News

Nashville Lawyer Honored for Indigent Defense

Nashville attorney Patrick Frogge, who frequently represents indigent federal defendants, has been selected as Panel Lawyer of the Year by Federal Public Defender Henry Martin and former recipients of the award. He will be honored at the 22nd annual Criminal Justice Act Panel Appreciation Banquet Oct. 9 in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. Speaking about Frogge, Martin said he “represents the underdogs” and “continues to show that he’s a lawyer for the people” having worked on thousands of cases. Frogge earned his law degree from Fordham University School of Law in 1999. He worked as Nashville’s assistant public defender before entering private practice in 2005.

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Death Sentence Commuted for Sick Inmate

John Patrick Henretta, a death row inmate awaiting execution for the 1988 murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery of a Cleveland woman, had his sentence commuted after Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood determined his natural death is imminent. Blackwood also ruled that Henretta likely would not survive post-conviction proceedings given his “dire physical state,” the Times Free Press reports. Lawyers argued that execution would be cruel and unusual punishment given Henretta’s condition. According to a doctor who testified, Henretta suffers from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, skin cancer, prostate cancer, chronic hepatitis C, severe cirrhosis of the liver and a backup of blood into the intestinal wall and spleen.

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Memphis Woman Charged with Threatening Prosecutor

Betty Frazier, the sister of a nurse charged in the death of a 3-year-old, has been arrested for threatening the prosecutor in the case. According to The Commercial Appeal, Frazier allegedly said, “I could see myself putting a bullet in her head,” about Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Nichols, after a hearing in the case. Frazier’s sister Demequa Bonds is charged with reckless homicide after a child with a rare neurological disorder was left in her care and died in her home.

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Rep. Hawk Convicted of Reckless Endangerment

Rep. David Hawk was convicted of reckless endangerment by an East Tennessee jury yesterday, the Johnson City Press reports. The case stems from an incident in which his ex-wife alleged he had struck her. Judge Paul Summers earlier dismissed a felony charge of aggravated assault against Hawk, saying that prosecutors hadn't proved that his ex-wife suffered serious bodily injuries.

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Kingston Attorney Joins D.A.’s Office

Kingston attorney Terry L. Stevens II has joined the staff of District Attorney General Russell Johnson as an assistant district attorney in the 9th Judicial District, covering Roane, Loudon, Morgan and a portion of Meigs counties. Johnson called Stevens a “good fit” for the position. “The judges, lawyers and clerks are all familiar with him," Johnson said. "And when I started looking for a person for this position, his name was first on almost everyone’s list of recommendations.” The Roane County News has the story.

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Court Increases Attorney Compensation

The Tennessee Supreme Court today announced increases to the maximum attorney compensation for some non-capital felony cases. Where the defendant is charged with first degree murder or a Class A or B felony, the Court raised the maximum from $1,500 to $2,500. They also raised the maximum in complex or extended cases for the same offenses to $5,000. The increased limits apply to cases where counsel is appointed after Jan. 1, 2014. These changes were among those advocated by petitions filed two years ago by the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers with TBA support.

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Rutherford D.A. Won’t Seek Re-election

Rutherford County District Attorney General Bill Whitesell announced Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2014, the Daily News Journal reports. “I want to retire with good health, which I have right now, and after 34 years, somebody else probably has a fresh idea.” So far, two assistant district attorney generals -- Trevor Lynch and Jennings Jones -- have announced their intention to run as Republicans.

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Memphis Veterans’ Court Sees First Graduates

Half a dozen military veterans “completed a most difficult tour of duty recently as the first graduates of the Shelby County Veterans Court,” WDEF News 12 reports. The program allows veterans to have their criminal cases set aside while they participate in an intensive regiment that includes counseling, group meetings, alcohol and drug screens, anger management sessions and other support programs. At the conclusion of the process, successful graduates receive expungement orders erasing their offenses from the public record. The court holds session every Wednesday. Another 42 veterans are participating in the program.

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2014 Rules Package Published for Comment

The Tennessee Supreme Court today published the annual package of recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Proposals include new authority for appellate courts to suspend rules; requirements for electronic copies of transcripts; specification of the color of applications; responses and amici in TRAP 9 and 11 matters; and refinement of criminal contempt provisions. Four TBA sections -- Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law and Criminal Justice -- will be asked to review the recommendations and propose comments on behalf of the association. Comments on the proposals are due Nov. 27. 

