News

Vanderbilt Sues Former Employee, Partner Convicted of Fraud

Vanderbilt University has filed a civil lawsuit against the two men convicted of defrauding the school of more than $560,000, the City Paper reports. On Oct. 9, Jason Hunt, former administrative manager at Vanderbilt Law School, and his partner Samuel Wakefield pled guilty to fraud, theft and statutory rape. The lawsuit asks for compensatory damages, interest, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

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State Rep. Graduates from TBI State Academy

State Rep. Eric Watson was among the inaugural class of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) State Academy, an intensive six-week training program to help Tennessee law enforcement personnel expand their education and training in the crimination justice field. Watson chairs the House Judiciary Committee and co-chairs the National Conference of State Legislatures Law and Criminal Justice Standing Committee, the Cleveland Daily Banner reports.

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Magistrate Leave Request Denied, Stricter Timeclock Rules Set

Hamilton County Commissioners voted to deny a request by Magistrate Larry Ables to cash out 787 hours of annual leave before moving to a lower paying position on Nov. 1, the Chattanoogan reports. Commissioners questioned if the hours had been verified, contained prior accumulated leave time transferred from the district attorney’s office, and the fairness of allowing the magistrates benefits other county employees do not receive. The Commissioners also passed a resolution requiring magistrates to be on a timeclock and check out each time they leave the premise to curb “three hour lunch breaks and going to civic club meetings” while on the clock.

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Memphis Lawyer’s Diverse Career Brings Him Full Circle

Memphis lawyer Josh Spickler began his legal career at the Shelby County’s Office of Public Defender, and 12 years later he has come full circle. The Memphis Law grad left the public defender after a few years, started his own firm, then moved on to The Hardison Law Firm PC where he did defense work for hospitals, long-term care, nurses, and doctors instead of criminal cases. He took a break from the legal field for a while to serve as social media manager for a start-up company, but returned to his love of law when offered a position back at the public defender’s office. Spickler is now director of the nascent Defender’s Resource Network, a program that helps people in custody receive services if they are suffering from serious mental illness or substance abuse. Read the full feature on Spickler at the Daily News.

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DOJ Wants End to Fast and Furious Lawsuit

The Justice Department is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a Republican-led House committee that demands Attorney General Eric Holder release records about Fast and Furious -- a failed law enforcement operation in which agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives tracked illegal weapons to high-level arms traffickers in the hopes of dismantling their networks. Of the 2,000 illegally purchased guns federal agents identified, they lost track of about 1,400.  Holder is being held in contempt by the House for refusing to turn over records that explain why the department initially denied utilizing the controversial tactic. WATE.com has the story.

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Blount County Officer to Face Trial in Wrongful Death Suit

Blount County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Doug Moore will stand trial in a wrongful death lawsuit in the 2008 shooting death of Leeroy Hickman Jr. and an alleged cover-up, Knoxnews reports. The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals supported an earlier ruling by U.S District Judge Tom Varlan who opined there were too many questions left unanswered not to bring the case before a jury. A date has not been set. 

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Former Judge Taylor Gets Additional Jail Time, Probation

Former Hawkins County Judge James F. Taylor pleaded guilty Friday to stealing from private clients and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the Rogersville Review reports. Taylor received two three-year sentences, which will run concurrently. However, he only will have to serve one year, with the remaining years to be served on probation. The sentence is in addition to a three-year sentence imposed in Davidson County. Taylor also must pay $71,783 in restitution to former clients and $32,757 to the AOC. Finally, he agreed to not seek reinstatement until his probation ends in 2028.

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U.S. Attorney: Trafficking Crimes Are a Priority

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton, working in the Western Division of Tennessee, says his office views prostitution and sex trafficking as “akin to modern-day slavery" and as a priority. As prostitution continues to plague the Lamar Ave. area of Memphis, Stanton says, “We will be very vigilant in prosecuting and bringing to justice those individuals that would seek to sex traffic.” His comments come on the heels of high-profile statements about trafficking from President Barak Obama and ABA President Laurel Bellows. Read more from WMC-TV

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Former Court Clerk Given Diversion

Former Germantown deputy court clerk Janet Donnell was placed on diversion after pleading guilty to felony theft for stealing $3,500 from the court, the Commercial Appeal reports. Donnell was facing a two-year prison sentence, but received diversion after numerous sources testified that the theft was out of character. The terms of Donnell’s probation allow her conviction to be erased after 10 years if she makes full restitution and abides by the law.

