News

DA: Probe Needed for Kingston Coal Ash Workers

A Roane County prosecutor is taking steps to launch a criminal probe of the treatment of workers in the nation’s largest coal ash spill, USA Today confirmed today in the Knoxville News Sentinel. Ninth Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson, whose district includes Roane County, is pushing for a state investigation following the paper's publication of its probe into the treatment of workers in the cleanup of the December 2008 coal ash spill at the TVA Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant.

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TBA Young Lawyers Division Seeking Attorney Volunteers for Expungement Clinics

The TBA Young Lawyers Division is seeking attorney volunteers to assist with the following upcoming expungement clinics. If you are interested in volunteering or to find out more information about future opportunities, please contact TBA YLD Public Service Chair, Amber Floyd at afloyd@wyattfirm.com.
 

July 29, 2017 

Bloomfield Full Gospel Baptist Church, 123 South Pkwy W., Memphis, Tenn.

Registration starts at 9 a.m.
 

August 12, 2017

Henry County Courthouse, 101 E Washington St #100, Paris, Tenn.

9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
 

The online registration form is here.

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‘Architect’ of Pilot Flying J Scam, 3 Others Plead Guilty

The man called the “architect” of the Pilot Flying J diesel fuel rebate scam and three other ex-employees of the company have struck a deal with authorities to plead guilty and cooperate in the ongoing investigation, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Ringleader John “Stick” Freeman, John Spiewak, Vicki Borden and Katy Bibee signed plea agreements today admitting to their involvement in the multi-million dollar scam in which smaller trucking companies were promised certain rebates but were paid much less.
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Memphis Prosecutors to Seek Maximum Sentences for Gun Violence

Memphis law enforcement and prosecutors announced a new campaign today to seek maximum sentences for gun violence, The Commercial Appeal reports. The “Fed Up” campaign will use advertising, aggressive investigations and tougher sentencing to attack gun crime in the city, where violent crime is up 9.9 percent in the first six months of 2017. County District Attorney Amy Weirich and U.S. District Attorney Lawrence Laurenzi said federal and county prosecutors will seek maximum sentences of 8-12 years under state law and 15 years under federal law for gun crimes.
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Attorney Wants Sentencing Diversion for Driver in Woodmore Bus Crash

The attorney for Johnthony Walker, the Chattanooga school bus driver behind the wheel of the deadly Woodmore crash, is seeking a diversion for sentencing, WRCB-TV reports. Walker faces six charges of vehicular homicide, and Hamilton County District Attorney plans to present additional charges. Judge Don Poole is expected to rule on the request as early as next month.
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Inmates Allowed Reduced Jail Time for Agreeing to Sterilization

Inmates in White County are being given credit for their jail time for agreeing to have a vasectomy or birth control implant, NewsChannel 5 reports. General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield signed the order allowing the new measures in May, and since then, 32 woman have received a free Nexplanon implant and 38 men are awaiting to have a free vasectomy procedure from the Tennessee Department of Health. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, says the practice is unconstitutional.
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DOJ to Allow Seizure of Property from People Suspected, Not Charged with Crimes

The U.S. Justice Department announced yesterday new policies that will allow state and local police to seize cash and property from people suspected of a crime who have not been charged, The Washington Post reports. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said the department will include safeguards to prevent local police departments from abusing this ability, such as requiring police to provide probable cause for seizures. 
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Court Overturns Murder Conviction Over Suppressed Testimony

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the second-degree murder conviction of Brandon Scott Donaldson and ordered a new trial, over testimony that was barred from the original trial, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Donaldson was convicted of the 2013 fatal shooting of his pregnant girlfriend Marcia Crider and her unborn child, as well as the attempted murder of Crider’s mother. However, testimony that the victim had told Donaldson news about transmitting a venereal disease to him just two hours prior to the crime could have swayed the jury to find Donaldson guilty of a lesser crime, such as voluntary manslaughter.
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Lawyer Says Memphis ‘Not Cooperating’ in Rape Kit Lawsuit

