News

Incidents of Harassment, Intimidation Up After Election

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there have been almost 900 reports of harassment and intimidation from across the nation since the election of Donald Trump. “People have experienced harassment at school, at work, at home, on the street, in public transportation, in their cars, in grocery stores and other places of business, and in their houses of worship," the group writes in its report “10 Days After.” Incidents against Trump supporters also have been reported.

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Alabama Gets 1st African-American Female DA

The vote margin on election night was so narrow it triggered an automatic recount, but it is now official: Lynneice Washington will be the first African-American woman elected as a district attorney in Alabama. “This is a historic moment,” said Washington, who currently serves as presiding judge of the Bessemer Municipal Court. She defeated Republican Bill Veitch, who was appointed to the post following retirement of the former district attorney. AL.com has more on the race.

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Task Force Suggests 6 Initial Juvenile Reforms

The state Juvenile Justice Task Force has come up with six initial and tentative recommendations to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders, Fox Chattanooga reports. The list, provided by Senate Majority Leader and task force Chair Mark Norris, calls for (1) reviewing the structure of the current juvenile justice system; (2) ordering treatment instead of jail time for some offenders; (3) collecting data on juvenile crime to determine trends; (4) creating a special group to review juvenile crime data; (5) exploring how probation works; and (6) encouraging partnerships between juvenile courts and schools.

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State Decertifies Rutherford County Jail

Rutherford County Adult Detention Center could face a federal court-ordered takeover after being decertified by the state yesterday, the Tennessean reports. The Tennessee Corrections Institute’s Board of Control took the action after an inspection revealed lack of supervision of inmates, with checks not being conducted within the required 15 minute intervals. The jail has dealt with two reported suicides this year.

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County Provides Overtime Pay, Adds Staff to Deal With Computer Problems

The Shelby County Sheriff's Department is trying to keep six computer technicians in town as progress is slowly being made on resolving computer issues at the Shelby County jail and court, Local Memphis reports. The technicians were scheduled to leave last Friday. The county has sought, and finally received, approval for overtime pay. The clerk of courts is reporting that he has asked two new employees to help deal with the issues and will be hiring new employees to print court records since they still are not accessible through the computer system. For those who need services from the court, officials suggest being prepared for longer than usual wait times and having cash to pay any fines or fees.

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Shelby Commission Votes Down Pot Ordinance

Shelby County Commissioners voted down an ordinance Monday that would have allowed police the option of writing a civil summons or ticket with a $50 fine for possession of half an ounce or less or marijuana. The third and final reading of the proposed ordinance was rejected on a 4 to 6 vote, the Memphis Daily News reports. Commissioners Van Turner and Reginald Milton, the sponsors of the measure, were joined by Walter Bailey and Chair Melvin Burgess in supporting the bill.

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Ohio Court: Dash Cam Videos are Public Records

Dash cam video recorded by police officers in the course of their duties is a public record generally available upon request, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. In a 7-0 ruling, the court said that some exceptions could be made for materials deemed to be investigatory work product by police, but that in general the recordings should be open to the public. The opinion came in response to a suit from the Cincinnati Enquirer, which had sought video from a high-speed police chase that ended in a crash. Cleveland.com has more on the story.

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California Set to Get its 1st Latino AG

California Gov. Jerry Brown has picked U.S. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, to be the state’s next attorney general, the Los Angeles Times reports. If confirmed by both houses of the state legislature, Becerra would be the state’s first Latino attorney general and would succeed Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate. Becerra, 58, has served 12 terms in Congress. He previously worked in the civil division of the state attorney general’s office.

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Criminal Justice Reform Group Hosts Event

The Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice will host “Stopping the Revolving Door: A Conversation on Safety, Savings and Our Criminal Justice System” on Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Embassy Suites in West Knoxville. Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, will moderate the discussion, which will focus on problems with the current criminal justice system and strategies for change. Panelists will include Lindsay M. Boyd, director of policy for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, and Thomas H. Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee. The event is free and open to the public.

