News

Lebanon Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Stealing from Clients

Lebanon lawyer Gary Vandever pleaded guilty on Monday to stealing more than $60,000 from two clients. He also waived his right to a trial and appeal. Vandever's attorney Jack Lowery Jr. said his client used the money to start a construction business but that he was “very remorseful” about his actions. Vandever turned himself into the Wilson County Jail at noon yesterday. He'll remain in custody until April 2013, after which he will spend nine years on probation. At that time he must begin paying $400 per month until he pays off the entire settlement. News Channel 5 has the story

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Incoming DA Encourages Involvement in Fight Against Alcohol, Drug Abuse

Recently appointed Eighth Judicial District District Attorney General Lori Jones rallied support for the Stand in the Gap anti-drug program Sunday. Other counties taking part in the coalition include Claiborne, Campbell, Hawkins, Hancock, Union, along with Lee County, Va., and Bell County, Ky. Learn more about he coalition’s efforts from the Claiborne Progress.

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Sentencing Rescheduled in Basketball Player Slaying Case

Sentencing for Shanterrica Madden, convicted in the killing of her college roommate, MTSU basketball player Tina Stewart, has been rescheduled to Tuesday. The sentencing hearing will begin at 9 a.m. in Circuit Court Judge Don Ash’s courtroom, the Daily News Journal reports.

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Carter Named District Attorney for 17th District

Robert Carter on Friday was named by Gov. Bill Haslam to succeed 17th Judicial District Attorney General Chuck Crawford, who is resigning effective July 31. Carter, 31, of Fayetteville, will serve the unexpired portion of Crawford's term as district attorney until results of the August 2014 election take effect. The Marshall County Tribune reports that Carter has been an assistant district attorney since 2010, most recently prosecuting DUI cases and previously working in the child support division.

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Defendant Awaiting Re-trial Files Speedy Trial Motion

George Thomas, one of four suspects in the January 2007 slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, has filed a motion invoking his right to a speedy trial in a move designed to prevent the Knox County District Attorney from challenging — for a second time — Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's decision to grant Thomas a new trial. Thomas' new trial had been set to begin in October, however, prosecutors have been trying to block it. The News Sentinel has the latest in the case.

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Disciplinary Charges Filed Against Prosecutor

The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility has filed a petition for discipline against Paul Rush, an assistant district attorney in the 10th Judicial District, which covers Bradley, McMinn, Polk and Monroe counties. The petition states that Rush knew a key witness in Cleveland's 1999 Valentine's Day triple slaying was going to be prosecuted on check fraud charges, but didn't tell defense attorneys until one or two days before the trial began. His failure to share the information, according to the petition, triggered a mistrial and allowed the murder defendant to walk free. The Times Free Press reports

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Wrong 'Scruggs' Cited in News Story

A news item in yesterday's issue of TBA Today mistakenly identified the Mississippi lawyer who petitioned a federal appeals court this week to vacate his guilty plea in a judicial bribery case. It was Zach Scruggs, son of Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who filed the motion. The younger Scruggs pleaded guilty to failure to report a crime in the same case involving his father. He served a 14-month prison sentence, paid a $250,000 fine and lost his law license. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Texas Switches to One-Drug Execution

Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state, announced Tuesday that it would become the latest to switch to single-drug executions amid a drug shortage that has left states scrambling for acceptable alternatives. The state now will use a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital to carry out death sentences. Learn more from CBS

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Scruggs Asks that Guilty Plea be Vacated

Mississippi attorney Zach Scruggs asked a federal appeals court Monday to vacate his 2008 guilty plea in a judicial bribery case that also resulted in a prison sentence for his once-powerful father and law partner. Scruggs argued that his guilty plea should be thrown out because his conduct didn't constitute a crime in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling that an anti-fraud law was improperly used to help convict former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling. A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans did not immediately rule on the case, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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Defense Attorneys Asks Judge to Reconsider New Trial

Knoxville attorneys David Eldridge and Doug Trant have asked Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood to reconsider his decision to vacate a previous order granting a new trial for Lemaricus Davidson, one of the four defendants charged in the January 2007 murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. In the filing, the pair ask Blackwood to reconsider his June 19 decision to vacate his previous order, which had granted new trials. Blackwood has set a hearing date of Aug. 17 on the case. WBIR reports

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Audit: Problems Abound in Drug Task Force

An annual audit of drug task force offices by the state comptroller’s office finds that problems abound at the Third Judicial District’s Drug Task Force. The report paints a picture of an office filled with unopened, unpaid telephone bills and overflowing evidence lockers, vehicle seizures that were not recorded, overdrawn bank accounts, and seized cash that was not deposited. The Hawkins County sheriff has responded by reassigning the director to another position. Learn more from WPLN

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Police Requests for Cell Phone Records Surge

Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. made more than 1.3 million requests for consumers' cell phone records in 2011, an alarming surge over previous years that reflected the increasingly gray area between privacy and technology. Cell phone carriers, responding to inquiries from a member of Congress, reported responding to as many as thousands of police requests daily for customers' locations, text messages and call details -- frequently without warrants. Read the AP story

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Clark: Translators for Crime Victims Important

Since July 1 all non-English-speaking crime victims are being provided state-funded translation services in Tennessee court proceedings. A federal mandate had ordered states to extend free translation services to all litigants or risk losing billions in federal aid. But Tennessee went a step further and included victims in the coverage. "It is important that not only those charged with a crime, but also crime victims, divorcing parents and all those who find themselves before the courts are able to communicate effectively," Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said in a statement Monday. Read more from WBIR

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Gang-Related Crimes Triple in Small Tennessee Towns

Gang-related crimes statewide rose by nearly 25 percent in 2011, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. They have more than doubled since 2005, the first year gang crimes saw a significant spike. But the real story isn’t necessarily in cities -- in that same time period, cities with fewer than 50,000 residents saw gang crime more than triple. The Tennessean reports

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Paper Praises Judge Ash

An editorial in the Daily News Journal praises Circuit Court Judge Don Ash on his appointment to senior status. As the creator of Rutherford County’s Drug Court, the paper credits Ash for changing the lives of many who struggled with addiction. "His day-in and day-out commitment certainly will be missed in Rutherford and Cannon counties," the paper says.

