News

Trial Set for Parents Suing State Over Child's Last Name

Two Brentwood parents who want the right to choose the last name of their newborn son will go to federal court June 9 in their lawsuit against the state of Tennessee. The parents, Carl Abramson and Kim Sarubbi, were denied a request from the Tennessee Department of Health to use a surname that combined both their last names, "Sabr," after they moved to the state in 2014. The lawsuit involves the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which claims the state violated the couple's First Amendment rights. Brentwood Homepage has the story.

read more »

Facebook Adds Amber Alerts to Users’ Timelines

In partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Facebook yesterday launched an automatic Amber Alert system, News Channel 5 reports. The new program will geographically pinpoint the alerts to Facebook users in the search area. If a missing child is reported within the user’s location, Facebook will post detailed information and photographs on the user’s timeline. A “Learn More” button will link to the official missing child poster.

read more »

South Dakota Judge Rules Against Marriage Ban

A federal judge in South Dakota ruled yesterday that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, but the decision does not mean gay couples can immediately wed. U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier stated in her decision that plaintiffs “have a fundamental right to marry,” but she put her ruling on hold pending a potential appeal from the state. The state has said it would appeal the case to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2006 affirmed Nebraska’s right to ban same-sex marriages. Read more from the Associated Press.

read more »

No Decision Yet on Same-Sex Marriage Case from Tennessee

The U.S. Supreme Court -- in the midst of deciding whether to take up the issue of same-sex marriage -- declined today to take an early look at a challenge to Louisiana’s state ban, Reuters News Service reports. The court also took no action on pending cases concerning same-sex marriage bans in Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky. It could decide whether to hear those cases at its next conference, scheduled for Friday.

read more »

High Court May Address Same-Sex Marriages Monday

In its first official business of the new year, the U.S. Supreme Court met today but, according to SCOTUSblog, did not not grant review in any new cases. This includes the issue of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry no matter which state they live in or whether states can individually decide if marriage should only be allowed between a man and a woman. The court’s next chance to issue an order on those cases will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, with the release of a lengthy list of actions on new cases. If no action on the five marriage cases comes then, the cases are likely to be rescheduled for the conference next Friday, the blog reports.

In related news, a federal judge in Georgia has declined to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage, NewsChannel 9 reports. And in New Orleans today, two of three federal judges who will decide whether to overturn laws against same-sex marriage in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana appeared critical of Texas's ban at a hearing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, questioning the state's argument that marriage primarily is an institution meant to encourage procreation, the Houston Chronicle reports.

read more »

350 Issues Later, 'Journal' Looks Back Over 50 Years

The Tennessee Bar Journal celebrates the Big Five-Oh this year, publishing its 350th issue this month. Each issue of 2015 will feature a stroll down memory lane -- in January, in conjunction with the magazine's Access to Justice emphasis, it looks at how the bar's view of pro bono has changed over the years. Also, columnist Marlene Eskind Moses looks at criminal contempt in family law asking "Can criminal contempt create compliance?"

read more »

Justices Could Decide Friday Whether to Take Up Same-Sex Marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court justices will meet in private on Friday and could decide whether to take up cases involving state bans on marriage for same-sex couples, GavelGrab reports. The session comes in the wake of the first marriages occurring for same-sex couples in Florida. In addition, a federal appeals court will consider on Friday existing bans in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. 

read more »

Florida Becomes 36th State to Allow Same Sex Marriage

Florida today became the 36th state to allow same-sex marriages, as two state court judges in Dade and Monroe counties ordered clerks to start issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Licenses are expected to be issued across the state tomorrow morning, under an order by a federal trial judge. In the wave of court rulings following the Supreme Court’s July 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, this is the first time that same-sex marriages will be allowed for an entire state even though there is as yet no ruling that is binding statewide — by any federal or state court. SCOTUSBlog has more.

read more »

