News

DA Fires Longtime Prosecutor, Names New Claiborne Lead

Eighth Judicial District Attorney General Lori Phillips-Jones has fired Jared Effler, a 14-year prosecutor in the district who is challenging her in the Aug. 7 DA race, Knoxnews reports. The firing occurred Friday after Effler held a campaign event and received a key endorsement Thursday night. Phillips-Jones said the campaign event and endorsement had nothing to do with her decision but that the move was “in the best interests of the office” since Effler had asked for 60 days of paid leave to campaign. “We have a lot of courts to cover and a lot of work. I didn’t feel I could accommodate that request,” she said. Effler said he would establish a private practice and continue to campaign. Also on Monday, Phillips-Jones named David Ballard with the Campbell County firm of Basista, Balloff and Pollard as Effler's replacement as lead prosecutor in Claiborne County.

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Bebb: Paper Engaged In ‘Disgraceful Witch Hunt’

Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb said Monday that the Chattanooga Times Free Press carried out "a disgraceful witch hunt" against him. In a statement reported by Chattanoogan.com, Bebb also chastised state legislators "who put personal and professional gain” over fulfilling their oaths of offices. The state Board of Professional Responsibility dismissed complaints against Bebb last week, closing a nearly two-year chapter for the retiring DA, who had served 23 years as a criminal court judge before taking over as district attorney general.

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City Opposes Expedited Appeal for Vandy Rape Documents

Metro Nashville attorneys on Friday argued against a media coalition's request for a speedy hearing of its appeal to gain access to records in a high-profile Vanderbilt University rape case. The coalition argues that the newsworthiness of the case, the fact that two defendants are scheduled to go to trial Aug. 11 and the upcoming election of a new district attorney justify an expedited appeal. Metro attorneys countered that the significance of the legal issues at stake, the importance of thoroughly briefing the court, the failure of appellants to pursue the matter for two months, and the need to preserve criminal court authority over criminal matter outweigh those concerns. Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Russell Perkins had ruled last week that some records related to the case should be made available under the Public Records Act, but put a stay on the order, pending an anticipated appeal.

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Appeals Court: Felons Cannot Be Bondsmen

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that felons cannot serve as bondsmen -- despite an opinion to the contrary by the Tennessee attorney general, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. In a ruling issued last week, the appeals court affirmed a judge's decision to strip Phillip Cole Hatmaker of approval to write bonds. Hatmaker had been convicted of felony possession of more than 10 pounds of marijuana, but later had his citizenship rights and voting privileges restored.

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Judges Lend Support to Domestic Violence Victims

Several judges attended the SafePlace Gala and Auction last week in Sevierville to support the cause to end domestice violence. “Domestic violence and abuse is a serious problem and one I have combated head-on as a judge," Judge Dick Vance told the group. "I have always, and will continue, to make stopping this atrocity a top priority of mine.” SafePlace serves victims of domestic violence in Sevier, Jefferson and Cocke counties. With more than 250 people in attendance, a significant amount of money was raised for the organization, the Herald News reported.

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Incumbent Endorses Jones for DA

District Attorney General Bill Whitesell announced he would not seek re-election and has endorsed Assistant District Attorney Jennings Jones to be his replacement. Jones is running in the May 6 Republican Primary for District Attorney General, 16th Judicial District, which includes Rutherford and Cannon counties. The Murfreesboro Post has more.

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Advocates for Showing Murder Victims' Photos in Court Gather at State Capitol

Dozens of murder victims’ loved ones packed Nashville’s Legislative Plaza yesterday, supporting a bill to allow a living picture of a victim to be shown during a murder trial — currently, the jury only sees autopsy photos and gruesome crime scenes. Critics of the bill argue it could jeopardize the entire outcome of the trial, along with current judicial rules that are already in place. Judges often rule that a living photo of the victim is not relevant when presenting the facts of the case. The House Civil Justice Committee decided to move the bill to a summer study session. WRCBTV has more.

