News

Sentencing in Football Rape Case Set for Friday

Former Vanderbilt University football player Brandon Vandenburg is expected in court Friday for sentencing in a 2013 campus rape case, the Tennessean reports. State law calls for a 15 to 25 year sentence for the crimes committed. Court documents indicate prosecutors will argue for a term close to the top of the range, making the case that Vandenburg was a leader in the assault and therefore deserves a longer prison sentence than the minimum term. Vandenburg has been in jail since a jury convicted him in June. He also has been added to Tennessee’s sex offender registry.

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Court to Hear 5 Cases in Jackson This Week

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in five cases when it meets this week in Jackson. The Nov. 2 docket involves (1) a death penalty appeal that looks at whether statements to police and witnesses should have been excluded; (2) a case testing whether a trial court has jurisdiction to hear a motion for the return of property after a judgment has finalized; (3) a case testing whether a repairman’s lien may be enforced in any way other than by attachment of the lien to the subject property; (4) a disciplinary matter that looks at whether a trial court’s affirmation of a BPR recommendation imposing a suspension, fine and community service was appropriate; and (5) a workers’ compensation case involving the death of an employee who overdosed on oxycodone he was prescribed for his workplace injury. Read more about these cases and get details on the court's schedule.

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Report: More Ethics Charges Filed Against Weirich

The Board of Professional Responsibility has filed additional disciplinary charges against Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich in the prosecution of Noura Jackson, the Commercial Appeal reports. The charges filed Friday relate to a statement by a witness that was not turned over to the defense until after Jackson’s trial. Weirich was the lead prosecutor in the 2009 trial of Jackson, who was convicted of killing her mother. However, the conviction was “reversed and remanded by the Tennessee Supreme Court based, in part, on the failure of the prosecution to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense,” the BPR argues in the filing. The paper has several filings in the case.

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Harr Sworn in as Eastern District U.S. Attorney

Nancy Stallard Harr was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee by Chief District Court Judge Thomas Varlan on Friday, Chattanoogan.com reports. The ceremony took place at the James H. Quillen Federal Courthouse in Greeneville. Harr had been serving as interim U.S. attorney since the retirement of William C. Killian in 2015. Harr is a former prosecutor with the Second Judicial District Attorney’s office in Blountville. She joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1995 in Knoxville and was named supervisor of the Greeneville branch office in 2001.

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Concerns Grow over Comey's Letter to Congress

Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is now dean of the Belmont College of Law, said he was “surprised and a little bit perplexed” by FBI Director James Comey’s decision to discuss an investigation of emails discovered on former Rep. Anthony Weiner's laptop to see if they are related to the bureau's investigation of Clinton's private email server just days before the presidential election. “It is not consistent with [Justice Department] protocol,” he tells the Tennessean. In addition, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee called Comey’s disclosure “not fair to Congress, the American people or Secretary [Hillary] Clinton” because of its vagueness. He has asked Comey to answer a number of questions by Friday, according to WDEF. In other news, a bipartisan group of former state attorneys general (including John Knox Walkup, who served as Tennessee attorney general from 1997 to 1999) have signed a letter calling the congressional notification “a serious mistake," and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, has called on Comey to resign. WCYB has that story.

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Community Caretaking Rule Examined in New TBJ

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently changed its thinking on the Community Caretaking Rule -- Emily Harvey and David Hudson explain in the new issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal. Scott Weiss writes about the ins and outs of community associations: are they the new protectors of civil rights? TBA President Jason Long reflects on and thanks veterans for their sacrifices. He encourages lawyers to help with legal clinics, especially those specifically for veterans. Read these stories and more in the November issue.

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Did Government Err in Oregon Occupation Case?

Seven defendants were caught on camera taking over and occupying an Oregon wildlife refuge, many with guns, yet last week a jury acquitted all of them on weapons charges and conspiracy to intimidate federal workers. Many in the legal profession are wondering how that happened, Today's General Counsel reports. One juror offered his thoughts to the Oregonian: “All 12 jurors felt that this verdict was a statement regarding the failure of the prosecution to prove ‘conspiracy’ in the count itself – and not any form of affirmation of the defense’s various beliefs, actions or aspirations.” An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times suggests the verdict should remind the U.S. Justice Department that a case, and a conspiracy, that might seem obvious to a prosecutor, is not necessarily obvious to a jury.

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Jury Picked for Sammons Trial

The trial for suspended Campbell County Judge Amanda Sammons got underway today with jury selection, WBIR reports. Sammons faces two felony counts of official misconduct for her handling of a case earlier this year while she was on the bench. The trial is expected to last about three days. A grand jury initially indicted Sammons on four counts of official misconduct that were tied to two separate cases. However, senior Judge Paul Summers dismissed two of the counts in mid-October. At issue now are the two charges tied to a case involving 26-year-old Krista Smith of Jacksboro.