An attorney for plaintiffs suing the city of Memphis for its handling of rape kits claims that the city is not cooperating with turning over evidence in the case, The Commercial Appeal reports. Forty plaintiffs are involved in the suit, which alleges that authorities mishandled and failed to prioritize the testing of the kits. In 2013, the police department admitted that more than 12,000 kits needed to be tested, a number that has been reduced to 506 as of a report from last month.
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July Columns: Bitcoin, Temporary Insanity and the President's Tweets

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that appears to be favored by cybercriminals, Knoxville lawyer Wade Davies writes in his July Tennessee Bar Journal column. There are fascinating cases involving the use of Bitcoin, but because the cases were solved, Davies points out that "Bitcoin isn’t foolproof for the criminal." Chattanooga lawyer Russell Fowler writes about the first case of temporary insanity. He writes that the insanity defense is especially unpopular when it is based on so-called “temporary insanity.” But in the first case when this plea was used, "people rejoiced in the streets when the defendant was acquitted." Nashville lawyer Jim Thomas reviews Broken Scales: Reflections on Injustice, a book by Joel Cohen. Memphis and self-professed non-Tweeting lawyer Bill Haltom asks in his column, "should lawyers vet the president’s Tweets?"

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Study Ranks Shelby County DA as ‘Most Overzealous Prosecutor’

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich was named the “Most Overzealous Prosecutor” by Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and its Criminal Justice Institute, Action News 5 reports. The initiative, called the Fair Punishment Project, surveyed every available state appellate court opinion in California, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee between 2010 and 2015, finding that Weirich was the "most egregious of the four most overzealous prosecutors" on the list. "This is a grossly inaccurate and incomplete account of these cases as seen through the eyes of a defense advocacy group," Weirich said in response. “I will never apologize for trying to seek justice for victims of crime."
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Racial Disparities in Shelby County Juvenile Court Highlighted

Officials have weighed in on the problem of racial disparities in the Shelby County Juvenile Court system, which is currently under consideration for the removal of federal monitors who have been reviewing the court since 2012, WREG reports. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Judge Dan Michael and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell want the court removed from federal oversight. Although Strickland notes that the number of children who are brought to Juvenile Court has been reduced over the past few years, this month the federal monitors "found race still matters in detention and black youth are more likely to be pushed to adult court." Michael said that transports have gone down 78 percent and the number of children in detention has been reduced from 6,200 in 2010 to 890 last year. 
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Nashville Public Defender’s Office Creates ‘Client Advisory Board’

The Metro Nashville Public Defender’s Office has made plans for a Client Advisory Board, an initiative to create open communication with the community and provide the office with feedback, the Nashville Scene reports. “Our goals for the Board include providing consistent feedback about office services; serving as a sounding board for office initiatives; and helping design, execute and evaluate office programs, all from a client perspective,” said Public Defender Dawn Deaner. The first meeting of the board is expected to be in August.
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Item of Interest

Below is an article that was published in the the Disability Section Connect. We thought it had information that would be of interest to those of you in this section as well.  

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Hargrove Elected President of Public Defenders Conference

Seventeenth District Public Defender Donna Orr Hargrove has been elected president of the Public Defenders' Conference for 2017-2018, the Elk Valley Times reports. As president, she will be the principal executive officer responsible for supervising and controlling the business and affairs of the group, as well as assisting in advising the General Assembly on legislation to improve the criminal justice system. Hargrove is a graduate of the Nashville School of Law and currently serves a district that includes Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall and Moore counties.
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Notices of Appeal Must Be Filed with Clerk of the Appellate Courts

Beginning July 1, all Notices of Appeal filed with the Court of Appeals, Court of Criminal Appeals or Supreme Court must be filed in the office of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts rather than in the office of the Trial Court Clerk. The Rules of Appellate Procedure related to the filing of a Notice of Appeal directed to the Appellate Courts will change July 1. After that date, trial court clerks will no longer accept a Notice of Appeal for filing in their office. The Notice of Appeal must be filed in the office of the Appellate Court Clerk in the grand division of the trial court from which the appeal arises.

