News

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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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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