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Report: Jail Must Improve Suicide Prevention Measures

Memphis' juvenile jail needs to take both immediate and long-term steps to better prevent detained youths from harming or killing themselves, according to a new national assessment. The report, authored by jail suicide prevention consultant Lindsay Hayes, is part of an ongoing overhaul of the Shelby County Juvenile Court and its detention center following the U.S. Justice Department's finding of due-process and safety violations. The jail has not had a suicide in almost 40 years, but the evaluation states that the court needs to improve suicide prevent training for staff and in-jail school teachers. The Commercial Appeal has more

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Court Considers Role of Inmate Competence

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday considered whether appeals should wait until inmates are mentally competent enough to assist their lawyers, and according to an Associated Press story in TriCities.com, seemed inclined to eliminate the authority of federal judges to indefinitely delay appeals. However, the justices spent considerable time talking about the differences in a proposed delay of six or nine months, or as much as a year. Lawyers for two death row inmates, however, urged the court to leave that discretion to the sitting judge. “No individual should lose potentially meritorious claims because of mental illness,” one of them argued.

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Evidence Issues in Baumgartner Case Go to Judge

In the upcoming federal trial of former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner, both sides have a laundry list of details they would like to keep from jurors, but it will be up to U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer to decide what jurors will learn about the many issues involved in Baumgartner’s downfall, reports the News Sentinel. Meanwhile, one of the defendants in a murder case thrown into chaos by Baumgartner’s actions is defending special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who is overseeing possible retrials of cases heard in Baumgartner’s court. George Thomas, a defendant in the Christian-Newsom case, and his attorney say Blackwood should be kept on the case, arguing he is impartial and has done nothing wrong. Prosecutors have argued for his removal. Read more from WBIR

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First Black Female Assistant DA Followed Dream to Get There

Karen Willis was sworn in by Judge Mike R. Jones on Friday, joining the 15 assistant district attorneys in the 19th Judicial District -- and making history in the process. Willis, 41, became the first black female assistant district attorney in Montgomery and Robertson County. She will also serve as a U.S. assistant attorney for Middle Tennessee. Willis will specialize in the prosecuting of federal gun and drug cases and will work with the U.S. district attorney of Middle Tennessee and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to put violent criminals in prison. It was not an easy journey as a single mother -- who served in the Navy, has been an electrician, a jail booking clerk and a police officer -- but she never gave up her dream to become a lawyer. Read her story in the Leaf-Chronicle

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Parole Official Out After Critical Audit

A top parole official has resigned following the exposure of systemic problems with the state parole system, the Tennessean reports. Gary Tullock, assistant commissioner for community supervision at the Department of Correction, resigned Wednesday after a subcommittee hearing where lawmakers blasted officials for supervising dead felons and improperly supervising live ones.

Court Stays Retrial of Christian/Newsom Defendants

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay in the proceedings involving three of four defendants in one of Knoxville's most horrific criminal cases. The move comes after the state Attorney General's Office filed an appeal of Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's refusal to step down from the cases. According to the News Sentinel, the court gave the attorneys for the defendants until Monday to respond to the state’s appeal. The state is seeking to remove Blackwood from the case. 

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Judge, Lawyers Work on Jury Pool for Baumgartner Trial

Former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner wants a jury selected from East Tennessee for his Oct. 23 trial, the News Sentinel reports. But U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer warned that he would not delay the upcoming trial more than a week or so should a jury not be seated in Knoxville. Baumgartner's lawyers and assistant U.S. attorneys met Monday in Greer's Greeneville courtroom to hammer out details of the trial. Greer said he will summon 100 potential jurors in hopes of having a large enough pool to ferret out those prejudiced by the media coverage of both Baumgartner's misdeeds and the resulting chaos in the Knox County judicial system. Baumgartner's lawyers are asking Greer to require potential jurors to submit answers in advance of the trial to a detailed questionnaire that asks them, among other things, whether they've ever been involved in a divorce situation. Greer's response: "That's awfully personal."