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Editorial: Bar Poll is Important to Help Voters Decide

In an editorial, the Times Free Press explains the results from the recent Chattanooga Bar Association's poll that rates the performance of trial court judges. Sessions Court Judge David Bales, who scored poorly, responded by saying the real decision-makers were the voters of Hamilton County, not the bar association. The paper says that "the lawyers' poll is a far more insightful and instructive guide. It merits voters' attention." Don't miss the readers' comments at the end of the story, though, which question the presumption that voters can't figure it out for themselves.

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Palin E-Mail Hacker Considering Law School

David Kernell, who was convicted for hacking into the e-mail account of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is now completing his undergraduate degree and looking toward law school. His father, State Rep. Mike Kernell, says his son's life was changed by his four-years entwined with the legal system. "He grew a lot. He went from a college student that was playing games to maybe someday becoming a defense attorney," Rep. Kernell said. WMC-TV has the story

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Opinion: 40 Years Later, Death Penalty Still Flawed

June 29 marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Furman vs. Georgia, which struck down the nation’s death penalty. It was reinstated four years later with new sentencing procedures to make the system fairer and less arbitrary. But in 2012, the Rev. Stacy Rector writes in an opinion piece, that the death penalty system is still flawed. "Random factors such as the race of the victim, the quality of defense counsel, and the jurisdiction in which the crime is committed continue to have a significant influence on whether a defendant will receive the death penalty," she writes, saying that 40 percent of the inmates on Tennessee’s death row come from Shelby county, while half of the state’s counties have never sentenced anyone to death.

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Paul Phillips Retires, Niece Appointed to Fill Spot

Eighth Judicial District Attorney General Paul Phillips will retire this year after more than three decades of service. The job is going to stay in the family, though, as his replacement is his niece. Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Lori Phillips-Jones, who is the daughter of U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Phillips, to fill the slot. She takes office Sept. 1 and will serve in that capacity until the 2014 election. The News Sentinel has more

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Term 'Cruel and Unusual' Evolves With Recent Ruling

In light of the Supreme Court's decision earlier this week, columnist George Will looks into what the Supreme Court has called “the evolving standards of decency." Originalism holds that the Constitution’s language should be construed to mean what the words meant at the time to those who wrote and ratified the Constitution. On Monday, the court's ruling about punishment vexed the four justices (John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito) most sympathetic to originalism, who dissented. The majority held that sentencing laws that mandate life imprisonment without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate the Eighth Amendment. The Leaf Chronicle has the column

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Chattanooga's Minor Offenders No Longer Subject to Search

The head of Chattanooga's gang task force says he will remove a little-known provision on a Sessions Court form that allows police to search the homes of people assigned court-ordered community service. Boyd Patterson said the provision was never intended for minor offenses such as littering, simple drug possession or similar misdemeanors. Instead, the language is aimed at the "worst of the worst" gang members. But the provision, in effect since November, requires people who agree to perform public works days through the court to allow such searches regardless of their offense. The provision is "just such a gross overkill," attorney Hank Hill said. "No competent lawyer would ever require a client to sign it."  The Times Free Press has more

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Attorneys Say DA Hid Info on Baumgartner During Case

More accusations are flying regarding Judge Richard Baumgartner and the torture slaying cases of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Defense attorneys Tom Dillard and Stephen Ross Johnson are firing back at Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols' allegations of unethical conduct by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood with accusations of their own: that Nichols and his staff hid information about then-presiding Judge Baumgartner's misdeeds while Baumgartner was still on the bench handling the case. The News Sentinel reports

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Restructured DUI Law Takes Effect Next Week

When new DUI laws take effect next week, a driver’s refusal to submit to a blood test when an officer has valid suspicion of intoxication will be virtually meaningless, the Johnson City Press reports. Tennessee’s DUI law now allows forced blood draws for blood alcohol tests in any situation if a search warrant is obtained. It also increases punishment for those convicted of a DUI if a child under age 18 is in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

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Bids for Anderson Co. Jail Work Reviewed

With a budget of $10 million set for expansion of the overcrowded Anderson County Jail, several bids came in under the mark, with Rouse Construction Co. of Knoxville having the apparent low bid of $9,660,000. The plan is to significantly redesign the existing facility and construct a new 45,965-square-foot building that will provide space for 212 beds. The News Sentinel has more

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Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional in Arkansas

The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state's execution law today, calling it unconstitutional. In a split decision, the high court sided with 10 death row inmates who argued that, under Arkansas' constitution, only the Legislature can set execution policy. Legislators in 2009 voted to give that authority to the Department of Correction. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said that at this point he doesn't plan to call a special session to address the court's ruling. "The death penalty is still the law in Arkansas, but the Department of Correction now has no legal way to carry out an execution until a new statute is established," Beebe said in a statement. WRCB-TV has the story

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