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Public Defender Sought for 24th Judicial District

Twenty-fourth Judicial District Public Defender Guy Wilkinson is retiring on Dec. 31. To fill the vacancy, the state is seeking applicants to serve until the next biennial election in 2018. Applicants must have an active Tennessee law license, have lived in the state for five years and have lived in the district for one year. Interested individuals should submit a resume and cover letter to Counsel to the Governor Dwight Tarwater at State Capitol, 1st Floor, 600 Charlotte Ave., Nashville, TN 37243 or by email to dwight.tarwater@tn.gov by 5 p.m. CST on Dec. 30. Read the job announcement. The 24th District serves Decatur, Henry, Carroll, Benton and Hardin counties.

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Human Rights Day in Nashville Focuses on Child Trafficking

Human Rights Day will be celebrated around the world Saturday, but in Nashville an event focused on child trafficking in Tennessee will happen tomorrow evening, the Tennessean reports. The program will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the First Amendment Center at 1207 18th Ave. South, No. 200. In addition to a discussion about the issues associated with child trafficking, the Tennessee Human Rights Commission will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Charles Kimbrough; its Rising Star Award to Anna Carella, Justin Jones and Mohammed Shurki; and its Outstanding Service Award to Juan Canedo and Derri Smith. RSVP online.

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Juvenile Justice Task Force Working Toward Report

The state Juvenile Justice Task Force is working toward a final report and is expected to make a number of recommendations to lawmakers on how juveniles should be treated in the legal system. That makes it likely that the legislature will consider some form of juvenile justice reform in the next session, the Tennessean reports. The task force, chaired by state Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is focused on a number of issues, including the youth probation system, inconsistent court practices across the state and use of valid court orders, which put the weight of the court behind directives for school attendance and curfews.

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Former Knox County Assistant PD Killed in Texas

Denise Faili, who previously served in the Knox County Public Defender’s Office, died Nov. 26 in Texas. She was 33. Faili had moved to Alpine, Texas, earlier this year to be closer to her mother and work for the federal public defender’s office. Days after Thanksgiving, Faili and her mother were driving from Corpus Christi to Austin when a car crossed the center line. The head-on collision killed Faili, her mother and the other driver. Faili earned her law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law and clerked for the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals before joining the public defender's office. Donations in her memory can be made to Gideon’s Promise, a training and advocacy organization for public defenders. Read a moving tribute to Faili from a former coworker in Alpine.

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Online CLE for General Practitioners Now Available

Sessions from the TBA’s annual General Practice CLE are now available online. Topics include child welfare laws, domestic assault cases, law office dynamics, wrongful termination, writing skills and more. See the full listing here.

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Computer Company Facing Issues in Other Locations

Tyler Technologies, the company responsible for installing a new computer system at the Shelby County jail and courthouse, faces criticism not just from leaders in Memphis but from a number of other jurisdictions that bought its product, Local Memphis reports. The paper indicates that justice systems in California, Florida, Indiana, Texas and Washington have reported troubles with the company’s Odyssey computer system. Tyler has had six people in Memphis working to fix problems but they were expected to leave at the end of this week, even though court officials estimate the system is only working at 85 to 90 percent capacity.

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Man Faces New Charge for Threatening Judge

Omar Ahmad is in custody at the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex after new charges were filed against him in an ongoing harassment case, the Jackson Sun reports. Ahmad previously was charged with retaliation for past action and harassment of Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Christy Little. He was arraigned on those charges yesterday morning in Madison County General Sessions Court and released on bond. After he was released, authorities took him into custody again on new harassment charges brought in Jackson City Court. Prosecutors have requested that his bond be revoked based on the new charges. A hearing is set for Tuesday on that issue.

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Services This Weekend for Former U.S. Attorney

Ernest Wilson “Ernie” Williams died Nov. 30 at the age of 69. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, with a tour of duty in Vietnam, Williams earned his law degree from the Nashville School of Law. He practiced law in Franklin until being appointed U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee by President George H.W. Bush. He held that post from 1991 to 1993. He later served as a Williamson County commissioner and general sessions judge. Visitation will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home and from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday at Bethlehem United Methodist Church. Funeral services will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at the church. Burial will follow in Williamson Memorial Gardens.

