News

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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.

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

Execution Stayed to Hear Single-Drug Challenge

The Georgia Supreme Court stayed Monday's scheduled execution of a man convicted of killing a fellow prison inmate, saying it would consider a defense challenge to the state's recent adoption of a single-drug injection method. The court also said it declined to review a separate defense appeal that claimed Warren Lee Hill is mentally disabled and shouldn't be executed for that reason. The Associated Press reports

read more »

Survivor of Colorado Shooting to Sue Theater, Studio, Doctors

A lawyer told reporters Tuesday he will bring suit against multiple parties on behalf of a survivor of Friday's mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Beverly Hills-based attorney Donald Karpel told TMZ he will file on behalf of Torrence Brown Jr., who attended the midnight showing where the massacre took place. He plans to sue the Century Aurora 16 movie theater, Warner Bros. Entertainment and the doctors for alleged Colorado gunman James Eagan Holmes. WMC has the story

read more »

Guns Used In Shooting Probably Legal Under Colorado Gun Laws

Police believe the an assault rifle and other weapons used in the shooting spree at a Colorado movie theater last week were purchased legally, even though the state adopted additional restrictions after the mass shootings at Columbine High School. The New York Times has a story on Colorado's gun laws, which it calls "lax." ABAJournal.com connects you to other stories.

read more »

Sullivan County DA Adds 2 to Staff

The Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office has added two new attorneys to its staff. R. Benjamin Rowe will serve as the second judicial district DUI prosecutor and serve on the district’s Fatal Incident Response Team, according to District Attorney General Barry Staubus. Also joining the staff is Wesley Mink, who will work in the General Sessions Court division. Read more from Tri-Cities.com.

read more »

Judge Tosses Contraception Suit

A federal judge in Nebraska yesterday dismissed a suit brought by seven state attorneys general and several Catholic nonprofits challenging a contraception requirement in the nation's new health care law. The suit claimed that the contraceptive coverage requirements violate their right to freedom of speech and religion. The states also claimed that the requirement would increase their Medicaid budgets as religious employers stopped providing health insurance. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs could show no direct injury and no threat of immediate harm. Learn more in the ABA Journal.

read more »

Texas' First Single Drug Execution Set for Tonight

Texas inmate Yokamon Hearn is scheduled to be executed today, and though he will be the state’s sixth prisoner executed this year, he will be the first to be administered a new single-drug injection. Texas announced last week it would start using a single dose of pentobarbital, instead of using the sedative in combination with two other drugs. Other states have made the change and a number of courts have upheld the practice, despite death penalty opponents' claims that the single dose causes prisoners to take longer to die than the three-drug combination. The Commercial Appeal has more.

In related news, officials in Georgia announced yesterday that they too were switching to single-drug executions. In that state, death row inmate Warren Lee Hill is set to be executed on Monday. His attorney says the state’s decision to change the drug so close to the execution date is troubling. WTVC News Channel 9 has more

read more »

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

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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

read more »

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.

read more »

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

read more »

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.

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »