News

Meet Santa, Help CASA

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Ninth Judicial District is offering two opportunities for the public to have a photo of a child or pet with Santa Claus in Harriman while learning how to help abused children, Roane County News reports. The agency reports that Santa will be in front of the former Roane Medical Center from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 before the city’s Christmas parade and again from 10 a.m. to noon on Dec. 14 at Earl Duff Subaru. The outreach provides an opportunity to educate local families about CASA's work in the community.

read more »

Judge Wimberly Receives Adoption Honor

Knox County Circuit Court Judge Harold Wimberly Jr. received the Bill Williams Service Award for outstanding achievement in adoption services last week from the Department of Child Services (DCS). The award recognized his commitment, dedication and service to assisting the department in finding adoptive families for children in full guardianship of the state, the Knoxville Focus reports. Wimberly, a Knoxville native, has served on the bench for 39 years – first as a general sessions judge and then as a circuit court judge. DCS reports that he has overseen 584 adoptions, leading to 1,000 children being placed in homes.

read more »

Lay Announces Campaign for Circuit Judge

Knoxville attorney Patti Jane Lay today announced her candidacy for Fourth Circuit judge. She will run as a candidate in the May 2014 Republican primary. "I have been thinking about this decision for some time, and I concluded I would like the chance to contribute my experience, especially to helping children and families who are going through difficult times," Lay said. The court hears family law matters such as divorce, orders of protection and appeals from juvenile court. For the past 10 years, Lay has served as special master for the court. She previously practiced law in Knoxville.

read more »

Couples Suing for Marriage Equality File Petition for Protection

Four legally married same-sex couples, who recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s refusal to respect their marriages, today asked the district court for immediate protection of their families while the lawsuit proceeds. The petitioners argue such an order is necessary because the state’s refusal to respect their marriages is putting their families at risk of serious harm. The four couples filed suit on Oct. 21, arguing that Tennessee laws prohibiting recognition of their marriages violate the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection, due process and the right to travel between and move to other states. The case is being handled locally by Nashville lawyers Abby Rubenfeld, William Harbison, Scott Hickman, Phil Cramer and John Farringer; Memphis lawyer Maureen Holland; and Knoxville lawyer Regina Lambert with support from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Read more in a press release from the group or download the motion for preliminary injunction and supporting memo.

read more »

Study: Inconsistent Rape Data Creates Confusion

Sexual assault incidents are badly underreported and poorly counted, a new national study concludes. The review, by the National Research Council, examined various methods of counting assaults and found conflicting results. These discrepancies, according to the researchers, create confusion among the public, law enforcement, policy makers and advocacy groups, and limit the ability of support service agencies to help victims. The study concluded that some 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, but recommended ways to improve data collection of these cases. The Tennessean has more.

read more »

DCS Seeks Budget Increase for More Caseworkers

A federal court order that requires the Department of Children’s Services to limit the caseloads of foster care workers has encouraged agency officials to propose a $2 million increase in state dollars next year to hire and train more child protective services workers. As the number of children coming into foster care continues to climb, DCS plans to hire 45 more caseworkers, give them additional training and equip them with computer tablets to better documents child abuse and neglect cases in the field. The Tennessean has the story.

read more »

New K-9 Staffer Helps Calm Crime Victims

The newest member of the Clarksville District Attorney’s office is a docile, black Lab, whose presence often calms children and other victims of rape and sexual assault. The Leaf Chronicle introduces us to Orson, a 2-year-old black lab/golden retriever mix that was specifically bred and trained from birth to serve those with special needs.

read more »

Tennessee CASA Earns GM Foundation Grant

The General Motors Foundation today announced that Tennessee CASA is among 11 nonprofits in the state to receive grants totaling $75,000. Cheryl Hultman, Tennessee CASA executive director, said in a press release, "The GM Foundation grant to Tennessee CASA is very significant and will ultimately touch the lives of many children who have been appointed a CASA volunteer."

read more »

Legal Aid Attorney Honored with Reception

The Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence recently honored Legal Aid attorney and domestic violence prevention advocate Jean Crowe. Crowe retired in September after 28 years of service in the Nashville office of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Her nearly three decades with Legal Aid included 15 years as managing attorney of the Family Law Section, where she crafted a program centered on holistic advocacy and helping clients become self-sufficient. See photos from the event.

read more »

Judge Charged with Misconduct for Changing Baby’s Name

The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has charged Fourth Judicial District Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew with judicial misconduct for ruling that a Cocke County infant could not be named “Messiah.” According to the Associated Press, the board charged that Ballew’s ruling, and public comments she made about it, violated several elements of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct, including a prohibition of any indications of bias based on religion. Read more on Fox News 17.

read more »

Ceremony Honors Those Combating Domestic Violence

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a number of individuals were recognized Thursday for their contributions to combating domestic violence. A plaque will be installed at the Courts Building in Chattanooga with their names. Honorees included District Attorney General Bill Cox and Assistant District Attorney General Ben Boyer. The Chattanoogan has the full list of honorees.

read more »

DCS Gets Leeway with Federal Funds

The Department of Children’s Services is receiving leeway from U.S. officials in spending money intended for foster children, with the goal of keeping children out of foster care, the Tennessean reports. Until now, DCS has had to spend approximately $40 million in annual federal dollars, known as federal title IV-E funds, to pay foster parents and provide services to kids who have already been taken from their families and placed into state custody. Beginning next October, the agency will be able to use "waivers" to spend grants on a wider variety of interventions designed to keep kids safely out of the foster care system. 

read more »

Blount County Event Draws Attention to Domestic Violence

A documentary about a domestic violence murder titled “Telling Amy’s Story” was the focal point at this year’s Blount County domestic violence candlelight vigil. Held at the Maryville College’s Clayton Center for the Arts, the event was sponsored by the Blount County Task Force Against Domestic Violence, the East Tennessee Victims’ Rights Task Force and the Blount County Community Health Initiative, the Blount County Daily Times reports.

read more »

Courthouse Dog Demonstrates New Clarksville Program

During an informational meeting hosted yesterday by the Clarksville's District Attorney’s Office and the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, canine companion Molly B was a big hit, the Leaf Chronicle reports. The black Labrador-Golden Retriever has been trained for two years to care for the physical and emotional needs of people who need assistance, and can follow orders to sit, stand, lay down, roll over and speak with precision. In November, the district attorney’s office will receive a facility dog that can be used in court, at the child advocacy center, or at other facilities throughout the 19th Judicial District where a victim may need therapeutic comfort or emotional support.

read more »

Court Accepts 8 Cases; Likely Will Work During Shutdown

The U.S. Supreme Court today granted review of eight new cases, including one from Tennessee seeking to clarify when an individual commits a crime for having a gun after being convicted of domestic violence. Other cases involve questions about the award of attorneys' fees in patent cases; whether it is unconstitutional for a state to require home-care providers to pay a union to represent them before state agencies; whether the federal government has a right to reclaim lands abandoned by a railroad; whether shuttered businesses must pay Social Security and Medicare tax on severance checks; and whether police, after receiving an anonymous tip, must observe drunken or reckless driving before stopping a vehicle. The final case seeks to resolve a long-running copyright dispute in Hollywood over the screenplay for the 1980 movie Raging Bull. Although much of the government is closed because of the budget impasse, the Supreme Court is going ahead with its work, SCOTUSblog reports.

read more »

Tennessee to Add Family Justice Centers

Tennessee officials will announce plans to increase the number of family justice centers across the state during an event tomorrow, the Columbia Daily Herald reports. Family justice centers bring multiple agencies under one roof for a coordinated approach to providing domestic violence victims with a single location to access safety, advocacy, justice and other services. The announcement is timed to coincide with the start of October’s National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Those expected to attend include Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, 6th Judicial District Attorney Randy Nichols, 13th Judicial District Attorney Randy York, Bill Scollon, director of the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs, and representatives from the Knoxville and Memphis centers.

