Cases Backing Up With 50+ Recusal Requests from PD

Claiming that Judge Barry Steelman is biased against her office, Public Defender Ardena Garth filed more motions today asking the judge to recuse himself from cases in which her office is involved. So far, she has filed for recusals in more than 50 cases, beginning last week. Cases are backing up in Steelman's division of Hamilton County Criminal Court, the Chattanoogan reports.

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Blackwood Says He Will Stay on Case for Retrials

Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood today refused to step aside in the criminal cases involving Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price argued that Blackwood's disgust with the misdeeds of disgraced former Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over the trials of the torture slaying defendants, had caused him to lose objectively in the case.

John Ford Released from Prison

Former Tennessee State Senator John Ford, 70, was released from a federal prison in Mississippi today. Ford, who has been behind bars since 2007, is now at a half-way house in Memphis, NewsChannel 3 reports. He was convicted for his role in undercover investigation called Operation Tennessee Waltz. He was serving 19-and-a-half years following separate corruption convictions in Memphis and Nashville, but an appeals court threw out the Nashville conviction, which shaved several years off his sentence.

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Life Sentences for Juveniles Under Scrutiny

On Thursday, the California Assembly passed a bill that would give "juvenile lifers" -- those who killed as juveniles and are serving life in prison without parole -- in that state a shot at freedom. Nationwide, there are roughly 2,500 inmates who fit into this category. "Because their brain is still developing, they have the ability to rehabilitate," said Michael Harris, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. Despite the legal rulings and the legislative activity, some survivors of people killed by juveniles are pushing back and arguing that a life sentence is appropriate punishment for juveniles who commit heinous murders. NewsChannel 5 has this AP story

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A Year of Freedom for the West Memphis 3

It has been one year since the "West Memphis 3" reached a plea deal that allowed them to go free and keep proclaiming their innocence of the gruesome 1993 murders of three young boys. They spent nearly two decades in jail. Today, one of them is about to go on a tour with his book, "Life After Death." Another has spent time on the set of "Devil's Knot," an upcoming movie about the case starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth. The third is living a quiet life in the trailer park where he grew up near West Memphis. They are all getting used to how different life is from when they were last free. "My greatest piece of technology as a 16-year-old kid was my Super Nintendo," said Jason Baldwin, who was 16 when he was arrested. "Now I've got this thing called the iPhone." The Commercial Appeal reports

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Reception Honoring General Phillips Set

Members of the bar and the public are invited to a retirement reception honoring William Paul Phillips, district attorney general for the Eighth Judicial District, Aug. 30 at 3 p.m. The event is set for the White Rock Baptist Church, 2745 Howard Baker Highway in Huntsville. Phillips’ staff is hosting the event, and encourages all "to come say farewell and thank you" for his service to the citizens of Fentress, Scott, Campbell, Claiborne and Union counties over the past 33 years.

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PD Requests Blanket Recusal from Judge

Hamilton County Public Defender Ardena Garth has asked Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman to recuse himself or reassign her office's cases to another judge. That followed a Tuesday hearing in which a public defender said the judge was biased against her and other public defenders. Garth filed recusal motions for 11 cases scheduled in Steelman's courtroom Wednesday, the day after the hearing. Transcripts of Tuesday's hearing are being prepared to determine exactly what was said, according to court records. The hearing was continued to Aug. 27 and the recusal/reassignment motions will be addressed that day, after the hearing. Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts spokeswoman Casey Mahoney said Thursday that staff could not recall a recent situation in which a public defender's office sought blanket recusal of a judge on multiple cases. The Times Free Press has more

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Former Prosecutor Challenges Indictment

If former Hawkins County prosecutor Doug Godbee persists with a motion to dismiss his felony official misconduct charge, he may find himself facing nine felony charges instead of one, reports the Kingsport Times News. Godbee has been accused by nine women of requesting, and in some cases receiving, sex in exchange for leniency in drug cases he was prosecuting. He is challenging the indictment on grounds that it violates a 1993 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that multiple accusations should not be included in one indictment. The prosecutor in the case is a bit baffled by that argument though. “He’s asking us to split them up and charge them individually... If the judge dismisses…we’ll just re-indict on all potential charges.”

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Paper Questions Spending by DA’s Office

The Chattanooga Times Free Press yesterday laid out its case against 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb for misusing funds and property acquired through the district’s Drug Task Force. The paper says Bebb has been driving a car seized by the task force though state law that does not allow such use; that he has collected nearly $3,000 in reimbursements for gas, maintenance, and wear and tear on the car; and has used drug task force funds for office parties and meetings.

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Bragg to Preside in Rutherford Drug Court

Judge David Bragg will become the new presiding judge for the Rutherford County Drug Court and DUI Court Programs beginning Sept. 6. Bragg has often been a substitute in the programs for Judge Don Ash, who has taken senior status, the Cannon County Courier reports.

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Man Sues County After Death Sentence Set Aside

A McMinn County man who was on death row for 19 years and scheduled to die in the electric chair on five dates before being granted a new trial, has filed a $20 million lawsuit against McMinn County government. Senior Judge Donald Harris in 2009 set aside Gussie Willie Vann's conviction and death penalty sentence based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The Chattanoogan has more

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Shelby Juvenile Defense to Move to PD's Office

Shelby County Juvenile Court defense operations will be transferred to the Public Defender's Office in response to a federal investigation that found juvenile court "discriminates against black children," WMC-TV reports. Court officials say they will move the juvenile defense system from Juvenile Court oversight and place it under the office in charge of defending adults. Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush will head up the attorneys handling cases ranging from vandalism and minor theft to aggravated assault and murder, said Bill Powell, the county's criminal justice coordinator. The public defender's office in Memphis hasn't held that role in 35 years, Bush said. The Commercial Appeal has more

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Car Death Charges Often Different Based on Income, Gender

The Tennessean looks at two recent cases of where children died after their mothers left them in hot cars. Beneath the obvious common elements, the unrelated cases showed signs of heading down divergent paths. A law professor at Wake Forest University who analyzes deaths of children in hot cars and the resulting prosecutions found that mothers face charges more often than fathers, nonfamily caregivers more often than parents, and low-income parents more often than high-income ones. And when charges are brought, more than 80 percent of those cases end in conviction.

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Attorney: Baumgartner Gave Judicial Diversion 'A Bad Name'

A Knox County commissioner is seeking judicial diversion from a misdemeanor indecent exposure charge after authorities allege he was caught in a sexual encounter in a public park. The charge against Jeff Ownby is a minor one, calling for a $50 fine. But his attorney Gregory P. Isaacs is pulling out the stops to avoid any blemish on the record of Ownby, a married father and foster father who represents the 4th District as a Republican. Isaacs maintains that Ownby is a victim of the fallout over disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, who Isaacs contends has given judicial diversion a bad name and made prosecutors much too wary to grant it. The News Sentinel has the story

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Texas Executes Man with IQ of 61

Marvin Wilson, a Texas man convicted of killing a police informant two decades ago, was executed this week after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments that he was too mentally impaired to face the death penalty. Wilson’s lawyers used a 2004 test that pegged his IQ at 61, below the generally accepted minimum of 70. The Supreme Court outlawed execution of the mentally impaired in 2002, but left it to states to determine what constitutes impairment. According to the Associated Press, Texas chose to incorporate a number of factors besides IQ. The state argued that Wilson’s claim wasn't supported by other assessments. In April 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court set new standards for defendants in this state.

In related news, the American Bar Association last week filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing that capital defendants should be entitled to stays in habeas proceedings if they are not competent to aid their lawyers. Read more about that in the ABA Journal

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Petitioner, Robert E. Bostick, was indicted by the Hamilton County Grand Jury for first degree murder, aggravated burglary, attempted aggravated burglary, Class E felony theft, and Class E felony vandalism. Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, Petitioner pled guilty to second degree murder, a lesser included offense of first degree murder and received an agreed sentence of 20 years at 100%. All other charges were dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement.

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Attorney 1: 

Kevin L. Loper, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for appellant, Robert E. Bostick.

Attorney 2: 

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Assistant Attorney General; William H. Cox, III, District Attorney General; and William Hall, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


Carter Sworn in as New DA

Robert Carter was sworn in as the new district attorney general for the 17th Judicial District during ceremonies last week at the Lincoln County Courthouse. The oath of office was administered by Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell. Carter succeeds Charles Crawford, who had held the seat since 2006. See a photo in the Elk Valley Times.

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ABA House Tackles Range of Issues

The ABA House of Delegates considered a range of issues during its meeting yesterday and today in Chicago. Topping the agenda was changes to model ethics rules recommended by the Commission on Ethics 20/20. Among those proposals were changes to help younger lawyers facing a tough job market, rules for online client communications and rules for dealing with electronic files and metadata. The commission did not take a position on nonlawyer ownership of law firms, and delegates voted to postpone that issue indefinitely. Other action items included approving stricter standards on law school marketing, opposing laws that prevent physicians from talking to patients about gun ownership and safety, calling for a ban on religious profiling, calling on lawmakers to extend the statute of limitation for child sexual abuse crimes, calling for criminal defense lawyers to help clients with civil and nonlegal problems, adoption of rules governing conflicts checks when law firms merge or lawyers move to new employment, and adoption of new civil immigration detention standards.

