Knox Prosecutors Contemplating 2014 Campaigns

As many as four prosecutors in the Knox County District Attorney General’s office may run for the top DA post or a criminal court seat that will be open when Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz departs next year. Charme Knight, who specializes in child abuse and child death cases in the office, is running to succeed her boss, DA Randy Nichols. She likely will face attorney Michael Graves in a Republican primary, Knoxnews reports. Meanwhile prosecutors Kevin Teeters (a Republican) and Leland Price (a Democrat) are telling their parties they will seek Leibowitz’s position. Their colleague Jason Honeycutt, a Republican, also said he is seriously considering a run for the seat.

read more »

Baumgartner Completes Probation

Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner reportedly has completed two years of probation, clearing the way for his state criminal record to be expunged. With no objection from prosecutors, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood dismissed the case, WATE News 6 reports. Baumgartner, however, still faces a six-month federal sentence.

read more »

Haslam Vetoes ‘Ag Gag’ Bill

Gov. Bill Haslam today vetoed the so-called "Ag Gag" bill, which would have required images documenting animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours, Knoxnews reports. Haslam cited three concerns that affected his decision: the measure’s questionable constitutionality, the possible unintended consequence of making it harder for district attorneys to prosecute animal cruelty cases, and allegations that the bill repeals part of Tennessee’s Shield Law. Animal rights groups, civil liberties groups and a wide range of celebrities applauded the decision.

read more »

Drug Court Honors 100th Graduate

The 23rd Judicial District Drug Court will honor its 100th graduate, Ashley Lloyd, in a graduation ceremony next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Circuit Courtroom in Charlotte, the Leaf Chronicle reports. The court serves citizens of Cheatham, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys and Stewart counties. The drug court program promotes responsibility and accountability and teaches participants to become productive citizens in the community. It is an alternative to incarceration and integrates chemical dependency treatment and community resources with the criminal justice system.

read more »

Jury Finds Y-12 Protesters Guilty

The Y-12 protesters accused of interfering with national security when they broke into the nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge in July have been found guilty, the Johnson City Press reports. An 83-year-old nun and two fellow protesters were charged with sabotaging the plant and damaging federal property.

read more »

Tennessee to Create 9 ‘Recovery Courts'

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will create nine recovery courts to combat mental health and substance abuse issues across the state by combining services currently found in drug courts, mental health courts and veterans’ courts. A department spokesperson said the decision to combine resources was based on the fact that so many people dealing with substance abuse also have a mental health issue. Locations have not yet been determined for the courts, but the department says it has been working with community leaders, law enforcement and the treatment community to identify the best places for the new resources. The Chattanoogan has more.

read more »

Robertson Co. Agrees to Jail Reforms

Robertson County has agreed to changes at its jail after a federal investigation found constitutional rights violations. The Nashville City Paper reports that the U.S. Department of Justice filed the civil rights complaint against the county as well as a settlement agreement on April 26. The agreement lays out a plan to bring the Robertson County Detention Facility up to standards through policy, training and employment changes. The department’s 2011 investigation found problems involving inadequate food, mental health care and supervision of inmates on suicide watch. But it praised the county for expeditiously responding to complaints and taking corrective actions.

read more »

Drug Court Offers Justice and Mercy

Judge Tim Dwyer started the Shelby County Drug Court in 1997 to offer intensive treatment for nonviolent drug offenders with criminal cases. After his teenage cousin had been killed by a drunk driver, Dwyer said he learned the lesson that people with substance abuse issues need justice tempered with mercy. “I’m a judge. I’m sworn to uphold the law,” Dwyer said. “But all of us in the system have a responsibility to try to help people who want and need it. We’re not just trying to lock people up. We’re trying to save lives” he told the Commercial Appeal.

read more »

Ignition Interlock Bill Aims to Reduce DUIs

A new bill to require ignition interlocks for first time offenders and lower the intoxication rate awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature, WATE reports. The ignition interlock device requires drivers to blow into the device and if there is no alcohol present then they will be able to start the vehicle. The new law also requires a camera attachment to ensure the person taking the test is the person driving. According to state lawmakers, the bill could result in up to 10,000 more drivers with this safe guard on their vehicle. Since 2011, there have been 7,670 ignition interlocks ordered, although the number is only about a quarter of the number of people convicted of DUIs.

read more »

Judge Tests Video Arraignments

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword is testing a new video teleconferencing system for suspect arraignments, WBIR reports. In the past, he says it could take weeks just to get the initial hearing with the courts if a suspect is being held in a jail across the state. The new system, which cost about $10,00 in equipment, wiring, and technology upgrades, has been showing benefits, Judge Sword said. "The time that it saves is one thing. But on top of that, if you're not transporting prisoners across the state, think about all the gas money that you're saving," he added. "This is going to save, at a minimum, tens of thousands of dollars."

