News

Court Tackles Vehicular Homicides, Malpractice, Liquor Store Fees

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear four East Tennessee cases, including a Claiborne County vehicular homicide case in which a lower appellate court set the admittedly guilty driver free. Another vehicular homicide case looks at whether a police officer should have sought a warrant before seeking a hospital blood draw from the defendant. The third case looks at whether a legal malpractice claim should have been dismissed for being filed too long after the alleged wrongdoing. And the fourth case explores whether the city of Morristown overcharged liquor stores with fees totaling a half-million dollars. Knoxnews reviews each case.

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County Explores Legal Options to Fix Computer Ordeal

Shelby County Commissioners yesterday talked about possible legal action against Tyler Technologies, the company that supplied a new computer system to the local criminal justice courts, according to the Memphis Daily News. During the meeting, General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton told commissioners he is under court order by judges to print their dockets and any other documents needed each day. He said he will need overtime pay “indefinitely” for employees to handle these additional duties. Commissioners questioned the planning that led up to installation of the new system.

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New Rule Expands Judges’ Authority for Digital Device Warrants

Congress had a full seven months to block a rule change for federal courts that lets judges authorize the hacking of digital devices beyond their districts. But after an attempt in the Senate to vote on the measure failed, opponents waited until the day before the rule change was to take effect to introduce three motions aimed at delaying its implementation. They were not successful, so as of today, the change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, goes into effect. Opponents of the change question its impact on privacy rights while supporters say digital devices make jurisdiction-specific search warrants impractical. Nashville Public Radio looks at the issue.

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Report: Nashville Prosecutor Withheld Evidence in Murder Case

Kathy Morante, director of the Nashville police division that investigates officer conduct, has been reprimanded for misconduct in her prior job as an assistant district attorney general in Nashville. The Tennessean reports that while prosecuting a 16-year-old on a murder charge, Morante failed to provide to the defense a TBI report showing a key witness for the state had been arrested in another matter with the murder weapon in question. The conviction and 19-year prison term of Terry L. Reed Jr. was vacated by a judge last year. Morante says she shared the report but could not provide proof of the action. She joined the police department in 2013 after serving 14 years as a prosecutor. She reportedly was issued a private reprimand by the Board of Professional Responsibility in October.

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TBA Activates Disaster Legal Assistance for Wildfires

In response to the wildfire disasters in Gatlinburg and Sevier County, the TBA is partnering with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) and the Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission to help those affected with their legal needs. Attorneys who want to help can access training resources and other materials on the TBA's Disaster Legal Assistance page. Legal clinics and outreach related to losses from the fires are anticipated and volunteers will be needed. For more information or to volunteer in the area, contact Kathryn Ellis at Legal Aid of East Tennessee. Those who are not in the area but still want to help can volunteer to answer online questions at TN Free Legal Answers or respond to calls on the HELP4TN helpline. The TBA's Young Lawyers Division Disaster Relief Committee has also been activated and will be assisting with volunteer recruitment and coordination efforts. To volunteer, complete the Disaster Legal Assistance Volunteer Form. If you know someone in need of legal assistance, please have them call the legal helpline at 844-HELP4TN, or visit help4tn.org.

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Memphians Share Policing Concerns with DOJ

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) were in Memphis yesterday to meet with residents and discuss their concerns about the Memphis Police Department. Comments at the forum were plentiful and included complaints such as not being able to reach 911 operators, police not identifying themselves before taking action, and a general sense of disconnect between officers and the community. The meeting, one of two that will be held, is the first step in a three-part review by DOJ. The second step will be a published report of recommendations for improvement. The third and final step will entail the DOJ helping the police department make needed changes. News Channel 5 has more from the meeting.

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Nashville Mayor Proposes New Site for Sheriff’s Office

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has proposed an East Nashville location for the new headquarters of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. The Tennessean reports that Barry’s office has filed a resolution with the Metro Council that would have the $20 million facility built at the site of the Jerry Newson Center, at 710 S. Fifth St., near the James A. Cayce Homes public housing development. The new headquarters would not hold inmates but would be used for operational, administrative and training functions. 

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Justices Appear Sympathetic to Intellectual Disability Issues

A majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared ready to side with a man sentenced to death for a 1980 Houston murder who is challenging how Texas gauges whether a defendant has intellectual disabilities that would preclude execution, Reuters reports. The court ruled in 2002 that execution of the intellectually disabled violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. At issue in this case is whether Texas is using an obsolete standard to assess whether the defendant is intellectually disabled.