read more »

Mayor Dean Recommends Major Push Against Domestic Violence

Mayor Karl Dean yesterday released the results of a wide-ranging report on how Nashville responds to domestic violence, recommending dozens of changes to tackle the problem. The report — which Dean ordered more than two years ago — offers nine central recommendations designed to improve how the city responds to domestic violence, protects and provides justice for victims and holds abusers accountable. The Tennessean has more.

read more »

Panel Meets to Evaluate DCS, Juvenile Processes

A panel of seven state agency commissioners, eight elected representatives and seven judges — known as the Three Branches Institute — will meet Thursday to discuss ways to improve the state’s child protective services and juvenile justice system. The members of the group, which also includes first lady Crissy Haslam, have met quarterly since August 2012 to align services among the branches of government. A Department of Children’s Services news release said the members are seeking to develop standardized assessments to be used by the courts and guide DCS in data collection. The group also is investigating alternatives to juvenile incarceration. The meeting will be its last one for the year, The Tennessean reports.

read more »

Chancellor Reinstates Child’s Name as ‘Messiah’

At a hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court last week, Chancellor Telford E. Forgety overturned child support magistrate Lu Ann Ballew’s decision that a woman could not name her son "Messiah" because it was a title reserved for “Jesus Christ.” Forgety said there was no basis in the law for changing a child's first name when both parents are in agreement about what it should be. He also said that Ballew's decision violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Associated Press reports.

read more »

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.

read more »

Event Marks 30 Years for Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence will host "Pearls & Pinstripes," a gala evening with silent auction on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville. The nonprofit works to end violence in the lives of Tennesseans through public policy, advocacy, education and activities that increase the capacity of programs and communities to address violence. News anchor Demetria Kalodimos is honorary chair of the event celebrating the Coalition's 30th year. For tickets and sponsorship information, visit www.tncoalition.org/pearls or call 615-386-9406.

read more »

Baby Messiah Case Back in Court

An appeal of Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew’s decision to change a baby’s name from Messiah to Martin will be heard tomorrow in Cocke County Chancery Court. A brief filed on behalf of the family argues that Ballew originally ruled to keep the baby’s first name but later that decision was "whited out" in the court record. Ballew later called a second hearing where she changed the child's name to Martin saying, "Messiah is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ." Fox News reports on the story.

read more »

Hamilton Juvenile Court Going Electronic

At the Hamilton County Juvenile Court, clerks are "drowning in paper," but box by box, that's changing, the Times Free Press reports. Gary Behler, the Hamilton County Juvenile Court clerk, began a massive document-scanning project Aug. 5 that will digitize more than 25,000 records for the juvenile court and the child support division. In addition to saving space, the project will allow attorneys and judges to view electronic files simultaneously on monitors in courtrooms. In addition, the new system will allow child support clerks to apply payments immediately and pull up data for payees and recipients. Finally, new video monitors are being installed in the courtrooms so that arraignments may be handled remotely. The changes are part of Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw’s effort to streamline logistics at the court.

read more »

Parents, Grandparents Subject to Same Visitation Standard

A ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday puts parents and grandparents on equal footing in disputes over modifications to court-ordered grandparent visitation. While Tennessee case law gives parents a “presumption of superior parental rights” in initial visitation decisions, the court ruled that such presumption does not exist for subsequent decisions to modify or terminate visitation. The ruling now requires both parties to satisfy the same legal standard – that a material change in circumstances has occurred and that modification or termination of visitation is in the child’s best interests. Download the opinion.

read more »

Magazine Predicts 12 ‘Hottest’ Practice Areas

The September issue of The National Jurist predicts the 12 "hottest" practice areas for the next decade. Those deemed to be “super hot” were health care, administrative, intellectual property and family law. Food and drug law, tax litigation, privacy law and compliance law were ranked as “hot.” And employment, energy, manufacturing and immigration law were judged “somewhat hot.”

read more »