News

Sentencing Reform Bill Stalls in Senate

A sentencing reform bill that once attracted bipartisan support appears to have stalled in the U.S. Senate, the New York Times reports. The bill, which sought to reduce federal mandatory minimum sentences and give nonviolent offenders a second chance, died in “a stunning display of dysfunction,” according to the paper. Senate leaders declared the bill dead after some who initially supported the measure became concerned about appearing soft on crime in an election year.

read more »

Cold Case Task Force Close to Launch

Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump says the formation of his proposed Cold Case Task Force is nearing completion. “We are down toward the very end of compiling all the case files we are aware of,” Crump told the Advocate & Democrat. Crump promised to form such a task force when he ran for office. He told the paper that the process has been longer and harder than he expected. His office has identified 60 to 65 unsolved homicides as well as backlogged rape evidence kits.

read more »

800+ Immigrants Mistakenly Granted Citizenship

The U.S. government has mistakenly granted citizenship to at least 858 immigrants from “special interest countries” – those with national security concerns or with high rates of immigration fraud – according to a Department of Homeland Security audit released Monday. The department’s inspector general found that the immigrants used different names or birth dates to apply for citizenship and were not caught because their fingerprints were missing from government databases. The report also found that fingerprint records are missing for as many as 315,000 immigrants with final deportation orders or who are fugitive criminals. WRCB-TV has the story from the Associated Press.

read more »

Pearls & Pinstripes Gala Planned for Sept. 30

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence will host the fourth annual Pearls & Pinstripes Gala Sept. 30 from 6-10 p.m. at Nissan Stadium’ West Club in Nashville. The event, which is the group’s annual fundraising gala, includes dinner, entertainment and live and silent auctions. Tickets are $125 each and may be purchased online. For a second year, the Tennessee Titans have partnered with the coalition to present the gala and to kick off October’s designation as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Learn more about the event in this release.

read more »

Comments Sought on Federal Public Defender

The term of Doris Randle-Holt, the federal public defender for the Western District of Tennessee, will expire on April 21, 2017. She is eligible for reappointment, and the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is seeking comments from those in a position to evaluate her performance.  A special Evaluation Committee will be appointed to review and assess Randle-Holt’s work and make a recommendation on her reappointment to the court. Written comments should be sent to the committee by Oct. 18. Get additional details in this announcement from the court.

read more »

Knoxnews: Judge Jailing Poor Over Unpaid Fees

Knoxnews reports it has documented more than a half-dozen instances in the past few months in which Scott County General Sessions Judge James Cotton Jr. has sent poor people to jail because they fell behind in paying fees to a private electronic monitoring company. The investigation found that Cotton revoked defendants’ bonds after they showed up for court and then offered them freedom through use of the monitoring company; routinely placed poor and unemployed defendants on electronic monitoring without showing it was needed; and rejected plea agreements if the defendant owed outstanding fees.

read more »

State Rep.: Marijuana Decriminalization Could Cost Cities

If the Nashville and Memphis city councils move ahead with plans to modify marijuana laws, state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, says he may try to withhold state highway funding from those areas. The Tennessean reports that Lamberth, chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee, is considering legislation to deny funds from cities that do not enforce criminal penalties as outlined in state law.

read more »

Memphis Groups to Hold ‘Law School for Journalists’

Several legal groups in Memphis have joined forces to host the 2016 Law School for Journalists Sept. 28 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the University of Memphis School of Law. Topics to be covered include police-involved shootings, community-police relations, access to public records and state and federal court proceedings, and open meeting laws. Breakfast and lunch will be provided for registrants. The free event is sponsored by the Memphis Bar Association, Just City, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, the University of Memphis School of Law and its alumni association and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

read more »

Lawyers Observe Criminal Court with Eye to Reform

Earlier this week, lawyers who do not typically handle criminal defense work sat in Nashville courtrooms and watched how domestic violence and misdemeanor arrests were handled. The 15 lawyers fanned out among five courtrooms to observe whether defendants had lawyers and knew about their rights, and whether judges were asking about people’s financial status and ability to pay fines. The day was sponsored by ArchCity Defenders, a pro bono law firm in St. Louis. The Tennessean reports that the ABA is evaluating the program to see if it should be expanded to other cities.