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Tennessee Waltz Defendants Get Rights Restored

Three former elected officials made infamous for their involvement in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting have had their rights restored, the Tennessean reports. Former state senators John Ford and Roscoe Dixon and former Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr. all served federal prison time, but have received orders from two judges that restored their rights as citizens. Dixon and Hooks participated in a press conference Monday to discuss the challenges of becoming full citizens again and to encourage others to seek restoration of their rights. The men may vote, serve on a jury and obtain professional licenses, but may not hold public office or own a gun. The FBI’s undercover operation “Tennessee Waltz” ensnared 12 legislators, lobbyists and local officials across the state.

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Former Prosecutor Selected as Alumna of the Year

Dr. Jamie Carter was named the 2016 Lee University Department of History, Humanities and Political Science Distinguished Alumna of the Year. Carter serves as the assistant attorney general for the District of Columbia, but was instrumental in establishing a so-called “good-faith exception” in Tennessee, which allows unconstitutionally-obtained evidence to be presented in court if collected “in good faith” by law enforcement. A graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, Carter has also held positions as Knox County assistant district attorney and acting assistant district attorney in Davidson County. The Cleveland Banner has the story.

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Report: More Than 800 Staff Vacancies in State Prisons

There are more than 800 staff vacancies at Tennessee’s public and private prisons, accounting for a significant portion of the workforce that is supposed to keep these facilities safe and running smoothly, the Tennessean reports. The staffing issues persist after many months of complaints about pay, benefits, hours and safety from correctional officers, inmates and their families. The Tennessee Department of Correction says a stronger economy has increased competition for workers. To respond, it says it is looking at new methods to recruit and retain the best staff.

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Man Incarcerated on False Allegations Granted Parole

The Tennessee Board of Parole has voted to release Robert E. Polk, a Nashville man who has been in prison for two years on false allegations, the Tennessean reports. The board said a release plan, which includes information such as where Polk will live, must be finalized before he can be released. Polk was previously released from prison on parole in 2012 in a drug case. The board revoked parole after he was arrested on domestic violence charges in 2014. Soon thereafter, prosecutors learned that Polk’s wife made up the domestic violence allegations and dropped the charges. Polk has been waiting for release ever since.

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Obama Hits 1,000 Mark for Commutations

President Barack Obama surpassed the 1,000 mark for commutations granted during his presidency after shortening sentences for another 79 people yesterday. Obama has been granting commutations at rapid-fire pace in his final months in office. All told, he has commuted more sentences than the past 11 presidents combined, according to the White House. Most of those who have received clemency are nonviolent drug offenders, though many were also convicted of firearms violations related to drug crimes, the Associated Press reports. Though Obama is expected to grant more commutations in his final weeks, officials acknowledge a large number of applications will be pending after the president leaves office. WRCB-TV has the story.

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DOJ Announces ‘Listening Sessions’ in Memphis

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has announced its first two community listening sessions to be held in Memphis. On Nov. 29, a session will be held at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Midtown from 6 to 9 p.m. The second meeting will be Nov. 30 at the Hickory Hill Community Center from 5 to 8 p.m. The meetings are part of a lengthy review of the Memphis Police Department’s community policing and use of deadly force policies, according to Memphis Flyer.

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Chattanooga Hosts Drug Court Conference

The city of Chattanooga will host the Tennessee Association of Drug Court Professionals conference Dec. 7-9 at the Chattanooga Convention Center. A highlight of this year’s conference will be an art exhibit featuring works by recovering addicts and staff members, according to Kevin Batts, president of the association. The keynote address will be given by Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark, a strong supporter of the Drug Court model. The new commissioner of mental health also will speak at the event, Chattanoogan.com reports.

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Neal & Harwell Move Unearths Watergate Files

As the Nashville law firm Neal & Harwell was preparing to move to the new Eakin Building, it discovered files connected to the Watergate scandal. The late James Neal, a co-founder of the firm, had been hired by the U.S. solicitor general to prosecute President Richard Nixon and his top aides. He achieved convictions of the U.S. attorney general and two of Nixon’s closest advisors, and delivered “what some call one of the finest closing arguments in the history of trial law,” WKRN reports in a story on the discovery. The firm moved into its new offices at 1201 Demonbreun St., Suite 1000, Nashville 37203, on Monday. Its phone number remains the same.

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Judge Rejects Cope’s Insider Trading Plea Deal

U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger yesterday rejected a plea deal agreed to by Murfreesboro lawyer and former Pinnacle Financial Partners board member James Cope. Trauger said the fine was too low compared to how much Cope is worth, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Under the deal, Cope was to pay a $55,000 penalty and serve two years of probation. He pleaded guilty in October to buying shares of Avenue Financial Holdings shortly before the Nashville-based bank announced its merger with Pinnacle, making more than $56,000 in the process. “What seems more appropriate to me is $200,000,” Trauger said about the penalty.

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Criminal Law Forum to Focus on Digital Forensics

The TBA Criminal Law Forum will take place Dec. 9 at the Bar Center in Nashville. This year’s forum will focus on digital forensics with sessions on computer forensics data recovery;  processes and procedures used to collect cell phone evidence; recent case law on the issue; and ethical considerations when using digital forensic evidence. Learn more or register online.

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Deposition Date Set for Jimmy Haslam

Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J, will sit down for a videotaped deposition on Dec. 13 in a variety of lawsuits brought by trucking companies that did not settle with Pilot as part of a nationwide settlement, Knoxnews reports. The remaining companies argue that Pilot conspired to shortchange customers on promised diesel fuel rebates. The suits follow a federal criminal investigation that led to charges against 18 Pilot employees, 10 of whom pleaded guilty and eight of whom still face trial. Pilot’s board of directors has admitted legal responsibility for the fraud but Haslam has maintained that he did not know anything about the scheme. Pilot paid $92 million to settle with the U.S. Department of Justice and $85 million to settle the class-action suit.

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Nashville Law Director Disagrees with AG over Pot Law

Metro Nashville Law Director Jon Cooper disagrees with Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s opinion that municipal ordinances, including one in Nashville, allowing police officers to issue civil fines rather than criminal citations for marijuana possession cannot be enforced. Cooper issued a statement Monday saying in part that the city has a “good faith legal argument that the ordinance is not preempted by state law.” The Nashville Post has more from the statement.

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Funk Seeks Sanctions Against Chase

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk is asking a judge to impose sanctions on David Chase and his lawyer, John Boucher of Knoxville, for filing a federal malicious prosecution suit against him. Funk argues the federal case is frivolous and seeks to force the pair to pay the legal costs of defending himself against the charges. The state is currently paying Nashville lawyer Jim Kay with Kay, Griffin, Enkema & Colbert to defend Funk. The Tennessean has more on the case.

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FBI Focuses on Durham’s Campaign Finances

The FBI recently interviewed at least two people about Jeremy Durham's campaign finances, the Tennessean reports. One individual interviewed also said an investigator with the IRS was present during the session. Questions reportedly focused on specific transactions by Durham and his campaign, and whether there was any indication that Durham engaged in money laundering. The interviews come amid ongoing state scrutiny of how the former lawmaker spent his political contributions. State campaign ethics and finance officials have found a $191,000 discrepancy between campaign finance reports and bank accounts. 

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Weirich Responds to BPR Charges

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich responded to the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) on Friday over charges brought in connection with the Noura Jackson murder case. Weirich said she never saw nor knew about a key witness statement in the case because the Memphis Police Department “failed to deliver” it to her, Memphis Flyer reports. The BPR has alleged that Weirich either had actual knowledge of the witness statement and hid it from defense attorneys, or she was negligent in failing to fully familiarize herself with the case.

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DAs Conference Presents Annual Awards

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference recently met to address key criminal justice issues and present several awards, the Newport Plain Talk reports. John Zimmermann, assistant district attorney in the 16th Judicial District received the Patrick H. McCutchen Award. The President’s Award was presented to Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman, Senior Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore and Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman, all with the 20th Judicial District.

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Federal Suit Filed Against Shelby County Jail

A class action lawsuit was filed yesterday against Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham seeking damages of $10 million for those kept in the jail for “unreasonable periods of time,” Memphis Flyer reports. The federal suit was filed by Just City after reports that the jail was plagued by administrative issues for two weeks while a computer system was updated. “Inmates are being lost in the Shelby County Jail system, those who have gotten bonds aren’t being released, inmates are sleeping on the floors” and the entire system is in “disarray,” according to the group’s executive director.

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