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'Gideon's Army' Wins Film Prize, Showing Tonight in Nashville

The film Gideon's Army will receive the 2014 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize April 30 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., it was announced Wednesday. The film follows three public defenders as "they struggle with staggering caseloads, long hours and low pay, trying to balance their commitment to public service with a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point." The awards committee said the film "celebrates the legion of idealistic young public defenders who are fighting for equal justice for the disenfranchised within our broken and biased legal system, while struggling to stay one step ahead of poverty themselves.” Business & Heritage Clarksville has more. There is a showing of the film tonight in Nashville at the Carmike Bellevue 8 Cinema, hosted by the Nashville Public Defender’s Office. Tickets are still available online.

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Grants Available for Parent Education, Victim Offender Reconciliation

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts is accepting applications for two grants funding the Parent Education and Mediation Fund and the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program. The deadline for both grants is April 11.

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Tennessean, Others to Appeal Records Ruling

A media coalition led by The Tennessean filed notice yesterday that it plans to appeal a judge’s decision in a lawsuit against Metro government over access to records in a Vanderbilt University rape case.

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Mississippi Criminal Justice Reforms Move Ahead

Legislative reform that will bring sweeping changes to Mississippi’s criminal justice system survived a last-minute challenge Monday to win approval in both the House and Senate. The bill came out of a seven-month study by a task force studying prison crowding and related matters. The legislation would, among other things, ensure that violent criminals serve at least half of their sentences — nonviolent criminals would have to complete 25 percent of their terms — before becoming eligible for parole.

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Freedom Week: Bradley County Gives People Chance to Pay Up

People with outstanding warrants in Bradley County will see their names published in the Cleveland Daily Banner as part of an annual “Freedom Week” campaign to get them to pay up. Bradley County official Rich Kienlen told the newspaper that “After making this payment, the office, in conjunction with the Bradley County General Session’s Court Clerk’s Office and the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, will recall the Violation of Probation warrants.” See the full list of those with warrants.

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Should Holly Bobo's Accused Killer Have Been Behind Bars?

News that the man charged with the kidnapping and murder of Holly Bobo had a long and extensive arrest record has drawn outrage from some who believe the judicial system failed, the Jackson Sun reports. But others say statistics don’t actually show a correlation between prior offenses and a more heinous crime. Vanderbilt Law School’s Christopher Slobogin told the newspaper that “It’s easy to say, in hindsight, that a person with multiple assaults and drug offenses was likely to do something even more violent. But in fact most people with multiple assault and drug charges do not kidnap or murder."

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20-Year Incumbent Challenged in Hamilton County Primary

Twenty-year incumbent Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell is facing opposition in the May 6 primary from fellow Democrat Brian White of East Ridge. The winner of that race will face State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, who is leaving his District 30 seat to seek the court clerk post. He does not have Republican opposition. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more as part of its series on contested races in the May 6 Hamilton County primary.

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Senate OKs End to Statute of Limitations for Rape Cases

The Tennessee Senate yesterday unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, to end the statute of limitation on rape cases, WREG reports. Rape cases currently must be prosecuted within eight years; aggravated rape within 15 years. If the House approves the bill and the governor signs it into law, it will go into effect July 1. An amendment to the bill requires victims to report rapes within three years.

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Lawyer Suicide Addressed, 'Paine on Procedure' Continues

In her latest Journal column, Tennessee Bar Association President Cindy Wyrick addresses the subject of lawyer suicide and offers tips about what to say to a colleague who you suspect is suicidal, and what you can do if you find yourself feeling that way. And "Paine on Procedure" continues with another column Don Paine wrote before his death, this one about aggravated rape of a dead victim.

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Lawmakers to Consider Allowing Victims’ Photos Shown in Murder Trials

The face of missing nursing student Holly Bobo might not be shown in the courtroom during the potential murder trial of Zachary Adams due to a prior Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that said photographs of murder victims, "have the potential to undermine and place in jeopardy the outcome of the entire judicial proceedings.” The state legislature next week is set to consider a bill that would allow victim’s photos to be shown in murder trials, WMCTV reports.

