News

First Female Judge in 1st Judicial District Takes the Bench

Judge Lisa Niddifer Rice is the first woman to win a seat as Criminal Court Judge of the 1st Judicial District. Judge Rice has 27 years of experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney. WYCB spoke with Rice about her achievement and the significance of taking her new role. "I think that my experience on both sides of the courtroom is more important than gender, but as female attorneys we have great role models in the judiciary to look to in this area.” she said.

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Veteran Prosecutor Named Anderson County Deputy DA

Anthony “Tony” Craighead has been named the deputy district attorney for the 7th Judicial District, Knoxnews reports. Craighead is a prosecutor with 22 years of experience, including as an interim district attorney general. The Anderson County vacancy opened up when District Attorney Dave Clark's assistant, Sandra Donaghy, was elected Criminal Court judge in the 10th Judicial District.

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Sentencing Task Force Makeup Under Scrutiny

The 27-member task force to examine the state’s sentencing laws is coming under scrutiny because it includes only one public defender. The Nashville Post reports that the task force put together by Gov. Bill Haslam includes state legislators, judges, agency heads, district attorneys, law enforcement officials, the head of the parole board, a mayor, a victim’s right advocate, the head of a group focused on substance abuse among women, the president of an organization of Memphis-areas CEOs and the head of a home repair company. “We were trying to get a good representation of everybody involved, and I’m confident we have people from a lot of different perspectives that can bring that,” Haslam said. A spokesman later added that ultimately the governor anticipates that “hundreds of Tennesseans” will be consulted.

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New DA Northcott Fires 4 from Office

In the process of assembling his own team, newly elected Coffee County District Attorney General Craig Northcott has terminated four employees, the Manchester Times reports. The group includes assistant district attorneys Felicia Walkup and Marla Hollaway, Child Support Administrator Kathy Walker and administrative assistant Stacey Dotson. “A lot of difficult decisions had to be made regarding personnel,” Northcott said, “but only to make sure I have the right group of people who I believe will serve the community best, and who share the same mission that I have.” Northcott carried all 21 voting precincts in Coffee County last month to upset three-term DA Mickey Layne, who criticized the recent decision to fire the long-time employees.

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Funk Takes Office; Fires 5 Prosecutors

Long-time defense attorney Glenn Funk on Thursday took the oath to become Nashville's District Attorney. Today, he started making changes, dismissing five lawyers from the previous administration: Hugh Ammerman, Sarah Davis, Sarah Beth Myers, Karen Fentress and Earnie Hickerson. Four out of the five fired prosecutors publicly supported Rob McGuire’s bid for the office over Funk, The Tennessean reports. Funk is only the third attorney to hold the Nashville post since 1966, WKRN reports

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Public Defender Swearing In Ceremony Set for Friday

Vanessa Pettigrew Bryan, Public Defender for Tennessee’s 21st Judicial District, will be officially sworn in tomorrow in Centerville, the Williamson Herald reports. Retiring General Sessions Judge Sam Smith will administer the oath of office as his last official duty after a law career that spans more than 50 years. The attorneys on Bryan’s staff also will be sworn in at the ceremony, which takes place at 11 a.m. in the Hickman County Courthouse. A reception will follow. The 21st District includes Williamson, Hickman, Lewis and Perry Counties.

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Incoming DA Makes First Hires, Increases Diversity

A day before he is to be sworn in, incoming Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk announced his first four prosecutor hires, the Tennessean reports. Derry Harper, Ed Ryan, Rebecca Miller Warfield and Vince Wyatt will serve as assistant district attorney generals. True to his campaign vow to make the office more diverse to better reflect the community, two of the four hires are black. A fifth hire, Funk's new spokesperson Dorinda Carter, is also black.

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Great-Grandmother Wrongfully Arrested

A Knoxville great-grandmother says she was wrongfully arrested after another mix-up in the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's office, Knoxnews reports. Virginia Kruithoff was arrested for violation of probation and spent Saturday afternoon to early Sunday morning behind bars. Kruithoff was charged with a misdemeanor in 2012 for a $32 theft charge from Walmart. Records show she paid all her court fees and restitution costs by February 26, 2013, over a year and a half ago. However, on the clerk's office paperwork that the prosecutors saw, not all the payments are shown to have been made. Due to this error, she was listed as having to appear in court. When she showed the court Tuesday she had paid, her $1,500 bond payment was refunded and her violation of probation was dismissed.

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New DA Hopes to Rebuild Office, Regain Public Trust

After more than two years of turmoil and investigations into the 10th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the new man in the job says a top priority will be rebuilding the office and regaining public trust. In an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Steve Crump said he will take a hands-on approach to resetting how justice is served within the district. His goals include improving intelligence sharing among law enforcement, restructuring caseloads to improve efficiency and expertise, and being more responsive to crime victims and families.

