News

AG to Chattanooga Families: Beware of Predatory Firms

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III is asking Chattanooga residents to be aware of predatory law firms seeking to profit from the Woodmore Elementary school bus tragedy. While communities and families deal with the heartache and stress associated with tragedy, out-of-state law firms have been known to solicit business and coerce families into signing legal agreements that are difficult to understand, Slatery says. Often, these firms use misleading or inaccurate information, offer incentives such as paying funeral costs in exchange for using their services, and promise millions in civil lawsuit awards. In some cases, salesmen hired by the law firm will portray themselves as licensed attorneys when they are not. In a warning released today, Slatery outlines four signs of a suspicious solicitation, and pledges to prosecute anyone taking advantage of the situation.

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State’s Prosecutors Taking on Elder Abuse

District attorneys throughout Tennessee will be going after elder abuse cases more aggressively in 2017 thanks to a law that goes into effect Jan. 1, WJHL reports. In one district, the work is underway to form a Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Team (VAPIT), which will be made up of law enforcement, prosecutors and protective services employees. Like other teams, the Sullivan County team will educate the public about elder abuse, encourage people to report abuse and prosecute those who abuse the elderly and disabled adults. Under the program, law enforcement officers will be trained to spot abuse and prosecutors will be given access to closed protective services cases for possible prosecution.

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Court Agrees to Hear 6 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently agreed to hear six cases. Issues to be considered include statutes of limitations, self-defense and theft of property. The Raybin Supreme Court Hotlist reviews the cases and offers a prediction as to how each may be decided.

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East Nashville Site Approved for Sheriff’s Headquarters

The Nashville Metro Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a proposal from Mayor Megan Barry to build a new headquarters for the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in East Nashville near the Cayce Place public housing community, the Tennessean reports. Earlier this year, the council allocated $20 million for the headquarters. Sheriff Daron Hall originally wanted to build on property his office owns on Harding Place, but area neighbors objected. 

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Court Adopts 2017 Rules Package

The Tennessee Supreme Court today published the 2017 amendments to its rules of procedure and evidence. Proposals include changing the place for filing a notice of appeal to the appellate clerk’s office, requiring payment of fees and taxes to the appellate court clerk at the time of initiation of an appeal, and other changes to the rules of appellate procedure, civil procedure, criminal procedure and juvenile procedure, as well as the rules of evidence. Six TBA sections – Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law, and Juvenile and Children’s Law reviewed the rules when proposed and either found no objections or supported the changes. The proposals now go to the legislature for ratification before becoming effective on July 1.

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Shelby County Launches New Prosecution Program

The Shelby County District Attorney announced a new community protection plan yesterday, News 5 reports. Under the plan, all cases from a designated area will be handled by the same prosecutor and judge in an attempt to build relationships between the courts and the community and expedite the consideration of cases. A pilot of the Community Prosecution Program will begin Jan. 3 at the Old Allen precinct in Frayser.

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Police Chief: DA Spokesman Released Info on Rape Victim

Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson publicly rebuked Ken Whitehouse, a spokesman in the district attorney’s office, on Monday, saying he committed an “unconscionable” act that was a “violation of trust and human dignity” when he released the name and personal information of a rape victim to the media. Anderson says that Whitehouse sent an incident report that included the names of the alleged victim and suspect to a local television station. The district attorney’s office said the information was mistakenly released. Whitehouse will retain his job, but Anderson says he has blocked him from further access to confidential police files, the Tennessean reports.

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Judges Consider Social Media Access in UT Rape Case

A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals heard arguments today on whether former University of Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams can use subpoenas to force their accuser to turn over social media posts, messages and texts. The pair are accused of raping a female athlete during a post-football game party in 2014. They insist the encounter was consensual. Police did not try to get the information and prosecutors have been trying to block  defense access it to, Knoxnews reports. Neither man will be tried until the social media issues are decided, the newspaper says.