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States' Search for Execution Drugs Gets Creative

Shortages of drugs used in the "three-drug protocol" used in executions is causing some states to scramble, sometimes in creative and unorthodox ways. Some manufacturers and pharmacies — particularly in Europe, where capital punishment is almost nonexistent — have cut off the supply of drugs used for executions because of opposition to the death penalty. As a result, prison officials in death-penalty states have resorted to sharing drugs, buying them from underregulated pharmacies or using drug combinations never previously used to put people to death, USA Today reports. This story also takes a look at other ways to carry out the death penalty, including bringing back the gas chamber, firing squad and electric chair.

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Supreme Court Reinstates Murder Conviction, Clarifies Law

The Tennessee Supreme Court has reinstated a Memphis man’s conviction for first-degree felony murder while clarifying Tennessee law regarding the requirements to make an arrest and when a confession can be a basis for a conviction. The court also clarified the longstanding Tennessee rule that a person cannot be convicted based entirely on a confession that has not been corroborated by other evidence, unless that confession is given under oath in court, as was the case in State of Tennessee v. Courtney Bishop.

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Boy Pleads Guilty in Shooting Death

The mother of a Nashville boy who was shot and killed earlier this year stood with the grandmother of the 17-year-old who on Monday pled guilty to reckless homicide in the death. Kaemon Robinson shot 15-year-old Kevin Barbee when, witnesses told police, a handgun Robinson was holding accidentally fired. The victim's mother had originally requested Robinson to be tried as an adult, but has since forgiven him. Had he been tried and convicted as an adult, he would have faced up to 51 years in prison, according to Fox 17. As a juvenile, he will likely be out of jail in less than two years.

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Drug Courts See Successes

Cookeville area lawyers, judges and others involved in the 13th Judicial District Drug Court celebrated the graduation of the four members of its first class last week, according to the Herald-Citizen. So far, there have been 31 people recommended by the District Attorney’s office in the district to go into treatment. There are 17 in the treatment facility and 10 in outpatient status. Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Seth Norman oversees the Drug Court. Nearby in Coffee County, drug court executive director Mike Lewis and other drug court officials run “Recovery Academy” -- an outlet for youth who have slipped off the educational tracks and are in danger of not getting a high school diploma. Judge Tim Brock serves as the drug court judge and often refers youth to the Recovery Academy, which began last November. The Tullahoma News has this story.

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Child Abuse Prevention Month Events

CASA agencies across Tennessee will mark Child Abuse Prevention Month with events, fundraisers and educational programs throughout the month of April. To get involved contact the appropriate invidual below. Don't see your area listed? Find a CASA agency near you at the Tennessee CASA website.


CASA OF THE 9TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT

Contact: Karren Herman, jb020707@yahoo.com

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Media Coalition: Vandy Records Should Be Public

In a new court filing, a media coalition led by the Tennessean argues that text messages and other documents it is seeking in a Vanderbilt University rape case are public records that no law or policy can shield from public view. Metro government, the state attorney general’s office and the alleged victim in the case argued against releasing the records in briefs filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, saying their release would harm the victim and compromise the defendants’ ability to receive a fair trial. Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Russell Perkins has said he intends to hold a final hearing Monday and rule in the case the following day.

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Obama Budget Calls for $35 million to Tackle Rape Kit Backlog

President Barack Obama is calling for $35 million in his proposed budget to help address the backlog of untested rape kits, WMCTV reports. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton says Rep. Steve Cohen is already on board campaigning for Memphis to get a portion of the funding. The city has at least 12,000 victims with untested rape kits.

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Bill Would Allow Judges to Issue Search Warrant by Telephone

Tennessee prosecutors are supporting a bill to allow a magistrate or judge to issue a search warrant by telephone or “other reliable electronic means," the Times News reports. Current law calls for a law enforcement officer to appear before a magistrate or judge who will examine documents and issue a search warrant based on probable cause and supported by an affidavit. Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said the bill originated from his office and is backed by state district attorneys general. He said it is in response to a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked law enforcement from drawing blood without a search warrant in drunken-driving investigations. Staubus said this system moves too slowly when quick decisions need to be made, especially in DUI cases.

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