected to National Board

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich was elected vice president of the board of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) during the group’s 2016 summer meeting in Boston, News 5 reports. Weirich was part of a state delegation that included NDAA State Director Russell Johnson, Tennessee National District Attorneys General Conference (TNDAGC) Past President Kim Helper, NDAA Legislative Committee member and TNDAGC Vice President Mike Dunavant, and NDAA Past President John Gill.

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Wilson County Man Unjustly Imprisoned Gets Hearing

A Wilson County man, who for years has sought a formal exoneration after serving 31 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, has been granted a hearing before the Tennessee Board of Parole, the Tennessean reports. Lawrence McKinney, 60, has been trying to clear his name since DNA evidence cleared him of the crime in 2009. The parole board will meet Sept. 27 to consider his case.

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Court to Decide if Grundy Man Gets New Trial

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about whether a Grundy County man convicted of murder should get a new trial. Adam Braseel was convicted for the 2006 murder of Malcolm Burrows but was released from prison earlier this year after a circuit court judge found a number of discrepancies in his original trial. WRCB-TV has the latest news.

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Dinner to Honor Justices, Feature Birmingham Bombing Prosecutor

The Knoxville Bar Association's annual dinner honoring the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court will take place Sept. 7 at the Knoxville Convention Center Ballroom, with a reception at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person, and tables of 10 may be reserved in advance. G. Douglas Jones with Jones & Hawley Law will give the keynote address. As a U.S. attorney, Jones lead a team that re-opened the historic “cold case” of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and achieved the conviction of two former KKK members for the murder of four young girls. Learn more or buy tickets here.

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Memphis Police Complaints to be Reviewed

The Memphis Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, which looks at police misconduct cases and makes recommendations to the police director, was revived last year and is now accepting complaints against police for activity from 2011 to 2013. The Associated Press reports that police received 403 complaints from 190 people during that period with only 12 of those complaints acted on. The Mid-South Peace & Justice Center is working to bring as many of these cases as possible to the review board. The Times Free Press has the story.

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Criminal Justice Overhaul on Tap for September

The U.S. House of Representatives will take up six bills designed to overhaul the criminal justice system in September, Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday. The Wisconsin Republican says that both parties went too far on the criminal code in the 1990s. “We’ve learned that there are better ways to dealing with these problems than locking up someone for 20 or 30 years. You end up ruining their lives, ruining their families, hurting communities. And then when they try to reenter into society, they’re destitute,” Ryan told National Public Radio. Roll Call has more on the story.

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Nashville to Hold Public Hearings on Policing, Justice

A week after a series of national shootings involving police exposed deep-seeded racial mistrust around the country, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry announced several public events to hear from area residents on policing, criminal justice and race relations. The forums, to be held in conjunction with Lipscomb University’s Institute of Conflict Management, kick off July 23 at 1 p.m. at Pearl-Cohn High School, the Tennessean reports.

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Batey Gets 15 Years in Vanderbilt Rape Case

Cory Batey, a former Vanderbilt University football player found guilty of raping an unconscious woman, was sentenced to 15 years in prison today, the Tennessean reports. It was the minimum term possible for the crimes. The victim had asked for 25 years. Judge Monte Watkins, who presided over the case, said it was “one of the saddest” he has encountered in his 32-year legal career. Three other former football players were charged in the case. Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Brandon Vandenburg was found guilty on all counts against him. He faces a sentencing hearing Sept. 30.

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Detective Facing Perjury Sues Prosecutor for Defamation

With more than a month remaining before Gatlinburg police Detective Rodney Burns is scheduled to appear in Hamilton County Criminal Court on charges of perjury, he is asking that Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston be removed from prosecuting his case. Burns says Pinkston cannot be impartial now that he has filed a $300,000 defamation suit against the prosecutor. Burns claims that since Pinkston asked the TBI to investigate him, he has suffered damage to his reputation, had his active cases postponed, and been ridiculed by the public and media. The Times Free Press reports.

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