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Memphis PDs Rethink Handling of Indigent Cases

Public defenders in Memphis are joining a movement to reform how indigent defendants are treated in and out of the courthouse. The approach is based on the idea that public defenders may be able to help curb recidivism by helping clients address underlying problems such as mental illness, unemployment and drug or alcohol addiction. The cutting-edge initiative earned the city a spot in the national Public Defenders Corp. program. More than 450 law school graduates from across the country applied to participate, with just 19 making the final cut. After intensive training, the group is now a week into their new assignments. The Commercial Appeal has more

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Seven Apply for 30th District Criminal Court

Seven attorneys have applied to fill the criminal court vacancy in the 30th Judicial District, which serves Shelby County. The vacancy was created by the appointment of Judge John T. Fowlkes Jr. as U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Tennessee. The Judicial Nominating Commission will hold a public meeting Aug. 24 at 9 a.m. CDT at the University of Memphis School of Law to interview the following candidates: Assistant District Attorney Glenda Adams; Deputy District Attorney John W. Campbell; Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean Thomas DeCandia; Municipal Judge Robert Price Harris; federal prosecutor Lawrence J. Laurenzi; Assistant District Attorney Michael R. McCusker; and Assistant District Attorney Kevin Russell Rardin. Learn more about the applicants from the AOC

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Reward Paid for Capture of Top-Ten Most Wanted

The Memphis and Jackson divisions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced today payment of reward money to those responsible for providing information that led to the capture of former FBI and TBI Top-Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Adam Christopher Mayes. Law enforcement captured Mayes based on information generated as a direct result of the agency’s outreach to the public, authorities said in a news release today. To protect the safety, anonymity and privacy of those responsible for the information, neither agency would comment on who was paid or how much was paid. The Jackson Sun reports

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Holmes Charged with 142 Counts, Courtroom Closed to Cameras

Nearly all states allow cameras in court; 44 permit them in criminal trials, although 10 of those on only a limited basis, this Washington Post writer reports. And when the alleged gunman in the recent Aurora, Colo., shootings appeared in court the first time, the nation was able to see his dazed look and pink-orange hair. But cameras were not permitted at James Holmes's court hearing today because of a request from his defense lawyers, which Judge William Sylvester granted and ordered the session closed to cameras. Today Holmes was charged with 142 counts, including 24 counts of first-degree murder, 116 counts of attempted murder, one count of possession of an explosive device and one count of a sentence enhancer for a crime of violence. The maximum punishment for the man suspected of killing 12 people and injuring 58 in the Aurora theater shooting is death. The minimum is life in prison without parole. Read more and see a drawing from the Denver Post

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Firm Honored for Death Penalty Representation

Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP will be among those honored by the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project for its commitment to prisoners on death row, with the Exceptional Service Award. The firm, with offices in Nashville and six other Southeastern cities, has provided pro bono legal assistance for inmates on death row since 1988. In total, Bradley Arant lawyers have helped provide representation for 22 prisoners, nearly all of them from the extremely active death penalty jurisdiction of Alabama. The awards will be presented at the Project’s 2012 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Event this Friday during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

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State Again Calls for Blackwood Recusal

The state on Tuesday filed a new motion asking Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood to recuse himself from retrials in the Christian-Newsom murders case. The state made its first recusal motion on June 4. It has based its arguments on concerns about Blackwood’s impartiality, citing reports that he demonstrated "remarkable anger" in a June 14 hearing on the first recusal motion, and admitted he had become an advocate instead of a judge in the case of several defendants whose trials may have been tainted by the unethical conduct of former Judge Richard Baumgartner. WATE has more

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Funds Still Missing at Drug Task Force

Money unaccounted for at the 24th Judicial District Drug Task Force at the beginning of the year still remains missing, according to a report from the state comptroller’s office. The current task force director says the group has exhausted all steps to locate the funds and cannot continue to search for the missing cash. Former task force director Steve Lee was indicted on theft charges in January and earlier this month was given a deferred probation of 11 months and 29 days. If he complies with requirements during the probation, charges will be dropped, authorities say. Meanwhile, charges remain pending against two other task force employees. Read the latest in the Jackson Sun

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