read more »

Pilot Puts Workers on Leave, Ramps up Audit and Compliance Functions

A week after federal agents raided the headquarters of Pilot Flying J, company CEO Jimmy Haslam is taking steps to address charges that Pilot withheld millions of dollars in rebates from its trucking customers. Actions announced yesterday include placing several sales employees on leave, eliminating the manual rebate system that appears to be at the center of the investigation, using the company's field audit team to review all 3,300 trucking contracts, creating the new position of chief compliance officer, and tasking a nationally-recognized individual to conduct an independent investigation. Knoxnews has the latest in this developing story.

read more »

Pilot Hires Nashville Defense Attorney

In the wake of a federal raid and criminal investigation, Pilot Flying J has retained Nashville defense attorney Aubrey Harwell Jr., who also "has brought a team in with him," according to a Pilot spokesman. In addition, at least one top Pilot executive has hired his own attorney, with Vice President of Sales John Freeman retaining Knoxville criminal defense attorney John E. Eldridge. Knoxnews reports the developments.

read more »

House Panel Named for Bebb Inquiry

The Tennessee House on Friday voted to form a committee to review the TBI's four-month investigation into 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb's office. Lawmakers voted 75-10 to name six members – three Republicans and three Democrats -- to a special committee that can meet during the recess. The six were selected from among the members of the Criminal Justice and Civil Justice committees, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The group said it would begin reviewing the files as soon as practical. Also on Friday, the House Judiciary Committee approved a resolution directing the TBI officials to turn over all files, records, back-up materials, notes, interview transcripts and other exhibits. Senators previously had approved a similar resolution.

read more »

Court Grants New Trial for Miranda Violations

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court Friday ordered a new trial for a Gibson County man after determining that statements he made during a police interrogation should not have been used as evidence at trial. The case involves the 2007 arrest of David H. Climer Jr., during which he asked whether he could “have … an appointed lawyer right now.” The detective questioning him said “not at this time” and proceeded to question him for three hours. The trial and appeals courts found that the statements were properly admitted because Climer never unequivocally invoked his right to counsel. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying the prosecution failed to prove that the defendant understood and waived his constitutional right to appointed counsel. Download the opinion.

read more »

Street Sworn in Before Overflow Crowd

Judge Stacy Street was sworn in as First Judicial District Criminal Court judge yesterday in Elizabethton by fellow Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp. Before a crowd of well wishers, Street thanked many people, and reflected that he is now sitting on a bench that has been occupied by only three men in the past 40 years: Arden Hill, Cupp and Lynn Brown, who he succeeds. He said all three had a drive “to be fair and to do the right thing” and that his dream is that “When my time is up that you can say the same thing about me.” See photos in the Johnson City Press and Elizabethton Star.

read more »

Court Grants Review to 1 Civil, 3 Criminal Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted review in three criminal cases and a single civil matter. The criminal issues include (1) whether a trial attorney is ineffective for telling a defendant only that he “may or may not be deported” as part of a plea bargain; (2) whether a prosecutor’s closing argument that the defendant should “Just tell us where you were” constituted an improper comment on the defendant’s post-arrest silence; and (3) whether a defendant committed burglary when he obtained permission to enter a habitation through deception. The civil case addresses a jail’s liability to an inmate who was injured by another inmate after he was erroneously left in jail following a court order for his release. The Raybin-Perky Hot List discusses these cases and predicts possible results.

read more »

Race Raises Awareness of Crime Victims’ Rights

The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Washington County Sheriff's Office, in association with Safe Passage domestic abuse shelter in Johnson City, will hold the Justice in Motion 5K run/walk April 27 during National Crime Victims' Rights Week. The event is designed to raise awareness of victims’ rights and will benefit the work of Safe Passage. Local domestic abuse shelters, sexual assault centers, victims groups and law enforcement agencies are invited to attend the race and set up booths with literature about their services. Learn more in this article in the Kingsport Times News or register online.

read more »

McNally Amendment Withdrawn

The appropriations amendment that threatened legal aid and funding for public defender and indigent representation was withdrawn by the sponsor Tuesday evening. Advocates credited swift, coordinated and effective response by the legal community in reaching many senators and representatives who argued against the proposal.

read more »

Street Named 1st District Criminal Court Judge

Elizabethton attorney Stacy Street was appointed to the First Judicial District Criminal Court today by Gov. Bill Haslam. Street takes the seat held by Judge Lynn W. Brown, who retired March 31. Most recently, Street worked as a solo practitioner focusing on criminal law. He previously was a partner with Hampton & Street and an associate with Hampton & Hampton, the AOC reports. He is a 1992 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. The AOC reported the appointment.

