News

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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Shelby DA Candidates Talk About Juvenile Court

The race for Shelby County District Attorney General is tightly contested, with Republican incumbent Amy Weirich and Democrat Carol Chumney, a former state representative, going head-to-head in the August election. Both women say they will be focusing their attention on children's rights, especially the juvenile court system in light of a recent scathing Department of Justice report. In related news, local Democratic chairman Van Turner held a joint press conference with Chumney to show the party's support of her candidacy after a recent opinion column in the Commercial Appeal questioned both’s Chumney level of campaigning and the party’s commitment to her candidacy. WMC-TV interviews both candidates

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Court Clerks Prepare to Enforce License Revocation Law

East Tennessee court clerks are gearing up to enforce a mandatory license revocation law that went into effect last July. The law gave defendants owing court costs from criminal cases one year to comply or lose their drivers' licenses. Clerks have mixed feelings, saying the law will result in many more defendants driving illegally on revoked licenses, require a lot more record-keeping, but also gives them another enforcement tool in collecting court costs. Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge doesn't seem to be looking forward to it: "It's going to be a huge mess," he says. The News Sentinel has the story

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Court Vacates Order for New Trials in Baumgartner Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court today vacated an order granting new trials for three defendants convicted of first-degree murder in trials presided over by former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, saying that defendants had not shown that Baumgartner's misconduct outside the courtroom had affected their trials. The court directed the trial court to "expeditiously reconsider the defendants' motions for new trial under the legal standards" clarified by the high court. Download the order or read a story about the decision from WATE News 5

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Opinions Vary on New Expungement Law

Beginning July 1, certain nonviolent ex-offenders in Tennessee can apply to have their records expunged after paying a $350 fee. A story in the Commercial Appeal shows that reaction has been mixed. Frank Cantrell, general counsel for Memphis Area Legal Services, is quoted as saying "I think most people in the legal aid community would say we needed a bill like this" since prior to its passage, "it was nearly impossible to get a conviction expunged in Tennessee, even a misdemeanor." But he adds, "The one thing that bothers me right off the bat is the $350 fee." By contrast, assistant public defender Josh Spickler says people will find the money to make it happen: "If you've qualified for this, $350 is easy. You find the $350 to get this off your record."

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Trial Set for Former Drug Task Force Employees

An October trial has been scheduled for two former employees of the 24th Judicial District Drug Task Force facing charges in both Henry and Carroll counties. Steve Lee was director of the task force until March 2011, when he was suspended after $4,200 in missing drug proceeds sparked an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations. Leona Simoneau was fired as secretary of the task force that same month. They both have been indicted on charges of theft, conspiracy, tampering with evidence, official misconduct and giving false statements to auditors. The Paris Post Intelligencer reports

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Editorial: Positive Steps for Integrity of Judicial System

In an editorial, the News Sentinel says that recent events regarding former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner are "positive steps for the integrity of the Knox County judicial system." The first step was when the state Supreme Court on May 15 released an order signaling its possible willingness to review three overturned murder convictions from Baumgartner's court stemming from a brutal double murder. The second step was when, on the same day, Baumgarter was arrested and arraigned in federal court on seven counts of failing to report felonious acts. "We are confident that justice, in the end, will be served," the paper says.

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Is Evading Arrest A Violent Felony?

Chattanooga lawyer Lee Davis writes about a 6th Circuit case, United States v. David Earl Doyle, that concerns whether a defendant’s prior conviction for evading arrest is a “violent felony” for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Read his column in the Chattanoogan

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Study Shows 2,000 Exonerations in 23 Years

More than 2,000 people have been exonerated of serious crimes since 1989 in the United States, eight of them in Tennessee, according to a report by college researchers who have established the first national registry of exonerations. Researchers say that the leading causes of wrongful convictions are perjury, faulty witness identification and misconduct by prosecutors. The registry itself, which looks deeply into 873 specific cases of wrongful conviction, examined cases based on court documents as well as from groups that have long documented wrongful convictions. That group of wrongfully convicted spent more than 10,000 total years in prison, according to the report, with an average of 11 years each. CNN has more

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New Law Would Allow Nonviolent Criminals to Clear Records

Tennesseans who have committed certain nonviolent crimes will be able to have their criminal records expunged for a $350 fee under a bill expected to become law July 1. The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Karen Camper and state Sen. Reginald Tate, both D-Memphis, passed by a wide margin earlier this year. Tennesseans convicted of a single felony or misdemeanor for nonviolent theft, certain types of fraud, vandalism, or other nonviolent crimes may qualify. They must have stayed crime-free for the past five years and paid all restitution and penalties. The Commercial Appeal has more

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