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Prosecutor Defends Himself at Ethics Hearing

Paul Rush, assistant district attorney in the 10th Judicial District, defended himself yesterday against three ethics allegations brought by the Board of Professional Responsibility. The board contends that during a 2010 murder trial that resulted in a mistrial, Rush hid information that would have been helpful to the defense and questioned a witness about an issue he was ordered not to pursue. The board also alleges that he disobeyed the trial judge’s order to turn himself in for possible discipline after the case. Rush’s lawyer addressed each charge and summed up his client’s defense saying he made "good-faith" decisions and, if he made mistakes, they were not willful violations of ethics rules. The Times Free Press reports the hearing panel expects to issue a ruling in 10 days.

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Memphis Finds Funding to Test Rape Kits

Memphis officials have added $500,000 to the city's budget to pay for testing of backlogged rape kits and have committed $1 million to construct a new climate-controlled facility to store and catalog the evidence, the Jackson Sun reports. The issue surfaced last month when the police department reported there were some 8,000 kits dating back to the 1980s that had not been tested, and more than 6,000 pieces of evidence that need to be moved into rape kits. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said her department has enough staff to handle the testing. “If all 109 prosecutors in my office have to take all the new files and split them up, that’s what we’ll do,” she said. “This is about getting violent criminals off the street.” The Commercial Appeal has her remarks.

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Decision Overturned Due to Juror-Witness Communication

The Tennessee Supreme Court today overturned trial and appellate court rulings in a murder case, finding that the lower court failed to follow appropriate procedures after a juror contacted a witness during the trial. Though the witness informed the judge of the contact, the judge allowed the proceedings to continue and sentenced the defendant after the jury found him guilty. The judge also denied requests by the defendant to question the juror and order a new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld those decisions. In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed, ruling that when communication between a juror and a third party is brought to a trial court’s attention, the court must immediately inform the parties and conduct a hearing to determine the nature and extent of the communication and whether it affected the trial's outcome. Under the ruling, the trial court must now conduct such a hearing.

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Judge Defends Court's Collection of Fines

Circuit Court Judge Clayburn Peeples countered claims that his court is not assessing and collecting fines designated to fund the 28th Judicial District Drug Task Force, telling the Jackson Sun that “Everybody who can be fined is fined. The law requires in some cases that fines be waived. I don’t write the law, I simply apply it. I am totally flabbergasted by [these] accusations.” The retired head of the task force has said that the interagency group may not exist next year because it is not receiving enough fee revenue from the court.

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Shelby Judicial Officials Reflect on Sentencing Changes

In a video interview with the Memphis Daily News, Shelby County’s Public Defender Stephen Bush and County Corrections Division Director James Coleman say county courts and prisons are improving, but more intervention should take place before citizens come into contact with the justice system. “The prison system is probably the worst place to engage people … struggling with other life issues,” Bush said. The program is the second in a series of interviews reflecting on changes in federal prosecution guidelines announced last month by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The first installment featured District Attorney General Amy Weirich and U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton. Watch that interview here.

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Retired Agent: Uncollected Fines Hurting Drug Task Force

The West Tennessee Drug Task Force may be forced to close next year because fines designated to fund the task force are not being assessed or collected, the task force's former head says. Donny Blackwell, who retired as special agent in charge of the task force on Aug. 31, told the Jackson Sun that 28th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Clayburn Peebles has declared drug offenders indigent and waived the fines that would fund the task force. Blackwell said other fees that cover court costs are rarely waived. “I have not seen many drug dealers over the years that had a legitimate job,” Blackwell said. “On paper they are indigent because they do not have a legitimate job. But I have seen these same indigent drug offenders make multiple bonds for thousands of dollars to get out of jail and then hire and pay a private attorney thousands of dollars to represent them.”

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Criminal Court Judge Joins Nashville School of Law Faculty

Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn has joined the faculty at the Nashville School of Law and will teach his first group of fourth-year students in February. Fishburn, a 1979 graduate of the school, has been a criminal court judge since 2003. Before that, he served as a general sessions judge for three years and worked in private practice for 18 years. The Nashville Post has the story.