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Lipscomb Legal Clinic, Dinner to Honor Gray

The Institute for Law, Justice & Society at Lipscomb University will be renamed in honor of civil rights lawyer Fred D. Gray next month. As part of the renaming celebration, the institute will hold a free legal clinic Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Schrader Lane Church of Christ in Nashville. Volunteers are needed to provide advice on civil, criminal, domestic and probate issues. That evening, the school will host Gray for a dinner and keynote address at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. Tickets are $200 per person. RSVP by Nov. 2 . Contact institute director Randy Spivey, 615-966-2503, for more information about any of these events. Read more about Gray and the institute in the October issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal or in this press release from the school.

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Services Tuesday, Wednesday for Judge Burch

Long-time 23rd Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Robert E. Burch died Friday at the age of 69. A graduate of the Citadel and Vanderbilt Law School, Burch served on the court for 34 years, creating the district’s drug court in 2000. Burch retired in 2014 as presiding judge but returned to the bench this summer under a special appointment to assist with the district’s heavy caseload. He was still serving in that capacity at the time of his death. Visitation will be held at the Taylor Funeral Home tomorrow from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m., and at the First Baptist Church of Dickson on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Funeral services will follow at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the church. Burch will be buried at New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Bon Aqua. The family suggests memorial donations be made to the 23rd Judicial District Drug Court. The funeral home has more on his life, while the drug court provides this reflection.

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CCA Changes Name to CoreCivic in Rebranding

Amid continuing scrutiny of the private prison industry, Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America is changing its name to CoreCivic, the Tennessean reports. The new name is designed to communicate that the company solves “tough challenges facing government at all levels and ... the deep sense of service that we feel every day to help people,” President and CEO Damon T. Hininger said. The company has faced challenges in recent months as the federal government announced it would end contracts with private prisons.

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Bundy’s Lawyer Tasered, Arrested after Acquittals

The lawyer representing Ammon Bundy was shocked with a Taser, tackled and arrested after he objected to his client’s continued detention after a jury last week acquitted Bundy and six others of occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon. The judge in the case refused to release Bundy after the acquittal, saying there is a U.S. Marshal’s hold on him due to a pending federal indictment in Nevada. Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, yelled at the judge and struggled with marshals while continuing to argue his client should be released. The ABA Journal has the story and links to other media coverage.

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Obama Commutes 98 Drug-related Sentences

President Barack Obama has commuted 98 more sentences of federal prisoners, the White House announced yesterday. According to the ABA Journal, all 98 recipients had been sentenced for drug crimes, with some also sentenced for related offenses such as firearms possession and money laundering. Of the group, 42 had been sentenced to life in prison. The move comes just a few weeks after Obama commuted 102 sentences, bringing his total to 200 commutations for the month and 872 for his entire presidency – more than those of his 11 predecessors combined, the White House said.

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Hatch Named DUI Prosecutor of the Year

Philip A. Hatch, assistant district attorney in the 13th Judicial District, was named the state’s DUI Prosecutor of the Year by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, the Herald-Citizen reports. In presenting the award, Byrant C. Dunaway, attorney general in the 13th Judicial District, praised Hatch for several notable DUI convictions, including one that went all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court and set new precedent. Hatch, who previously served on the TBA Young Lawyers Division Board, handles cases from Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam and White counties from the district’s Cookeville office.

Photo: (from left) Tom Kimball, Byrant Dunaway, Philip Hatch, Jimmy Dunn

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UT Legal Clinic Hosts Annual Lecture

The University of Tennessee College of Law’s Legal Clinic will host its 2016 Charles H. Miller Lecture in Professional Responsibility Tuesday at noon EDT. The event will kick off celebrations of the clinic’s 70th anniversary and will feature Zenobia Dobson, the mother of Zaevion Dobson, a Knoxville teenager who was killed last December shielding his friends from gunfire. Dobson will discuss how legal professionals can help their clients in nontraditional ways. She will be joined by her attorneys, Ursula Bailey and Esther Roberts, both of whom are alumni of the law school and its legal clinic. The event is free and open to the public.

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New Family Justice Center to Open Nov. 22

About 100 people attended yesterday’s ribbon cutting at Chattanooga’s new Family Justice Center, which will provide free services for victims of sexual assault, human trafficking, elder abuse and domestic violence. The center, which has been operating out of another space, will officially open in the new location on Nov. 22, Nooga.com reports. Dignitaries at the ceremony included Mayor Andy Berke, Police Chief Fred Fletcher, Judge Christie Sells and Child Advocacy Center of Hamilton County Executive Director Shelley McGraw.

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Memphis Marijuana Law Goes into Effect

A recently approved ordinance to lessen penalties for carrying small amounts of marijuana is now in effect in Memphis. The measure, which gives police the option of imposing a misdemeanor, fine or community service on those found with the drug, was signed into law Monday, WREG reports. Now, Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner wants a similar law adopted by the county to be applied in unincorporated parts of the jurisdiction. He was to propose the ordinance to the county commission today.