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Lawyers Report Frigid Temps at Juvenile Detention Center

After hearing reports that underage detainees in the Shelby County Juvenile Court detention center had inadequate clothing to guard against frigid temperatures outside and inside, the criminal justice reform advocacy group Just City donated 80 sweatshirts for residents. Just City’s founder, Josh Spickler, said he learned through attorneys that detainees were speaking to their legal representatives through chattering teeth, while wearing only short-sleeved t-shirts. In response, a detention center official said the building was adequately heated and he was not aware of complaints. Memphis Flyer reports the story.

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Obama Grants 78 Pardons, 153 Commutations

President Barack Obama granted 78 pardons and 153 commutations today – a single-day record for the use of presidential clemency power, USA Today reports. With just 32 days left in office, today’s action more than doubled the number of pardons granted in the previous seven years. In addition, today’s commutations brought Obama’s total to 1,176. The previous one-day record for commutations was 214 in August. Overall, including both pardons and commutations, Obama has granted more acts of clemency than any president since Harry Truman.

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Court Upholds Conviction for Christian-Newsom Murders

The Tennessee Supreme Court today affirmed the convictions and death sentences imposed on Lemaricus Devall Davidson for the 2007 kidnapping, rape and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. In 2009, a Knox County jury convicted Davidson on multiple counts and imposed two death sentences. In 2015, the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the jury’s actions. During Supreme Court review, Davidson raised a number of issues, including the legitimacy of an unsigned search warrant. The court agreed that the search warrant was invalid but applied its newly adopted good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule to validate the evidence that led to the convictions. Read more from the court.

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Law Firm Invests in UTC Criminal Justice Program

Chattanooga lawyer Jerry Summers and the law firm he founded, Summers, Rufolo & Rogers, has given $100,000 to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to fund scholarships for students in the criminal justice program, Chattanoogan.com reports. Student awards will be made annually and will alternate each year between students interested in becoming prosecutors and those interested in becoming defense attorneys. Summers earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee and has worked as assistant district attorney, criminal defense attorney, personal injury lawyer and labor lawyer.

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Ooltewah Coach Cleared of Charges in Student Assault Case

Charges were dismissed Friday against a former Tennessee high school basketball coach who was accused of failing to report child sexual abuse after a freshman player was assaulted by older teammates during a tournament in Gatlinburg, the Johnson City Press reports. Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole ruled that the underlying law prosecutors used to charge the coach did not apply because it targets abuse by parents or other residents living in the same household as the victim. The district attorney’s office said it would ask the state attorney general to review the decision for potential appeal.

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School Bus Crash Case Goes to Grand Jury

Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Lila Statom found probable cause for formal charges to be brought against Johnthony Walker, the 24-year-old driver in a school bus crash that killed six children in Chattanooga. She sent the case to a grand jury yesterday. Prosecutors have changed Walker with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless driving and reckless endangerment. A sixth vehicular homicide charge will soon be added for a child who died several days after the crash. Chattanoogan.com looks at recent developments in the case.

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3 Corrections Officers Charged in Inmate Death

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations has charged three Bradley County corrections officers with misconduct for actions surrounding the death of inmate Ralph Nelms, who died at the jail in September. Nelms had been placed on suicide watch, which required jailers to check on him at regular intervals. But investigators found that the three failed to make the required checks and that jail logs were falsified to indicate they had. All three were arrested today, WDEF reports. One also faces additional charges of tampering with evidence and government records.

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Services Next Week for Retired Assistant to Shelby DA

Betty Moretta Krupicka, 85, retired executive assistant to the Shelby County District Attorney General, died Dec. 10 after a long illness. Colleagues remember that she was known as the “Little General” during her more than 40 years at the district attorney’s office for her extensive knowledge of the law and ability to get things done. Visitation will be from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday at Canale Funeral Directors. A funeral mass will be held Tuesday at 1 p.m. at St. Peter Catholic Church. Members of the legal community are invited to a reception immediately following the funeral at the law offices of Burch Porter & Johnson, 130 N. Court Ave. The Commercial Appeal has more on her life.

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Report: 2 Testify in Possible Durham Bribery Case

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed witnesses to testify before a grand jury considering criminal charges against former state lawmaker Jeremy Durham, the Tennessean reports. One witness told the Tennessean that questions focused on Durham’s use of campaign funds. A copy of one subpoena obtained by the paper indicates the grand jury is investigating “federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud.”