read more »

Man Charged with Threatening Federal Officials, Courthouse

A Murfreesboro man appeared in federal court Friday afternoon to face charges that he threatened to shoot up a courthouse and kill a U.S. congresswoman and senator from Hawaii, the Tennessean reports. Kaehiokahouna Stewart was arrested at his home. Court documents indicate Stewart went so far as to buy a plane ticket to Hawaii to carry out his plan. The government also alleges that Stewart sent threatening emails and posted threatening videos on Instagram specifically targeting the legislators.

read more »

Court Dismisses Funk Lawsuit Because of Missed Filing

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk and Metro government because the lawyer who filed the case missed a deadline to provide information, the Tennessean reports. The lawyer for Nashville developer David Chase is asking for another chance, saying he made an honest mistake by following the rules of the District Court of Eastern Tennessee instead of Middle Tennessee. The case relates to Chase’s arrest on domestic violence charges. In the suit, he alleges that Funk spread false information about him and pressured him to drop a lawsuit against Nashville police.

read more »

New Justice Center to Include Mental Health Unit

With demolition work being done at the former Davidson County Criminal Justice Center, the county sheriff is sharing plans to include a mental health unit in the new jail. “You wouldn’t be booked, you wouldn’t be charged criminally,” Daron Hall said. Plans call for a 64-bed facility to house those arrested for misdemeanor charges and flagged during a mental health evaluation, News Channel 5 reports. About $10 million from the project’s overall $113 million budget was set aside for the mental health unit. The center is expected to open in 2019.

read more »

Chattanooga Attorney Ordered to Undergo Mental Health Evaluation

After taking the witness stand and claiming “a whole lot of attorneys are out to hurt me,” Chattanooga lawyer Matthew Jack Fitzharris was deemed not competent to stand trial, the Times Free Press reports. Fitzharris was arrested in July for breaking into an elderly couple’s house and threatening to kill them. On the stand, he said an attorney tapped his phone, killed his close personal assistant, and killed the wife of a man he was representing. He also accused several Chattanooga attorneys and judges of conspiring against him. The Georgia court ordered him to complete a 90-day evaluation at a mental health facility. Until that review is finished, he will not be forced to answer any charge.

read more »

Lawyer Calls ADA’s Oversight ‘Inadvertent Mistake’

Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Stephen P. Jones is facing misconduct charges before the Board of Professional Responsibility, with the board alleging that as co-counsel in the prosecution of Noura Jackson he failed to disclose to the defense a third statement from one of the prosecution witnesses. The board is also pursuing a separate proceeding alleging that lead counsel and District Attorney Amy Weirich improperly commented on Jackson’s right to remain silent. The Tennessee Supreme Court threw out Jackson’s murder conviction. After Jones did not agree to a public censure, the board filed a petition for discipline against him. Jones’ lawyer argued this week that Jones is entitled to summary judgment because the record demonstrates only an inadvertent mistake and no ethical misconduct, The Commercial Appeal reports.

read more »

County Can’t Use Federal Grant to Compel Victims’ Testimony

The grant Washington County uses to prosecute domestic violence cases prohibits the district attorney’s office from forcing victims to participate in criminal proceedings, according to News Channel 11. The $216,000, three-year STOP Domestic Violence Against Women grant funds the district’s domestic violence prosecutor through June 2018. Channel 11 reporters had earlier found that more than a dozen victims were held in contempt of court after they failed to appear in court and testify. Domestic violence prevention advocate Lynn Armstrong says she is still in shock from learning about the contempt charges. “It is never OK to arrest victims for not showing up to court, because we don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors,” she said.

read more »

Cleveland Law Office Attacked

The Cleveland law office of Chancey, Kanavos, Love & Painter was the target of an attack earlier this week, WDEF.com reports. No one was inside the building when shots were fired through the windows. Investigators say the shooting likely happened between 8:30 and 10 p.m. Tuesday, but no one knew about it until an employee arrived to work Wednesday. Attorney Scott Kanavos called on the shooter to cooperate with law enforcement or to reach out to the law firm. “Come to us and cooperate and admit to what you did. We will do everything in our power to assist and intervene with law enforcement to make sure that we can reach a fair, just settlement of this case,” he said.