TBA Divorce Filings Initiative Gets Media Coverage

The TBA's legislative initiative to revise the timeline for when divorce filings become public is explored in today's Tennessean. The newspaper interviewed TBA President Jonathan Steen and Executive Director Allan Ramsaur, quoting Ramsaur as saying that sometimes court filings become public before a responding spouse has been notified and served with a protective order. That can raise safety issues for the filing spouse who may not have time to put plans in place to protect against retribution. “We think a targeted solution to this problem is that information about the filing of divorce should be delayed until the respondent is served,” Steen told the paper.

read more »

Same-Sex Marriage Cases Added to Jan. 9 Conference

The U.S. Supreme Court’s electronic docket confirms that four same-sex marriage cases from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals – including one from Tennessee – have been distributed to the justices for consideration at their Jan. 9 conference, SCOTUSblog reports. While the court will not necessarily decide whether to hear the cases at that time, it is widely expected it ultimately will grant review of one or more of them, the blog indicates. Another case from Louisiana, which seeks to bypass consideration by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, also is ready for the justices’ consideration.

read more »

Florida Same-Sex Marriages May Be Delayed

Same-sex marriages were set to start in Florida on Jan. 6, 2015, however, that is now uncertain after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas agreed to hear arguments over a federal judge’s decision to overturn the state’s ban. The Associated Press reports in The Columbia Daily Herald that Thomas can either act alone to continue the hold that is set to expire on Jan. 5, 2015, allow it to be lifted or bring the matter to his colleagues on the full court.

read more »

Supreme Court Blocks Limit to Abortion Drug’s Use

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of an Arizona law aimed at limiting use of the increasingly popular abortion pill, National Public Radio reports. The pill was approved by the FDA in 2000 for the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Since then, scientists have developed safer and smaller doses that allow the drug to be used through the ninth week. Arizona's law would force doctors to use the pill only for the original, FDA-approved seven weeks. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked enforcement of the state statute, pending further litigation. The lower court said the law imposed "an undue burden" on a woman's right to have an abortion. The Supreme Court on Monday refused to intervene, meaning that at least for now, the Arizona law will not be enforced, and the "undue burden" test stands.

read more »

New Years Polar Bear Plunge and 5K to Benefit Children’s Advocacy Center

The Children's Advocacy Center of the First Judicial District will host the Polar Bear Plunge and 5K on New Year’s Day, WJHL reports. You can start your New Year's resolution with an icy cold dip in the pool at the Wellness Center in Johnson City. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the race starts at 9 a.m. All proceeds benefits the center.

read more »

State Opposes Review of Marriage Law

Tennessee today filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court urging it not to take up a recent decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the state’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. State officials argue in the petition that the Sixth Circuit’s decision is not in conflict with other Supreme Court decisions and that a split of opinion among the nation’s circuit courts does not compel the court to act. So far, Tennessee is the only state to oppose review. Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana and Michigan officials all support review of marriage laws from their states, which also were upheld by the Sixth Circuit. Metro Weekly News has more on the story and links to the filing.

read more »

Haslam Addresses Public Safety Summit

While there has been progress in making Tennessee a safer state, much remains to be done, particularly on domestic violence, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday while kicking off a meeting of his public safety subcabinet in Nashville. The group, which Haslam formed four years ago, will focus on Tennessee’s sentencing laws, homeland security concerns, drug abuse and trafficking, the Associated Press reports. Haslam touted progress in reducing the number of domestic violence offenses in the state since 2010 (down nearly 14 percent) but said the state is 10th in the nation for domestic violence deaths and that rate is “still too high.” The Memphis Daily News has the story.

read more »

