News

Man Admits Forging Judge's Signature

A Chattanooga man pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that he forged the signature of U.S. District Court Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice to try to get out of prison early on parole. Shaun Steven Kidd now faces up to five years for the charge on top of separate bank fraud charges to which he previously pleaded guilty. The presiding judge set a sentencing date of Oct. 1. Read more in the Times Free Press

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Former Judge Taylor Pleads Not Guilty

Former Hawkins County General Sessions Judge James "Jay" Taylor pleaded not guilty to 41 counts of theft of property in a Nashville courtroom today. During the hearing, the presiding judge reduced bond to $100,000 from $175,000, though Taylor returned to jail after the proceeding. He faces 12 similar charges in Hawkins County. News Channel 9 reports

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Public Defender Fires Brother-in-Law

Two decades and two opinions later, Knox County Public Defender Mark Stephens is firing his brother-in-law. Stephens said he was forced to fire Mike Stone, an investigator assigned to the DUI division, after the state attorney general found that Stephens' employment of his brother-in-law violated Tennessee's Nepotism Act, though Stephens exercises no direct control over Stone. Read more in the News Sentinel

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'Section Cup' Winners Named at TBA Convention

News from the Appellate Practice, Criminal Justice and Health Care Law Sections
Recipients of the 2012 Section Cup were announced recently at the Section Chairs Roundtable, kicking off the TBA Convention in Memphis. TBA President Danny Van Horn created the Section Cup to encourage service to section members. Over the past year, sections accumulated points for holding meetings and CLEs or providing new services to members. Sections of like size competed against each other for the honor. 

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Editorial Questions Blackwood's Secrecy

In an editorial, the News Sentinel says that Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has shown "a disturbing propensity for secrecy in dispensing justice" and that matters related to the Christian/Newsom murder cases should not be decided in secret. Blackwood had cited the paper in emails referring to the "prying eyes of the media" and that he had "grown weary over the last several months with the number of legal experts that are associated with the mass media here in Knox County." The paper questions Blackwood's fitness to serve and says that "court proceedings and documents, with few exceptions, must be open to the public to protect the rights of defendants, the interests of the people and the integrity of the judicial system."

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Governor Signs 3 Anti-Crime Bills

Gov. Bill Haslam signed three anti-crime measures into law earlier this week. The laws include an increase in mandatory jail time for repeat domestic violence offenders; an increase in sentences for convicted felons with guns that include some specific circumstances for longer sentences; and making aggravated assault, robbery and aggravated burglary a higher class of felony with a longer sentence when committed by groups of three or more people. The Daily News Journal reports

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Connecticut Case Tests Sleepwalking Defense

A Connecticut man accused of attempting to rob a woman at knifepoint says he was sleepwalking at the time. His lawyer says he plans to use the claim as a medical defense, and is busy gathering records in an attempt to convince prosecutors they should take the claim seriously. WRCB-TV reports

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New Charges Filed Against Former Judge Taylor

Former General Sessions Judge James Taylor, already facing criminal charges in Davidson County, was indicted earlier this week by a Hawkins County Grand Jury on multiple theft and money laundering charges. The 12 new charges bring the total charges against him to 53. The earlier counts related to fraudulent payment claims he made to the state while serving as judge. These new charges are related to alleged thefts that occurred in his private practice. Among the alleged victims are three Hawkins County churches that made donations for a heritage display at the justice center, two of his employees and two fellow lawyers. Bond on the new charges was set at $150,000. Taylor remains in custody in Davidson County on a $175,000 bond. Read more from the Rogersville Review

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Section Accomplishments Recognized

TBA President Danny Van Horn today recognized the work of three TBA sections by presenting them with Section Cup awards during the Section Chairs Roundtable at the TBA Annual Convention in Memphis. Over the past year, sections accumulated points for holding meetings and CLEs or providing new services to members. Sections of like size competed against each other for the honor. The TBA Appellate Practice Section was named the Section Cup recipient for smaller TBA sections, with Executive Council member Buck Lewis accepting the award on behalf of the section.

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Police Sue to Keep Kurdish Gang Out of Park

Metro Nashville Police officials have filed a civil lawsuit to prevent gang meetings in the South Nashville area. The suit is meant to crack down on the Kurdish Pride Gang, which police say has been involved in vandalism, gun possession and witness intimidation dating back to 2007. This lawsuit targets two-dozen gang members and prevents them from holding gang meetings in a specific square mile, near a park in South Nashville. This is the first such legal action in Tennessee since a law allowing it passed the legislature in 2009. WPLN reports

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New Trials Ordered in Torture Slayings, Despite Recusal Request

An order has been filed requiring new trials for the defendants in a January 2007 torture slaying, according to John Gill, special counsel to Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols, and reported by the News Sentinel. This comes despite a request from prosecutors that Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood recuse himself from the case, after he indicated last week he was ordering new trials without a hearing.

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12 New Charges Added to Hawkins County Judge

Former Hawkins County judge James "Jay" Taylor was served Monday with 12 new theft-related charges, bringing the total charges against him to 53. Last week he was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury on 41 counts of theft related to fraudulent payment claims he made to the state while serving as judge. These new charges handed down by the Hawkins County Grand Jury are related to alleged thefts that occurred in his private practice. Taylor, 41, of Rogersville, remains held in the Davidson County Jail on $175,000 bond. The Times News has details

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Blackwood Orders New Trials Again, DA Calls for Recusal

A motion filed late Friday afternoon in Knox County Criminal Court reveals that Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood is planning to enter an order granting new trials in the January 2007 torture slayings without holding a hearing and despite a recent state Supreme Court ruling faulting his legal reasoning. Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price, in turn, is asking Blackwood to recuse himself from the case, accusing the special judge of "all manner of judicial misconduct," the News Sentinel reports.