read more »

Conservative Forum Focuses on Criminal Justice Reform

Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for a conversation over criminal justice reform, the Tennessean reports. Attendees discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population. “It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of the conservative think tank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.” The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute.

read more »

DA Dunavant Wins Traffic Safety Award

The director of the Tennessee Highway Safety Office presented his annual Director’s Award to 25th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Dunavant at the 29th Annual Tennessee Lifesavers Conference in Murfreesboro. Dunavant was honored for his support of laws aimed at increasing highway traffic safety and prosecutions for those who violate the laws. Local Memphis has the news.

read more »

Election Officials to Probe ‘Stand for Children’

Tennessee election officials have launched an investigation into allegations against Stand For Children and several Nashville school board candidates the group supported this year. The Registry of Election Finance determined today there were enough questions to investigate a complaint filed by Tennessee Citizen Action and a Nashville public school parent alleging that Stand For Children’s political action committee illegally coordinated with several pro-charter school candidates during the election. The Tennessean has more on the story.

read more »

Lawmakers Fix DUI Law, Close Special Session

Tennessee lawmakers today approved changes to a DUI law that will preserve the state’s access to $60 million in federal funding, the Tennessean reports. The Senate approved the measure on a vote of 31-1 this morning. During the debate, several senators entertained the idea of sending the federal government a bill to pay for the $25,000-a-day special session. The House later approved the bill on an 85-2 vote. Both chambers concluded their work around 10:30 a.m.

read more »

Court to Hear 7 New Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review of seven new cases dealing with a range of issues, including length of jury deliberations, identity of criminal offenses, repairmen’s liens, GTLA liability, ecclesiastical abstention and vicarious liability. The Raybin Supreme Court Hotlist reviews the cases and offers a prediction as to how each case may be decided.

read more »

Civil Suit Filed Over Ooltewah Rape Case

Alleging a long and violent history of hazing and sexual abuse of male student athletes, attorneys for a freshman attacked in December 2015 have filed a federal lawsuit against the Hamilton County Board of Education and former Ooltewah High School employees. The suit accuses administrators and staff of knowing abuse was taking place and failing to protect students, the Times Free Press reports. The plaintiff in the case, listed as John Doe, was raped during the basketball team’s trip to Gatlinburg. Three of the victim’s former teammates were convicted Aug. 30 in connection with the rape. All three are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

read more »

State Appeals Sentence in Batey Rape Case

Prosecutors have asked for a new sentencing hearing for former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey, who is serving a 15-year prison term for the rape of an unconscious woman more than three years ago. Prosecutors argue they were not given notice of 11 emails and letters sent directly to Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins in support of Batey, and were not allowed to contest the appropriateness of the letters. They also are asking for a new judge to hear their appeal, the Tennessean reports.

read more »

Sponsor of DUI Law Sorry for Special Session

The sponsor of the drunken driving law that forced state lawmakers to return to the Capitol this week for a special session says he is sorry. Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, tells Nashville Public Radio that his goal all along was to make it tougher on underage drivers convicted of DUIs. Though he still thinks 18 to 21 year olds should face up to 48 hours in jail if arrested for drunken driving, he is going along with the move to repeal the law given the time constraints. Federal authorities have given the state until the end of the month to fix DUI laws or lose $60 million in highway funds.

read more »

Nashville Funds Legal Aid’s Work Against Domestic Violence

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands will receive $186,500 from the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County for the current fiscal year. The grant will fund services to survivors of domestic violence, including legal representation, attendance at order of protection hearings, and community education. Last year, the group used similar funding to provide legal assistance to 279 domestic violence victims, attend 136 court dockets where order of protection petitions and related motions were heard, and publish more than 1,150 educational materials and self-help guides for domestic violence victims. The group announced the partnership in a recent newsletter to supporters.

read more »