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Witnesses Announced for Criminal Justice Hearing

State Sen. Brian Kelsey today released the names of 26 witnesses scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 15-16 regarding proposed state criminal justice reforms. The witnesses include Attorney General Robert Cooper, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams, TBI Director Mark Gwyn, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Parole Board Chair Richard Montgomery, and several academics, mayors, district attorneys, public defenders, attorneys and law enforcement officers. See the full list on Chattanoogan.com.

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Rape Kit Lawsuit Refiled in Circuit Court

Three women who filed suit in federal court against Memphis and Shelby County over the untested rape kit backlog have refiled the suit in Shelby County Circuit Court. Attorneys for the women asked the federal court to dismiss the case, which it did last week. The state suit repeats claims made in the original suit but does not include the claim that the backlog violates the U.S. Constitution. The women are seeking class-action status for their claim of negligence, which is based on the state Governmental Tort Liabilities Act. The move does not impact a “Jane Doe” lawsuit working its way through federal court, Memphis Daily News reports.

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National Bar Targets Police Misconduct in Key Cities

Memphis is one of 25 cities being targeted by the National Bar Association (NBA) as part of a national campaign to gain access to police department records. Beginning Sept. 1, the group says it will file open records requests and send preservation of evidence notices to police departments with “an alleged history of police misconduct and brutality.” The requests will seek details about the number of individuals who have been killed, racially profiled, wrongfully arrested and/or injured while pursued or in custody. The NBA will release its findings to the public and urge the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a full investigation of any problems found. Read more on the NBA website.

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Child Trafficking Forum Set for Memphis

A coalition of federal agencies will hold a forum on human trafficking Sept. 9 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The event will focus on combating child and youth exploitation with the goal of building greater awareness and better responses to the problem of child trafficking. Special training by the office of U.S. District Attorney Ed Stanton will be provided to law enforcement officers in attendance. Sponsors include the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Registration is free, but is required.

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New Firm Offers Reduced Rates for Criminal Defense

Three northeast Tennessee lawyers have opened the Criminal Defense Clinic (CDC) to provide legal services for those who need a criminal defense attorney but do not qualify for a court-appointed one or cannot afford to pay full price for one. Jim Bowman, Chris Byrd and Nikki Himebaugh maintain separate legal offices, but collaborate on cases accepted by the CDC, the Johnson City Press reports. The attorneys assess each client and apply a sliding fee scale for the service. The trio stress they are not trying to undercut fees other lawyers charge, just trying to help defendants who legitimately do not have the money to pay for a lawyer. The CDC is currently taking cases in Washington and Unicoi counties.

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New Domestic Violence Court Begins Sept. 2

Courtroom 4B looks like any other room in the Justice A.A. Birch Building, but beginning Sept. 2, it will be the site of Davidson County’s new Domestic Violence Court, the Tennessean reports. For the first time, all domestic violence cases will be referred here, with judges, prosecutors and security staff specially trained to handle such matters. “We’re going to see a major change in how the cases are handled,” said General Sessions Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton, who will be the first in a three-judge rotation to run the new court. General Sessions Judge Gale Robinson and newly elected Judge Allegra Walker will round out the rotation.

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TBI Launches New Anti-Trafficking Resource

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has launched a new outreach campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee, WRCB News 3 reports. The campaign, “IT Has To Stop,” provides information, research and statistics, contacts and links for visitors. The campaign also has a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

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Tennessee Sets 11th Execution Date

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Tuesday set an execution date for a man convicted in the 1991 burning death of his ex-girlfriend. Lee Hall, formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr., is scheduled to die Jan. 12, 2016. He becomes at least the 11th death row inmate currently scheduled to die in Tennessee. The Tennessean has the story.

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New ABA President Calls for Innovation in Delivery of Legal Services

South Carolina lawyer William C. Hubbard accepted the gavel as the new president of the ABA and urged lawyers to join him in his signature effort: closing the legal services delivery gap for the poor. Hubbard outlined several ways to accomplish that goal, including connecting lawyers, judges and academics with technology innovators who are spending millions of dollars on finding new ways of providing legal services. “We must marry this creativity with our own justice system to provide greater access while protecting the public,” he said. He also noted that several specific issues “clamor for our attention and rational evidence-based solutions.” These include a criminal justice system that is breaking down fiscally, the continued imprisonment of low-level offenders, the number of mentally ill in prison, the need for more pro bono representation for domestic violence victims, and the balance between privacy and security. Read more about Hubbard’s goals for the year in the ABA Journal.