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Corporate Criminal Charges Come in Many Forms

In a News Sentinel column, Knoxville lawyer Brian Wanamaker explains what different levels of corporate criminal charges can mean to a company.

Ky. Considers Change to Execution Method

State officials in Kentucky signaled this week that they will change how prisoners are executed, opening the door to using a single drug instead of the current three-drug method that is being challenged as cruel and unusual punishment. New regulations are expected to be proposed by July 24. The move came after a circuit judge ordered the state to change the three-drug process or face trial to defend it. At least seven states use a single drug to carry out executions while three provide that option. Last week, Missouri became the first state to switch to propofol, the same anesthetic that caused the overdose death of pop star Michael Jackson. WRCB-TV in Chattanooga reports

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Source: Justice Dept. Unlikely to Retry Edwards

The Justice Department likely will not retry John Edwards after the campaign finance fraud case against him ended in a mistrial, the Associated Press reports based on comments from an unnamed "knowledgeable law enforcement official." In related news, the ABA Journal looks at media coverage suggesting the verdict was a blow to the department’s public integrity section, which has been trying to rebuild itself after the failed prosecution of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens four years ago. 

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Court Says Anonymous Tips Need Corroboration

In an unanimous opinion yesterday, the Tennessee Supreme Court set aside the conviction of Guy Alvin Williamson for possession of a handgun while under the influence of alcohol because police did not corroborate an anonymous tip before stopping and frisking him. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Florida v. J.L., the Tennessee court said that an anonymous call alone does not provide the requisite degree of reasonable suspicion to justify such an action. Read more from the court or download the opinion

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Haslam Appoints Phillips-Jones District Attorney General

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam yesterday announced the appointment of Lori Phillips-Jones as district attorney general for the Eighth Judicial District. She will replace current DA Paul Phillips when he retires Sept. 1. Phillips-Jones graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1999 and has been with the DA's office since 1997. She has served as a criminal investigator and a violent crimes prosecutor. The eighth district covers Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties. Read more from the governor's office

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Mistrial Declared in Edwards Case

Two-time Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards walked out of court a free man this afternoon after a jury cleared him of one federal corruption count and deadlocked on five others. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles declared a mistrial. Prosecutors had accused the onetime North Carolina senator of using nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to keep his pregnant mistress a secret as he ran for president in 2008. The jury spent 50 hours over nine days deliberating the case. CNN has more

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Baumgartner's Pill Dealer Headed to Prison

Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood rejected Christopher Lee Gibson Sr.'s claim he was simply trying to keep watch over his mother's oxycodone pills when he was found with four of the prescription painkillers in his pocket earlier this year. "I don't believe the explanation of the defendant," Blackwood said at a hearing Wednesday in Knox County Criminal Court according to the News Sentinel. Gibson was on probation in former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's court when, in 2009, he began selling Baumgartner prescription painkillers. In late March, police stopped him and found the pills – a violation of probation. In court yesterday he was sentenced to finish his original four-year prison term.

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Fire Forces Nashville PD Office to Temporary Quarters

Fire damage to the Public Defender’s Office in Nashville has forced a temporary move to a satellite location inside the Justice A.A. Birch Building. Metropolitan Public Defender Dawn Deaner said the Adult Services Division is working out of the satellite office until the Parkway Towers building where it is housed is again open to the public. The building was damaged by fire late Monday night. The Public Defender is continuing to staff all criminal dockets in Nashville courts. Individuals can also reach the office during this time at 615-862-5692. Download the full statement

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Court Grants Review of 4 Criminal, 1 Civil Case

Five new cases were granted review by the Tennessee Supreme Court last week. This includes four criminal cases addressing constructive possession of drugs, pretrial diversion, the failure of trial court to inform jury of judgments of acquittal, and suppression of statements. The civil case concerns invalidation of a marriage for want of sufficient mental capacity. The Raybin-Perky Hot List details the cases and offers predictions of how the Supreme Court may act.

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Columnist: Call the Judge to Sway Horse Trainer Outcome

A newspaper columnist published the phone number for U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr., suggesting readers call to influence him about the decision he will make in September regarding Tennessee Walking Horse trainer who pleaded guilty last week for violating the federal Horse Protection Act. Gail Kerr also gave information on how to contact representatives and to sign a petition. Regarding Mattice's number she said, "Judges are not supposed to be influenced by public opinion, though obviously some are." Read the column

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Court Clarifies Parole Procedures

The Tennessee Supreme Court clarified on Friday the procedures an inmate must follow to dispute the determination of parole eligibility for consecutive sentences, clarifying that the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole (BOPP) are separate entities with distinct roles. TDOC is responsible for calculating release eligibility dates, the court said in the case, and BOPP decides whether to release inmates on parole. Inmates may obtain judicial review of these decisions, but the procedure differs. Chattanoogan.com has more

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Court 'No Shows' Slow Down Wheels of Justice

Washington County Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn says failing to show up for court is a common practice for many defendants and it not only impacts the victims, it slows the court down because of the extra paperwork when the defendant is arrested again. Guinn says that of the 685 defendants scheduled to appear in Sessions Court in the last eight days, 78 were no shows. Every time someone fails to appear, Judge Robert Lincoln says he issues a bench warrant for their arrest and the process starts again, but with higher stakes for the accused. TriCities.com has this story

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