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Court Gives Memphis Man 2nd Chance in Drug, Deportation Case

A Memphis restaurant owner in jail and facing deportation after pleading guilty to a drug charge 7½ years ago will get another chance in court after the U.S. Supreme Court today vacated his conviction on grounds that he had been given bad legal advice, the Commercial Appeal reports. “He was really thankful that someone finally understood the harm that his lawyer’s advice caused him,” said Nashville attorney Patrick McNally, who is part of the legal team that handled the appeal.

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Senate Health Care Bill Offers $2 Billion to Fight Opioid Crisis

The U.S. Senate health care bill, revealed today, includes $2 billion to help address the opioid crisis, USA Today reports. The amount would fall short of the $45 billion some Republican senators had sought over 10 years. The funds would go to provide grants to states to support treatment and recovery services for 2018, but does not reference continuing funds beyond.
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Memphis, Jackson Get Federal Help to Fight Violent Crime

Memphis and Jackson are among 12 cities that will get federal help in fighting violent crime under a just announced effort from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Commercial Appeal reports. The selected cities are ones that need "significant assistance" in combating "gun crime, drug trafficking and gang violence," the Justice Department says. The 228 slayings last year in Memphis represented a 43 percent increase from the year before.

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Nashville’s Judge Blackburn Profiled for Mental Health Court Work

The Tennessean profiled Judge Melissa Blackburn this week for her work in the mental health court. Blackburn was inspired to take up the work after the death of her daughter, who died from a heart attack shortly after beginning to take anti-depressants. “It’s important because it’s part of who I am, and it’s in my fabric,” Blackburn said. “It’s affected how I make decisions, my thought process. It’s how as a judge I come to who I am.”
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Trial Underway for 3rd Vandy Football Player Accused of Rape

The trial of Brandon E. Banks, a former Vanderbilt University football player accused of raping a woman alongside teammates, began today in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. Banks pleaded not guilty, and his defense will argue that he was forced to act by others in the room on the night of the crime. He is the third of four accused to go to trial. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are currently serving sentences following their convictions. A fourth former player is expected to testify against Banks in hopes of a plea deal in his own case.
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Trial for Truck Driver Charged with Killing Six Postponed

The trial for Ben Brewer, a truck driver accused of killing six on Interstate 75 in 2015, has been postponed after the public defenders asked for more time, the Times Free Press reports. The trial was expected to be in court Monday with an out-of-town jury in Chattanooga. A motion was filed June 8 by the defense asking prosecutors to produce any expert witness who would testify about drugs found in Brewer’s system.
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ABA Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Require Funds for Post-Conviction Investigation in Capital Cases

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief today, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals setting a “substantial need” rule for funding for investigation of claims in post-conviction capital cases. In a Texas death penalty case, the Fifth Circuit set a rule that effectively requires counsel for a capital defendant to establish a viable claim before the circuit will authorize funding for an investigation in the post-conviction phase. The ABA brief argues that indigent capital defendants are entitled to qualified legal counsel in order to “conduct an independent and adequate investigation of the facts.”
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Trial Starts Monday for 3rd Former Vandy Football Player

Former Vanderbilt Univeristy football player Brandon E. Banks' trial on aggravated rape and other charges begins Monday, nearly four years to the day after the rape that rocked that school, The Tennessean reports. Since the rape and while his charges were pending, Banks, who has pleaded not guilty, moved from Nashville and has been playing football at Lane College in Jackson. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, who have already been tried and convicted in the same incident, are serving 17- and 15-year sentences, respectively. Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, who also was charged in the case, has pleaded not guilty and has testified against his former teammates in each trial. He's expected to return and testify against Banks.

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Website Shows America's Brutal Lynching History

Two years ago, a groundbreaking study on lynching documented the brutal mob violence that forced many African Americans to flee the south. With help from Google, now the Equal Justice Initiative that published the study has transformed Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror into an interactive digital platform that combines historical data and personal stories so people can explore one of the darkest passages in the nation's history. Knoxnews.com has the USAToday story.

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