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DOJ to Review Memphis Police Department

Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings has confirmed that the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) will review his force, from the officers on the streets to the people they protect. Staff from the group were scheduled to be in Memphis this morning to begin mapping out a comprehensive review of the police department. There is “no better partner than the COPS Office coming out of D.C. to do a review of our community outreach, community policing efforts and also to do a review of our use of deadly force,” said Rallings. The review is separate from an inquiry requested by Rep. Steve Cohen for the DOJ to review the death of Darrius Stewart. It is unclear when the review will start and how long it will take, WREG reports.

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Rutherford Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Insider Trading

Former Rutherford County Attorney James Cope pleaded guilty Friday to insider trading charges in connection with Pinnacle Bank’s 2016 acquisition of Avenue Financial Holdings, according to federal prosecutors. “I made a mistake in the timing of my purchase of stock, and I accept the consequences,” Cope told The Daily News Journal. Under the deal he will serve two years of federal probation, the first nine months to be served on home confinement. He also will pay a fine of $55,000. Cope was released until his sentencing date of Nov. 14. The Securities and Exchange Commission is pursuing a parallel civil case. Anticipating the suspension of his law license, Cope said he would take a temporary leave of absence from his firm Cope, Hudson, Reed & McCreary. He also resigned as the county’s attorney on Friday. Josh McCreary, who has served as assistant county attorney, will take over as primary counsel.

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Group Calls for Investigation of Nashville Police Practices

Nashville-based Gideon’s Army, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to keeping the city’s children out of the criminal justice system, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice over Metro Nashville Police Department’s traffic stop policies and practices. The group based its complaint on a study of nearly two million traffic stops that occurred over a five-year period. It says the review shows severe and institutional racial discrimination by the city’s police force. The group also issued a 200-page report called “Driving While Black” to support its claims. The report outlined 12 key findings and 11 demands. Nashville Public Radio has the story.

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Assistant PDs Receive Service Awards

Three assistant public defenders received the President’s Award at this year’s Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference in Knoxville. Collier Goodlett received the award for the Middle Tennessee region. He has served in both the 19th and 21st Judicial Districts. Eighth Judicial District Assistant Public Defender Tina Sloan received the award for the Eastern region. And 25th Judicial District Assistant Public Defender David Stockton received the award for the Western region. Jeffery Harmon, past president of the Tennessee Public Defenders Conference, presented the awards. Read more about each recipient.

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Justice Center Gets Vehicle Attack Barriers

New security measures designed to prevent a potential vehicle attack have been installed outside the Washington County Justice Center, the Johnson City Press reports. Three metal bollards (short vertical posts used as a traffic barriers) are now positioned between the four large columns that form the front entrance to the center. The county commission realized the barriers were needed when a TV news van pulled between the columns and under the covered entrance during a murder trial.

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Wagner Named to 30th District Circuit Court

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Memphis lawyer Mary L. Wagner as circuit court judge for the 30th Judicial District. The vacancy was created by the retirement of Judge Donna M. Fields. Since 2011, Wagner has been with Rice, Amundsen & Caperton, where she has worked in general practice with an emphasis on family law and non-profit/business organization and defense. She also has taught at her alma mater, the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, and served on the Post-Conviction Defender Oversight Commission. She was a member of the 2016 TBA Leadership Law class as well. A press release with more details about her background is on the governor’s website.

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ACLU: Police Misconduct Rooted in History, Policy

The use of police to enforce the social order and impose public policy changes has played a key role in fomenting tensions between communities of color and law enforcement officials, a national legal expert said Saturday in Nashville. Jeff Robinson, ACLU's deputy legal director and director of the nonprofit organization Center for Justice, cited historical examples, statistical reserach and public policy in his remarks. “When you look at the history, it’s easy to understand why they’re behaving like this,” he said. “And so now, we have to do something about breaking that connection.” The event, Broken Policing: Windows for Change, marked the launch of the ACLU of Tennessee’s police accountability campaign, which hopes to foster public safety, prevent abuse in encounters between law enforcement and civilians, and improve community-police relations. The Tennessean has more from the gathering.

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Feds: Sheriff Coercing, Manipulating Wife from Jail

A federal magistrate has revoked bond for Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold after prosecutors produced audio tapes of phone calls indicating he was trying to manipulate and coerce his wife from a Kentucky jail cell where he awaits trial on public corruption charges. In one recorded phone call, Arnold appears to encourage his wife to portray herself as the aggressor during an argument between the two. But Megan Arnold says it was her husband who was the aggressor, punching her and pinning her to a bed. In other calls, Arnold says he is considering suicide and has taken her out of his will because she is not doing all she can to get him out of jail. WSMV has the story.

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