News

FBI Trafficking Sting Hits 11 in Tennessee

In 76 cities across the country, FBI agents arrested more than 150 people — including at least three in Memphis and eight in Chattanooga — who were involved in sex trafficking. The operation, conducted over the weekend, also freed more than 100 sexually exploited minors, officials said. In Memphis, three were arrested for forcing a 14-year-old girl into prostitution according to The Commercial Appeal. In Chattanooga, eight people were arrested on pimping charges while 11 women were arrested for prostitution, Knoxnews reports.

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Administrative Error Could Offer Offenders a Break

An unknown number of misdemeanor offenders in Williamson County may get a break on court-mandated penalties due to a mistake with their paperwork. Officials told Nashville's News 2 that the problem stems from someone other than a general sessions judge signing the warrants in question. Franklin defense attorney David Veile first noticed the discrepancy in one of his client's cases. Because the warrant was signed by a judge’s administrative assistant, it will not be enforced. District Attorney General Kim Helper said the impact of the error should not be too severe since, for the majority of defendants, new warrants will be signed by a judge and cases will continue as normal.

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Tenn. Black Caucus Calls for Review of 'Stand Your Ground' Law

In response to the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the state legislature’s Black Caucus last week called for a review of the so-called “stand your ground” statute Tennessee has on the books. "Over the next few months, we will work with our fellow Representatives to review Tennessee’s ‘stand-your-ground’ law to determine whether portions of the law need to be repealed or replaced in order to ensure the safety of all Tennessee residents,” Rep. Larry Miller, a Democrat from Memphis and chairman of the Black Caucus, said in a July 17 statement. The Murfreesboro Post has the story.

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Statewide Drug Court to Open in Morgan County

What the state is calling the first statewide drug recovery court in the nation will open next month in Wartburg, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. In Tennessee, drug courts operate largely within judicial districts and offer alternatives to jail time for nonviolent drug offenders through recovery centers. The centers are designed to rehabilitate drug abusers and help reincorporate them into society.

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D.C. Circuit Blocks Import of Drug Used in Executions

A federal appeals court has upheld a court order that blocks importation of sodium thiopental, a sedative used to anesthetize inmates before they receive drugs that cause death. The decision upheld a trial judge’s order in a suit by a group of death row inmates in California, Arizona and Tennessee. The appeals court said a judge doesn’t have power to require the FDA to order states to return the drug, however, because the states weren’t parties to the suit. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Holder in Nashville to Address Police Group

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Nashville today to speak to the annual convention of the National Association of Police Organizations, The Tennessean reports. Afterward he met privately with six black ministers, reportedly discussing the Trayvon Martin case, voting rights and incarceration rates. Though he did not get into specifics of the Justice Department’s investigation of the incident or discuss the state’s "stand your ground law," Holder said Florida was "full of targets of injustice," giving his agency plenty to do there, according to Rev. Enoch Fuzz, pastor of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church. Holder also talked about the need to educate citizens about their voting rights and the problem of too many young people going to prison.

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AOC Seeks Compliance Auditor

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts is seeking a qualified person for the position of Supreme Court Rule 13 Compliance Auditor. A successful candidate must be able to interpret Supreme Court rules and orders and possess strong communication skills. Job duties include reviewing and auditing Indigent Defense Fund claims, identifying potential billing irregularities and resolving billing issues with attorneys, judges and other judicial personnel. The position is available immediately. Learn more on the AOC’s website.

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Judge Denies Access to Baumgartner File

The still-secret portion of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner’s Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) file is not relevant to public understanding of his, or any other, case and should stay sealed, Senior Judge Walter Kurtz ruled Friday. By law, TBI files are exempt from the Tennessee Open Records Act, but a judge can order they be released. In December 2011, the Knoxville News Sentinel petitioned to have the entire investigative file on Baumgartner unsealed. The file also was made part of the court record in Baumgartner’s federal trial, Knoxnews reports. The judge in that case, Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley has not ruled if or when the file would be made public as a result of that proceeding.