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Former Prosecutor Convicted in Sex-for-Leniency Scandal

Former Hawkins County assistant prosecutor John Douglas Godbee was convicted of felony official misconduct this morning, Knoxnews.com reports. He had been accused of soliciting sex from female defendants for leniency.

Court: Conviction on Bad Checks Can Be Used to Impeach Credibility

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that passing worthless checks could be used to impeach a defendant's credibility. In a trial against Wanda F. Russell, who was indicted on four counts of theft, the court stated that the prior misdemeanor conviction was admissible to impeach her credibility since it involves dishonesty. Learn more from the Administrative Office of the Courts

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AG's Office Asks Appeals Court to Take Blackwood Off Case

The state Attorney General's Office is appealing Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's refusal to recuse himself from hearing the Christian/Newsom murder trials. The News Sentinel reports that the AG has asked the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn Kerry’s decision to continue, arguing he has lost objectivity.

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Roane County Lawyer Arrested for Contempt

Roane County attorney Spence Bruner was arrested for contempt of court on Wednesday, RoaneCounty.com reports. According to an order from the Court of Criminal Appeals in Knoxville, Bruner was ordered to appear before a panel of the court on Sept. 18, but he did not show up. He was booked into the jail that morning and was released a short time later on a $5,000 bond.

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Putnam Sheriff Hosts Anti-Crime Event

The Putnam County Sheriff's Department will host Community Night in the Justice Center parking lot Friday, giving families a chance to have fun and visit with officers and other emergency personnel. The annual event, also called a Night Out Against Crime, features food and drink booths, games and drawings for door prizes for both kids and adults, educational booths and free blood pressure checks. The event is 5 to 8 p.m. Read more in the Herald Citizen

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Ruling Allows Baumgartner Trial to Proceed

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley issued a ruling Wednesday turning aside former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's contention the federal case brought against him earlier this year is fatally flawed, the News Sentinel reports. The decision, if upheld by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer of Greeneville, paves the way for an Oct. 23 trial of Baumgartner on seven felony counts. Baumgartner's lawyers, Donald A. Bosch and Ann Short, had attacked the federal charges on four major fronts, but Shirley rejected them all.

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Judge Inspects Maury Jail for Alleged Poor Conditions

Fourteen Maury County inmates have sued Sheriff Enoch George, claiming their living conditions violate the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The suits allege that the jail has been negligent in its food preparation, sanitation, medical services, bed space and pest control. George gave U.S. District Court Judge William Haynes and others a tour of the jail during the pretrial conference Tuesday. Although cameras were not allowed on the tour, the Daily Herald reported standing water in front of cell doors, spider bites on inmates they claimed were left untreated, and bed mats stained with white and brownish substances. Among the judge’s biggest concerns, he said, were nutrition, hygienic needs, medical requests, overcrowding, environmental and sanitation concerns, recreation and the jail’s grievance procedure.

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Sheriff, DA Explain System in Wake of Shooting Charge

Responding to questions of why a Tennessee State trooper and his family were charged in the death of his grandchild, the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and the 10th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office issued a joint statement Monday. In part, the statement said "Every death by any weapon is investigated by law enforcement. After the investigation is finished often cases are submitted to the grand jury for their review. While all of us regret the suffering of those who loved [the 3-year-old], we respect the findings of 12 Bradley County citizens who returned an indictment." The statement went on to say it was now their duty to evaluate the case and "search for justice." The Cleveland Daily Banner has the story

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Feds Step Up Effort to Combat Crime Against Memphis Area Hispanics

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton joined Latino leaders in Memphis Monday to announce a partnership to attack crime against the Hispanic community, the Commercial Appeal reports. Regional Mexican Consul David Manuel Preciado Juarez came from Little Rock to express his support for strengthening relations between law enforcement and the region's more than 700,000 Hispanic residents.

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