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Deputy DA Honored for Child Abuse Prevention Work

The J. Stephens Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Crossville recently honored Deputy District Attorney Gary McKenzie for his years of advocacy on behalf of Upper Cumberland children at risk of abuse and neglect. In presenting the award, the center noted that McKenzie has worked for more than a decade to seek justice for victims of abuse/neglect, has been part of several grass-roots efforts to improve the services available to victims and has worked to strengthen laws concerning abuse and neglect. McKenzie has worked in the district attorney’s office since graduating from law school in 2000. He was named deputy in 2007. Last week he won election as 13th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge, Part I. See a photo of the award presentation in the Crossville Chronicle.

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State Fights Release of Execution Team Identities

State officials on Monday fought to block the lawyers for 10 death row inmates from getting information about who will serve on the lethal injection team that will execute the prisoners, the Tennessean reports. Appearing before the Court of Appeals, attorneys for the state argued that Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Claudia Bonnyman improperly ordered them to reveal the names of those who would execute prisoners. The inmates have challenged a 2013 law that makes all details about lethal injection secret. Bonnyman ruled in January the state had to provide the information to the attorneys but could keep it secret from the inmates and the public.

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Kelsey Sets Hearings on Criminal Justice System

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, says he will hold three hearings on criminal justice issues during its study session Sept. 15-16 in Nashville. The hearings will look at the current state of criminal justice in Tennessee, what other states are doing to reform their systems, and suggested changes to Tennessee law. Issues to be addressed include truth in sentencing, pretrial release, reentry programs, probation and parole reform, community-based corrections and reduction in recidivism rates, Chattanoogan.com reports. In announcing the hearings, Kelsey noted that Tennessee has not comprehensively evaluated its criminal justice system in over 20 years and could “learn from other states that have successfully used data to reduce costs and increase safety.”

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Incumbent Judges, DAs, PDs Defeated by Challengers

Thursday was a day for incumbent wins overall, but there were exceptions, with several Republicans upsetting Democrats across the state. In District 6, incumbent Chancellor Daryl Fansler was beaten by Republican Clarence Pridemore Jr., and Circuit Court Judge Harold Wimberly Jr. was bested by Republican William "Bill" Ailor. Read more in Knoxnews. In District 8, Elizabeth Asbury defeated incumbent Chancellor Andy Tillman, who was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam in April 2013.  In the same district, incumbent District Attorney General Lori Phillips-Jones was defeated by Jared Effler. Both are independents, but made the news in the spring when Phillips-Jones fired Effler, a 14-year prosecutor in the district. Two other district attorneys general were defeated: Mickey Layne, a Democrat, lost to Republican Craig Northcott in Coffee County, the Manchester Times reports, and Democrat Hansel J. McCadams fell to Republican Matt Stowe in Madison County. In District 10 Criminal Court, Republican Sandra N. C. Donaghy defeated Democrat incumbent Amy Armstrong Reedy, Chattanoogan.com reports. In Distrtict 26, the Jackson Sun reports that incumbent Circuit Court Judge Nathan B. Pride lost to Republican Kyle Atkins.

Two incumbent public defenders lost their jobs in this election. In District 11, Democrat Ardena Garth lost to Steven E. Smith, a Republican. Democrat David N. Brady lost to Republican Craig P. Fickling in District 13.  Also, Smyrna Town Judge Keta Barnes was defeated by challenger Lynn England Alexander. The Secretary of State’s Office has more results.

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Michael, Kyle and Weirich Win in Memphis Races

Three races in Memphis caught the state’s attention in Thursday’s elections. Shelby County Juvenile Court Special Judge Dan Michael was elected to the court’s top job with 54 percent of the vote, besting challenger Tarik Sugarmon in the race to become Juvenile Court judge. Michael will replace outgoing Judge Curtis Person, who is retiring. Sugarmon currently serves as Memphis City Court administrative judge. Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle claimed the open seat in Chancery Court Part II, besting three opponents to replace Chancellor Arnold B. Goldin, whose seat opened up when he was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Kyle has said that he would resign from the legislature if he won. A special election will be held this year to fill Kyle’s seat for the remaining two years of his four-year term. The Commercial Appeal has these stories. In the race for district attorney general, incumbent Amy Weirich garnered 65 percent of the vote over Joe Brown to retain the job she has held since January 2011 when Gov. Bill Haslam appointed her as the county’s first female district attorney. Weirich credited widespread support from all parts of town and from both parties. 

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Sheriff’s Office Responsible for ICE Checks

A story in yesterday’s issue of TBA Today indicated that metro Nashville officers are responsible for checking arrestees’ immigration records under the Secure Communities program. Instead, it is the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department that is participating in the federal program and is responsible for conducting the checks.

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FedEx Could Face New Drug Charges

FedEx could face new charges related to the alleged distribution and conspiracy to distribute drugs for illegal Internet-based pharmacies, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Last Friday, federal prosecutors in California said they intend to present a "superseding indictment" by Aug. 28, which would modify or add to the original indictment. The first indictment, filed July 17, included 15 counts of shipping or conspiracy to ship drugs to questionable online pharmacies.

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