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State Report: Trafficking Victims Need More Help

Tennessee ramped up criminal penalties for human traffickers this year, but rehabilitative services for survivors remain disjointed and reliable data remain elusive according to a new state study. The 97-page report, which has been in development for a year, found that communities do not have sufficient services, such as housing, relocation assistance, transportation and legal aid, to help trafficking victims. The report also calls for counseling victims within four hours of their discovery, relying on nonprofits to provide follow-up contact with survivors, creating a central data collection point for reporting trafficking incidents, creating four new staff positions in the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), and designating DHS and DCS as the point agencies for coordinating victim services. The Tennessean has more on the story.

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Panel OKs Cuts to Police Hiring Program

A GOP controlled House panel moved yesterday to eliminate funding for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) — a Clinton-era program that helps local governments hire police officers. Driven by deepening automatic spending cuts, the program, slated to get $440 million in President Barack Obama's budget, would instead get "zeroed out" in a spending bill to fund the Justice Department for the upcoming 2014 budget year, WRCB reports.

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Opinion: Sequestration Hits PDs Especially Hard

An article from Gavel Grab today suggests that automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration have substantially impacted the judicial branch, but have hit public defenders’ offices especially hard. The article cites a new report by Federal News Radio that defenders are facing a nine percent decrease in their budget this year, which translates into a loss of $51 million and up to 20 furlough days for employees. According to the federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, the program “faces complete destruction unless both the Judiciary and Congress act very soon.”

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Bone McAllester Launches New Practice, Adds Former U.S. Attorney

The Nashville law firm of Bone McAllester Norton has launched a criminal defense and government investigations practice, and has hired former U.S. Attorney Ed Yarbrough and current Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Little in the Middle District of Tennessee for the group. They both will start Aug. 1. Current Bone McAllester employee James Mackler, a former senior trial counsel in the Judge Advocate General Corps., also will join the practice group. Yarborough left the Middle Tennessee prosecutor’s office in 2010 and has been working at the Nashville law firm of Walker Tipps & Malone. Read more on the firm’s website and on Nashville Post.com.

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Memphis Homeless Clinic Moved to Sept. 19

The Project Homeless Connect legal clinic originally scheduled for August in Memphis has been moved to Sept. 19. The event, which brings together a variety of resources and services in one place for the day, will include a “street clinic” offered by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office to help those with unpaid court costs and fines, and a civil legal clinic to help those with child support, collections and landlord/tenant issues. For more information or to volunteer contact the Memphis Bar Association at (901) 527-3575 or afritz@memphisbar.org.

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KBA Accepting Comments on Court Rules

The Knox County Criminal Court is soliciting written comments regarding the proposed amendments to the Criminal Court Local Rules from judges, lawyers, bar associations, members of the public and any other interested parties. The deadline for submitting written comments is July 31. Written comments should be addressed to: Marsha S. Wilson, KBA Executive Director Knoxville Bar Association P.O. Box 2027 Knoxville, TN 37901. Visit www.knoxbar.org for more information. 

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Cameras in Courts: 'Good Theatre But Bad for Justice'

An opinion piece in the Memphis Commercial Appeal suggests it may be time to get television cameras out of the courtrooms, or at least encourage judges to exclude electronic media from high-profile trials. Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post Writers Group says that excessive media coverage and commentary “may be good theatre but bad for justice.” Citing coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial, Parker says it is the court’s responsibility to protect the defendant’s rights to as fair a trial as possible, which means ensuring a “neutral and detached environment.”

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Ways to Deal with Judicial Diversion Violations

What happens when a defendant who is on judicial diversion violates the terms of the diversion agreement? It may not be as black and white as you think. Knoxville lawyer Wade Davies explains alternatives to revocation of judicial diversion in his Journal column this month.

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New Bail Law May Increase Costs for Defendants

A recent change in bail bonding law, which took effect July 1, may mean that defendants have to pay a bail company twice for the same case, the Nashville City Paper reports. Prior to the change, state law required that bail agents stay on bonds they issue until clients are exonerated or sentenced. Now bonding agents are free from liability as soon as the client pleads guilty. John Zimmermann, an assistant district attorney in Davidson County, reacted saying, “Unsuspecting defendants will have their bonds summarily revoked before they are sentenced” which will allow “bonding companies the opportunity to charge even more money to defendants and their families for their freedom.” The Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents, however, applauded the change saying it was in line with the risk bondsmen face after a conviction or guilty plea.