Humor: Haltom Warns About Christmas Tree Discord

If you are going to get your Christmas tree this weekend, read Bill Haltom's column in the December Tennessee Bar Journal first. In it he reveals why divorce lawyers love Christmas trees. "Remember folks, it took a crew of 17 big men at the Christmas tree lot to hoist the tree on top of the van. But once I get home, it’s Daddy’s job to personally lift this giant Sequoia off the minivan and carry it (the tree, not the minivan) into the house," Haltom writes. "My wife and I snipe at each other for hours while I clutch the Christmas tree and experience Yuletide acupuncture, as thousands of pine needles pierce my aching body. After several crash landings, we somehow manage to balance the tree. Of course, by this time, my wife and I are in no mood whatsoever to trim the tree, since we’ve stopped speaking to each other. Talk about Silent Night." Consider yourself warned, everyone, and happy tree decorating.

read more »

Louisiana Asks Supreme Court to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Case

Lawyers for the state of Louisiana have joined with Michigan officials in asking the Supreme Court to resolve the question of whether states can ban same-sex couples from marrying. In the state’s response filed at the Supreme Court yesterday, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell argues that the justices should take the case because the state’s “case squarely implicates a spiraling national controversy that has already nullified the marriage laws of over 20 states and spawned a four-to-one circuit split.” The response from Louisiana came before the responses to other petitions filed earlier by same-sex couples in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, Buzzfeed News reports.

read more »

Johnson City Awarded Family Justice Center Grant

Johnson City was awarded a three-year, $240,000 grant to establish a Family Justice Center for Johnson City/Washington County by the state's Office of Criminal Justice Programs, WJHL reports. The grant will be used to help reach the goals of Gov. Bill Haslam's Public Safety Action Plan to reduce the number of domestic violence incidents locally by establishing a Family Justice Center, a model that brings together a multi-disciplinary team of professionals under one roof to work together to provide coordinated services to family violence victims. According to the press release, Tennessee currently has two established Family Justice Centers, one in Knoxville and one in Memphis.

read more »

Officer Training to Focus on Domestic Violence

A number of Putnam County law enforcement agencies will participate in a lethality assessment training program through a partnership with the Upper Cumberland Family Justice Center (UCFJC) to better help domestic violence victims. Officers will be trained in the Maryland Model Lethality Assessment Program, which consists of 11 questions a police officer will ask a victim when responding to domestic violence calls in order to assess the danger the individual is in. UCFJC opened its doors earlier this year through the District Attorney’s Office as an effort to centralize and help victims better access various domestic violence services in Putnam, Cumberland, Overton, White, Clay, DeKalb and Pickett counties. The Herald Citizen has more.

read more »

Survey: Discontent Among Court-Appointed Attorneys

A recent TBA survey of private attorneys who handle court appointed work shows they feel undervalued, overworked and unfairly compensated. More than half of those who took the survey reported that they frequently hit the fee cap on appointed cases, while 77 percent reported that they do not bother submiting a fee claim given the issues associated with getting paid. Survey responses also indicated an overwhelming number of cases are not adult criminal cases, but dependency, neglect and abuse work, generally as a guardian ad litem or a parent's attorney. More than half of respondents left lengthy comments on their experience with court appointed work, with many reporting that they love doing the work but cannot continue doing so at the current compensation rates, likening the work to doing pro bono. Respondents also reported that the filing requirements frequently add stress to an already difficult-to-handle clientele. With a compensation rate that has not changed since 1994, Tennessee court-appointed attorneys are among the lowest paid in the nation. Read more from the survey results.

read more »

Court Blocks Gay Marriage in Kansas For Now

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has temporarily blocked same-sex marriages in Kansas in response to the state’s request for a stay. Kansas argues that its case is different from others the court decided not to hear because it deals with the authority of a federal court to overturn a state Supreme Court decision. When a federal judge ordered the state to begin issuing marriage licenses it was “a de facto circumvention” of state litigation, which is working its way through state courts, officials argue. The Kansas Supreme Court had imposed a stay while the case was pending. Sotomayor gave lawyers for same sex couples until 5 p.m. tonight to file a response. The ABA Journal has more.

read more »