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Expungement Clinic Planned for Memphis

Building on the success of expungement clinics in Nashville, Memphis lawyers Amber Floyd and Dean DeCandia are organizing an expungement clinic and resource fair in their city on Dec. 10. The clinic will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Healing Center Full Gospel Baptist Church, 3900 Tchulahoma Rd. Representatives from the General Sessions Criminal Court and clerk’s office will be on hand to facilitate the process. Volunteer attorneys, paralegals and law students are needed to assist clients with paperwork. Those interested in volunteering are invited to a training session on Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the church. For more information contact Floyd, 901-537-1054, or DeCandia, 901-378-0203.

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Court Tackles Vehicular Homicides, Malpractice, Liquor Store Fees

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear four East Tennessee cases, including a Claiborne County vehicular homicide case in which a lower appellate court set the admittedly guilty driver free. Another vehicular homicide case looks at whether a police officer should have sought a warrant before seeking a hospital blood draw from the defendant. The third case looks at whether a legal malpractice claim should have been dismissed for being filed too long after the alleged wrongdoing. And the fourth case explores whether the city of Morristown overcharged liquor stores with fees totaling a half-million dollars. Knoxnews reviews each case.

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County Explores Legal Options to Fix Computer Ordeal

Shelby County Commissioners yesterday talked about possible legal action against Tyler Technologies, the company that supplied a new computer system to the local criminal justice courts, according to the Memphis Daily News. During the meeting, General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton told commissioners he is under court order by judges to print their dockets and any other documents needed each day. He said he will need overtime pay “indefinitely” for employees to handle these additional duties. Commissioners questioned the planning that led up to installation of the new system.

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New Rule Expands Judges’ Authority for Digital Device Warrants

Congress had a full seven months to block a rule change for federal courts that lets judges authorize the hacking of digital devices beyond their districts. But after an attempt in the Senate to vote on the measure failed, opponents waited until the day before the rule change was to take effect to introduce three motions aimed at delaying its implementation. They were not successful, so as of today, the change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, goes into effect. Opponents of the change question its impact on privacy rights while supporters say digital devices make jurisdiction-specific search warrants impractical. Nashville Public Radio looks at the issue.

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Report: Nashville Prosecutor Withheld Evidence in Murder Case

Kathy Morante, director of the Nashville police division that investigates officer conduct, has been reprimanded for misconduct in her prior job as an assistant district attorney general in Nashville. The Tennessean reports that while prosecuting a 16-year-old on a murder charge, Morante failed to provide to the defense a TBI report showing a key witness for the state had been arrested in another matter with the murder weapon in question. The conviction and 19-year prison term of Terry L. Reed Jr. was vacated by a judge last year. Morante says she shared the report but could not provide proof of the action. She joined the police department in 2013 after serving 14 years as a prosecutor. She reportedly was issued a private reprimand by the Board of Professional Responsibility in October.

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Memphians Share Policing Concerns with DOJ

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) were in Memphis yesterday to meet with residents and discuss their concerns about the Memphis Police Department. Comments at the forum were plentiful and included complaints such as not being able to reach 911 operators, police not identifying themselves before taking action, and a general sense of disconnect between officers and the community. The meeting, one of two that will be held, is the first step in a three-part review by DOJ. The second step will be a published report of recommendations for improvement. The third and final step will entail the DOJ helping the police department make needed changes. News Channel 5 has more from the meeting.

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Nashville Mayor Proposes New Site for Sheriff’s Office

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has proposed an East Nashville location for the new headquarters of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. The Tennessean reports that Barry’s office has filed a resolution with the Metro Council that would have the $20 million facility built at the site of the Jerry Newson Center, at 710 S. Fifth St., near the James A. Cayce Homes public housing development. The new headquarters would not hold inmates but would be used for operational, administrative and training functions. 

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Justices Appear Sympathetic to Intellectual Disability Issues

A majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared ready to side with a man sentenced to death for a 1980 Houston murder who is challenging how Texas gauges whether a defendant has intellectual disabilities that would preclude execution, Reuters reports. The court ruled in 2002 that execution of the intellectually disabled violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. At issue in this case is whether Texas is using an obsolete standard to assess whether the defendant is intellectually disabled.

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