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DOJ Tackles Quality of Defense for Poor

In an unprecedented court filing, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) intervened in a case about the quality of indigent defense in Burlington and Mount Vernon, Washington. According to National Public Radio, plaintiffs in the suit against the two cities claim only two part-time lawyers were handling 2,000 misdemeanor cases. Should a judge find the city governments guilty of systematically depriving people of their Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel, the DOJ urged that an independent monitor be appointed to oversee public defender workloads.

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Article: More Human Trafficking in State than Gang Activity

In this alarming story about modern-day slavery, Memphis lawyer Ryan Dalton looks at the extent of human trafficking in our own state. A recent study says that 78 out of Tennessee's 95 counties reported at least one case of sex trafficking in the previous 24 months, and it is suspected that nearly all counties had trafficking activity, but law enforcement and social services are not adequately trained to identify and report it. Shelby, Davidson, Coffee and Knox counties are some of the worst offenders, Dalton writes, reporting more than 100 cases of minor sex trafficking and more than 100 cases of adult sex trafficking during the two-year study window. By comparison, the report indicates there is more human trafficking activity in Tennessee than gang activity. Read how lawyers have joined the fight in the new Tennessee Bar Journal.

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TBA Urges Full Funding for Federal Judiciary

The TBA today urged the Tennessee congressional delegation to back full funding for the federal judiciary when appropriations measures are taken up this fall. In letters authored by TBA President Cindy Wyrick and sent to each individual member of the delegation, the association points out that the effect of continued funding cuts at the “sequester” level will include slower processing of civil and bankruptcy cases, and diminished attention to constitutionally mandated representation of the criminally accused.

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Court Strikes Down Body Cavity Search

A federal appeals court has struck down an invasive body cavity search that was central to the conviction of a drug suspect in Anderson County, News Channel 5 reports. With two sheriff's deputies looking on, a doctor at Oak Ridge Methodist Medical Center probed Felix Booker's rectum to find a bag containing crack cocaine. Judges for the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Monday called the medically induced paralysis under which Felix Booker was searched a "shock to the conscience."

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Federal Judge Blasts DOJ Over Drug Sentence Disparity

In an Aug. 16 opinion, U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett criticized the U.S. Department of Justice for creating massive drug sentencing disparities by not having a policy advising prosecutors on when to double the prison time for repeat offenders. The Iowa judge blasted the "deeply disturbing, yet often replayed, shocking, dirty little secret of federal sentencing: the stunningly arbitrary application" of sentencing enhancements for repeat offenders. News Channel 5 has the story.

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Assets of HRC Owners' Wives Frozen

Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon has agreed with prosecutors that the wives of the men running HRC Medical, the former hormone replacement company based in Nashville, were in on the efforts to divert more than a million dollars from the company. Bonnie Hale and Dixie Hale, married to Dan and Don Hale, are now also embroiled in the state of Tennessee's lawsuit against HRC. A judge has ordered that both women's assets be frozen.  Last fall, the attorney general sued HRC alleging the company had put thousands of patients' lives in danger by failing to warn them about the risks and side effects of their so-called bio-identical hormone therapy. Learn more from the Attorney General's office.

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Biggers Named to 'Smart on Crime' Team

Federal prosecutor C. David Biggers Jr. has been appointed local coordinator of prevention and re-entry as part of the government’s recently announced “Smart on Crime” initiative. Under the new program, Biggers will oversee efforts on crime prevention and on felons’ successful re-entry into society after being released from prison. The “Smart on Crime” plan to modernize the federal criminal justice system was announced recently by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a speech to the American Bar Association. The Commercial Appeal reported the news.

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Attorney for Vandy Football Player Says DA Has Been Fair

"The DA's office has been fair and truthful in its dealings with us throughout its dealings in this case," Roger May told the media Wednesday. Boyd is representing Vanderbilt student Chris Boyd, who is charged as an accessory after the fact and accused of taking part in an attempted cover-up of the sexual assault by helping one of the defendants indicted on the rape charges. May said he was "setting the record straight" after Boyd's father earlier this week made claims that the Metro District Attorney’s Office had done "irreparable damage to his son's character and integrity, and that the indictment was unnecessary." The Tennessean has the story and video.

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Knox Application for ICE Program Denied

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office application to participate in a controversial immigration enforcement program has been rejected by federal officials, Knoxnews reports. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which runs the program, attributes its decision to budgetary constraints. “Due to resource concerns, including the impacts of sequestration, ICE is limiting 287(g) participation to those law enforcement agencies with existing [programs].” The 287(g) program authorizes and trains local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

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