STATE OF TENNESSEE v. HENRY FLOYD SANDERS

This appeal concerns the admissibility of incriminating statements made by a defendant to the mother of a sexually abused child while the mother was secretly cooperating with the police in their investigation of the abuse. After a grand jury indicted him on six counts of aggravated sexual battery and four counts of rape of a child, the defendant moved to suppress his recorded statements. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and a jury convicted the defendant of five counts of aggravated sexual battery and four counts of rape of a child. The trial court imposed an effective forty-year sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentence. State v. Sanders, No. M2011-00962-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 4841545 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 9, 2012). We granted the defendant’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application to address the legal standard courts should use to determine the admissibility of incriminating statements obtained by the parent of a victim of sexual abuse who is secretly cooperating with law enforcement officials investigating the child abuse charges. We find no violation of the defendant’s constitutional right against compelled selfincrimination because the defendant merely misplaced his trust in a confidante to whom he voluntarily confessed. Therefore, we find that the recording of these statements was admissible.

read more »
Attorney 1: 

Dawn Deaner, District Public Defender; Jeffrey A. DeVasher (on appeal); Melissa Harrison (at trial and on appeal); and Jessamine Grice (at trial), Assistant Public Defenders, for the appellant, Henry Floyd Sanders.

Attorney 2: 

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; John H. Bledsoe, Senior Counsel; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; Sharon Reddick and Kristen Menke, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: 
KOCH

STATE OF TENNESSEE v. FRED CHAD CLARK, II

This case involves the prosecution of a father in the Criminal Court for Davidson County for the sexual abuse of his children. After a jury found him guilty of seven counts of rape of a child and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, the trial court imposed an effective thirtyfour- year sentence. On appeal, the defendant took issue with (1) the admissibility of recordings of his confession to his wife, (2) the adequacy of the corroboration of his confession, (3) the admissibility of evidence of his predilection for adult pornography, and (4) the propriety of a jury instruction that the mental state of “recklessness” could support a conviction for both rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery. After upholding the admission of the defendant’s confession to his wife and the jury instructions, the Court of Criminal Appeals decided that the admission of the evidence of the defendant’s predilection for adult pornography, while erroneous, was harmless. The Court of Criminal Appeals also determined that the record contained sufficient evidence to uphold three counts of rape of a child and the two counts of aggravated sexual battery. State v. Clark, No. M2010-00570- CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 3861242 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 6, 2012). We granted the defendant’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application for permission to appeal and now affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

read more »
Attorney 1: 

Peter J. Strianse, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Fred Chad Clark, II.

Attorney 2: 

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; John H. Bledsoe, Senior Counsel; Victor S. (Torry) Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Sharon Reddick, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: 
KOCH

Gay Marriage Cases to Go Straight to Supreme Court

Same-sex couples from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee will be seeking U.S. Supreme Court review after yesterday’s decision by a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the states' bans on gay marriages. Plaintiffs in all four states will skip the step of asking the full 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the case and go directly to the Supreme Court, lawyers told BuzzFeed News today. “[G]iven the urgency of the issues for the Tennessee plaintiff couples, we will be asking the Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit decision rather than seeking en banc review,” National Center for Lesbian Rights lawyer Shannon Minter said. Abby Rubenfeld, lead lawyer for the Tennessee plaintiffs, said they hope to file within two weeks so they still can be on the docket for this term.

read more »

TBA to Pursue Divorce Notice Legislation

The Tennessee Bar Association announced today it is pursuing legislation that would require respondents be served notice of the filing of a petition for divorce or separation before the court action is made public. “Our Family Law Section has been in discussions about how to address what they see as a growing problem,” said TBA President Jonathan Steen. “Respondents find out that their spouse has filed for divorce before safety plans can be put in place or before restraining orders can be served. We think a targeted solution to this problem is that information about the filing of divorce should be delayed until the respondent is served.”

The TBA will work with domestic violence prevention groups, lawmakers, judges and court officials to craft a solution that balances protection of those involved in divorce cases with the public’s need to know about what is happening in their courts. For more information, visit the TBA website.

read more »