read more »

Prosecutor May be Planning Run for Judgeship

Leland Price, a Knox County assistant attorney general who’s helped prosecute defendants in the slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, indicated over the weekend that he is planning to run next year to succeed Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz, who is retiring. Knoxnews columnist Georgia Vines writes in today’s paper that Price once considered running for Knox County district attorney general but apparently has changed his mind. Another prosecutor in the office, Republican Charme Knight, has indicated an intention to run for the DA position.

read more »

Gideon’s Promise Holds Nashville Event May 1

Atlanta-based Gideon’s Promise will host a “Law Day Soiree” May 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Nashville offices of Frost Brown Todd. During the event, the group's president will discuss the state of the nation’s public defense system and share about the mission of the organization. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean also will be honored and select outtakes from an upcoming HBO documentary, Gideon’s Army, will be shown. The event is sponsored by Nashville Public Defender Dawn Deaner; Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz; Bell Tennent & Frogge; Bone McAllester Norton; Dodson, Parker, Behm & Capparella; and Frost Brown Todd, located in the Pinnacle at Symphony Place, 150 3rd Ave. S., Suite 1900, Nashville 37201. RSVP for the event by April 24 to Roshonda Carter. Learn more about Gideon’s Promise, formerly known as the Southern Public Defender Training Center, by watching this recent New York Times video about a young prosecutor who graduated from its program.

read more »

Workers' Comp Overhaul Adopted; McNally Amendment Still Alive

The bill (SB 200) to overhaul the workers’ compensation system, transfer responsibility to an administrative judiciary and narrow the range of discretion in the system received easy final passage in the state House today.

Meanwhile, budget deliberations, which will formally resume on Monday afternoon, continue to include the McNally amendment. With only one week likely left in the session, and most notice and other rules suspended, advocates must now expand their focus to all members of the Senate Finance Committee to try to head off quick adoption of the proposal by the chair.

read more »

Rivera Named Acting Federal Prosecutor

David Rivera has been named acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, replacing Jerry Martin who left office to create a Nashville office for Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd. Rivera is a veteran federal prosecutor who worked in federal prosecutors’ offices in Puerto Rico, Florida and New York, and has been recognized for work on prosecutions of international drug trafficking organizations as well as his work on public corruption and economic fraud cases. Knoxnews has the story.

read more »

Prosecutors Oppose Probation for Baumgartner

Federal prosecutors are asking U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer to disregard probation requests and lock up former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner for “at least two years,” according to Knoxnews. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary Bolitho and David Lewen said in a filing Monday that Baumgartner’s misdeeds “significantly disrupted” the Knox County criminal justice system. The pair point to the half dozen new trials granted to defendants as a result of the fall-out of the pill scandal, most notably within the high-profile case regarding the Christian-Newsom torture-slayings. Baumgartner’s defense attorneys Donald Bosch and Ann Short argued the former judge gave up the bench when the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe became public in 2011 and that damage to the justice system has not been as bad as anticipated.

read more »

Important Issues Still at Play in Legislature

A number of bills of interest to lawyers may see action before the end of the session. They include:

Lawyer Regulation -- A bill (SB 779/HB 635) to impose criminal sanctions on Board of Professional Responsibility panel members, staff, lawyers subject to discipline, and their counsel for certain procedural violations could see action in committees in both chambers. The TBA has resisted this unwelcome intrusion in the Supreme Court’s disciplinary process.

Tort -- Codification of comparative fault with limitations of joint and several liability in several types of cases that the courts have carved out by common law -- including products liability and cases with combined intentional and negligent actors -- still awaits House committee action (SB 56/HB 1099).

Collateral Source Rule -- The effort to limit the effect of the collateral source rule (SB 1184/HB 978) will be studied for now but could return next year.

Workers Compensation Overhaul -- The Workers Compensation overhaul (SB 200/HB 194) continues its march towards expected passage. According to the Associated Press, the plan is scheduled for a full Senate vote on Monday night with the House Finance Committee taking it up on Tuesday.

Conservatorship -- The work of the TBA’s Special Committee on Conservatorship Practice and Procedure has been adopted by the Senate (SB 555/HB 692) and should see action in the House Civil Justice Committee this week.

Trust Law -- A bill (SB 713/HB 873) to rewrite Tennessee trust law and a 52-page amendment debuted 10 days ago will see action in the House Civil Justice Committee.

Criminal -- The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear about legislation (SB 1362/HB 1293) permitting prosecution of an alleged repeat child abuser in any county where an act of of abuse allegedly occurred, and permitting evidence of all prior child abuse by declaring past offenses to be a "continuing offense.”

read more »