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DUI Checkpoint Video Goes Viral

A video of Rutherford County deputies stopping a Middle Tennessee State University student at a DUI checkpoint and searching his car after he refused to roll the window all the way down, is nearing two million hits on YouTube, The Tennessean reports. Libertarians nationwide have been recording interactions with police in a campaign to demonstrate what they say are violations of constitutional rights. Nashville criminal defense lawyer David Raybin has offered his take on the episode to the media and in his blog.

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Volunteers Needed for Memphis Homeless Clinic

Volunteer lawyers are needed to help with two initiatives at the next Project Homeless Connect in Memphis. The event, which brings together a variety of resources and services in one place for the day, will include a “street clinic” offered by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office to help those with unpaid court costs and fines, and a civil legal clinic to help those with child support, collections and landlord/tenant issues. The event takes place Aug. 22 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. For more information or to volunteer contact the Memphis Bar Association at (901) 527-3575 or afritz@memphisbar.org.

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Drug Task Force Tries to Recoup Missing Funds

The state’s First Judicial District Drug Task Force is attempting to recoup more than $2,000 from its insurance company after the money was discovered missing by an audit earlier this year, the Johnson City Press reports. The review showed irregular receipting and depositing of funds, improperly maintained records on seizures, inadequate documentation of confidential expenses and possible time sheet violations. The task force director says the insurance policy covers employee dishonesty but if the claim is not paid, area law enforcement agencies will be asked to share the burden of reimbursing the funds. Meanwhile, the employee involved has been fired and the case has been turned over to the local district attorney for possible criminal charges.

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State Offers Automated System for Probation, Parole Fees

The Tennessee Department of Correction has launched an automated fee collection system that allows offenders on probation or parole to pay their supervision and other fees online through wire transfer or by phone. Family and friends also may make deposits into individual accounts through the automated system. The department reports the system should streamline services and enhance accountability while freeing up probation and parole officers to spend more time in the community supervising offenders. Chattanoogan.com reports.

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Juvenile Transfer Decisions Worry DOJ Monitor

A 14-year-old boy was recently transferred to adult court in a short amount of time by Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County magistrate Dan Michael -- and this has Department of Justice due process monitor Sandra Simkins questioning the move. Simkins was appointed by the DOJ to oversee changes to the court following a two-year investigation in 2009, which revealed civil rights concerns, routine violations of due process protections, and transfer hearings set only two weeks after a child’s arrest. “The rushed time frame [of transfers], added to the woefully low allocation of resources, challenges the integrity of the entire system,” she said. The Memphis Flyer has the story.

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Judge to Decide on Release of Baumgartner Files

Judge Walter Kurtz will decide by the end of next week whether to release confidential portions of state files connected to the investigation into former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner, WBIR reports. Herbert Moncier, who represents the families of murder victims Channon Christian and Chris Newsom, asked Judge Kurtz to release up to 2,000 additional pages of information contained in the files put together by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in order to find out how the judge got away with his prescription drug abuse for so long.

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Knox County Trustee Pleads Guilty to Misconduct

Knox County Trustee John Duncan III, son of U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, pleaded guilty today to a felony charge of official misconduct, Knoxnews reports. According to prosecutors, Duncan and members of his staff received bonuses for training that was never completed. Duncan received a one-year probation and resigned from office. As part of the plea agreement, he will cooperate with all probes into the matter. Duncan has asked the Knox County Law Department to take over much of the legal operations for his department.

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Judge, Prosecutor Recused from Former Sheriff’s Case

Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street has recused himself from hearing the case of former Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Ricky Butler, who is accused of making false reports and reckless driving. Street said that because of Butler’s prior work with the sheriff’s department and the fact that he himself has been called to testify in cases brought by Butler, he thought it best to step down. The 1st Judicial District Attorney General’s office previously recused itself from prosecuting the case. Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus has been appointed prosecutor. Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood will preside over the case. Butler will appear before Blackwood on July 10 to set a date for a full hearing, the Johnson City Press reports.

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