News

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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New Rutherford County Judge to Hold Court at Jail

New General Sessions Court Judge Lisa Eischeid will begin hearing cases Sept. 1 at the Rutherford County jail because the courtroom being prepared for her is not slated to be ready until November, the Murfreesboro Post reports. “It’s moving in the right direction, and our judge-elect understands the situation, and she’s equipped mentally to manage through the transition period,” Mayor Ernest Burgess said. The position was created to cut down on the jail population and ease the burden on the other three judges. County officials also are looking at other ways to reduce inmate numbers, including a pre-trial release program in which low-risk defendants would be screened as quickly as possible for release on bond or their own recognizance.

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Tennessee Participating in Multi-state Opioid Initiative

Tennessee is one of nine states participating in an opioid abuse summit taking place in Cincinnati this week, the Times Free Press reports. The primary goals of the group are to improve cooperation across borders and jurisdictions, identify best practices for testing and treatment services and increase access to prescription drug data. Other states involved are Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Speakers were to include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton. In related news, the U.S. Surgeon General has taken the unprecedented step of contacting 2.3 million prescribers in America to ask them to help change the way the country thinks about addiction as opioids cause more than 1,000 emergency room visits and 78 deaths each day.

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Haslam: Special Session May be Needed to Save Federal Funding

Gov. Bill Haslam says he does not want to call a special session of the legislature to fix the state’s drunk driving laws, but the possibility of losing $60 million might just force him to do so, WPLN reports. Haslam’s comments come in response to warnings from transportation officials that the state will lose $60 million in highway funds if it does not lower the blood alcohol limit for 18 to 20 year olds to 0.02. Lawmakers had increased the limit to 0.08 earlier this year but imposed tougher penalties, including jail time, for violations. They say they did not know the change would be a problem. Haslam hopes to convince federal authorities to hold off until lawmakers reconvene in January, but supports a special session if that is what is needed to retain the funding.

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Judge Celebrates 1st Graduate of Trafficking Court

Davidson County’s sex and human trafficking court celebrated its first graduate this week, the Tennessean reports. For years, the woman was trafficked, sold to others for sex by her husband. She used drugs, leading to an addiction, and was stabbed several times during an attack. Instead of languishing in jail, she became one of the first participants in the Cherished H.E.A.R.T.S. intervention court, which provides resources and treatment to women who are arrested for crimes such as prostitution or drug offenses. A dozen women currently are participating in the program, which is overseen by Judge Casey Moreland.

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Haslam Defends Private Prison Operations

Despite calls by the federal government and a Tennessee state employees group to end the practice of using private companies to manage prisons, Gov. Bill Haslam defended their use, the Nashville Post reports. “Our corrections folks are confident they provide the same level of oversight and the same accountability to private operators as we do in our own facilities,” Haslam said. Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) operates four prisons in Tennessee, along with jails in Davidson and Hamilton counties. The state Department of Correction said it has no plans to end its contract with CCA.

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New Fee Could Fund Advocacy Centers

Two organizations helping victims of abuse may get additional financial assistance through a new fee assessed by the courts, the Tullahoma News reports. A Coffee County committee recently approved a $45 victims’ assistance fee to benefit the local Children’s Advocacy Center and Haven of Hope. The proposed fee would be collected from individuals convicted of or entering a plea of guilty to a crime that imposes a fine of over $500 and possible imprisonment. The county would keep $3 while the rest would be split between the groups. The full commission will vote on the issue in September.

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Judge Denies Teen’s Request for New Attorney

Hamilton County Judge Barry Steelman yesterday rejected an attorney’s petition to be removed from the case of Cortez Sims, a 19-year-old accused of killing one and wounding three during a January 2015 shooting. Brandy Spurgin said she made the motion after Sims made it clear he wanted a new lawyer and filed an ethics complaint against her. After the ruling, Sims asked Steelman, “You’re forcing me to go to trial with a lawyer I don’t want?” Steelman responded he was not answering any questions, the Times Free Press reports.

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State Employees Group Calls for End to Private Prisons

The association representing state employees is calling on Tennessee to stop using private prisons, a move that comes a week after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would end its contracts with private prison operators. It is a new issue for the Tennessee State Employee Association, which has typically focused on issues involving working conditions and compensation. The group, which represents correctional officers and other state employees, argues there is “simply no good reason to continue paying a private prison company that provides an inferior product, lower levels of safety and security, and debatable cost savings for the public.” The Tennessean has the story.

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Date Set for Todd Sign Theft Trial

An Oct. 11 trial date has been set in the case of state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who was charged earlier this month with stealing opponent Mark Lovell’s yard signs, the Commercial Appeal reports. Todd acknowledges taking the signs, but contends the landowner gave him exclusive rights to place signs at the property. According to police, the property owner says he never gave anyone access to the land. Regardless of how the legal case unfolds, Todd will not be returning to the House. He lost his primary election to Lovell earlier this month.

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