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Breyer Renews Call for Death Penalty Review

Returning to a subject he addressed last year, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer on Monday said death sentences are arbitrary and their constitutionality should be examined. In a dissent filed in one of three death penalty cases the court chose not to hear, Breyer said the cases involved “especially cruel and unusual circumstances.” He also argued that individuals who are executed are not the “worst of the worst” but rather are “chosen at random” perhaps based on geography, views of individual prosecutors or race. The ABA Journal looks at the three cases denied by the court.

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Durham Documents ‘Irretrievable’ after Devices Reset

Tennessee legislative staff have destroyed “files, documents, photographs, emails and other information” that were on computers and tablets used by Jeremy Durham while he was a member of the House of Representatives, the Tennessean reports. The paper learned of the move after it requested information related to Durham’s activities. Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration told the paper that Durham’s electronic devices have been set back “to factory default settings” and all documents are “irretrievable."

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Nashville DA Expands Child Assault Prosecution Team

The Davidson County District Attorney’s office has expanded its team focused on prosecuting child sexual assault cases, the Tennessee Tribune reports. The group received additional money from the city this past fiscal year, which allowed it to grow to six assistant district attorneys who are focused solely on justice for children. The team is led by Assistant District Attorney Tammy Meade and includes Ross Boudreaux, Chad Butler, Joseph Clifton, Jeffrey George and Zoe Sams.

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Report: Medical Marijuana Returning to Legislature

A pair of Republican lawmakers will be making another go at legalizing medical marijuana this coming legislative session, Nashville Public Radio reports. Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Nashville doctor, and Rep. Jeremy Faison of East Tennessee plan to unveil details of the legislation this week. The two have argued for several years that marijuana can help people with chronic and terminal conditions manage pain. This past fall, Rep. Faison travelled to Colorado to meet with Tennesseans with chronic pain now living there.

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Sessions Confirmation Hearing Set for January

The U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, will run for two days starting Jan. 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced Friday. Committee Democrats had asked for four days to dig into the background of their colleague, Roll Call reports. Committee Chair Charles E. Grassley cited hearings for previous nominees that lasted one or two days with three to nine outside witnesses each day. Grassley also said that Sessions had completed the committee’s questionnaire and that the 33-page document is available on the committee’s website.

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Congress Renews Civil Rights-Era Cold Case Review

As one of its last acts on Saturday before adjourning the current legislative session, Congress approved and sent to President Barack Obama legislation that would continue reviews of racially motivated killings from the civil rights era that are now considered cold cases. The legislation, passed by voice vote, extends indefinitely a 2007 law that calls for a full accounting of race-based deaths, many of which have been closed for decades. It also extends the cut-off date to include any cases occurring before Dec. 31, 1979. The Associated Press reports that more than 100 cases from the 1960s and earlier have been reviewed so far, with one resulting conviction.

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Judge Dismisses Suit Against Nashville DA Funk

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger dismissed developer David Chase’s lawsuit against Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk on Friday, saying the prosecutor was immune from suit because he was acting in his official capacity. “The decision to prosecute is a core prosecutorial function with respect to which the defendants are entitled to absolute immunity,” the order states. Trauger also noted that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld such immunity even in release-dismissal agreements, which Funk used and became an issue in Chase’s case, the Tennessean reports. In a separate ruling, Trauger denied Funk’s request for sanctions against Chase and his lawyer saying the case was not frivolous enough to warrant sanctions.

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Alabama Executes Man Who Had Challenged State Law

Alabama inmate Ronald B. Smith was put to death by lethal injection yesterday after a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay his execution, the New York Times reports. Smith had been sentenced to death by a judge despite a jury’s recommendation of life without parole. He had challenged Alabama’s death penalty system, the only one in the nation that allows such judicial overrides. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s capital sentencing system, which also allowed judicial overrides of jury-recommended life sentences. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in September that state laws were sufficiently different from Florida’s to be upheld.

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