News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Feds Won’t Enforce Same-Sex Veteran Ban

The Obama Administration announced yesterday that it will stop enforcing a law that blocks benefits to partners of military veterans in same-sex marriage, the Times News reports. In a letter to congressional leaders, Attorney General Eric Holder said that a provision in federal law on benefits to veterans and their families defines "spouse" to mean a person of the opposite sex. He says that definition leaves out legally married same-sex couples, and runs afoul of the June Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. "Decisions by the Executive not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare," Holder told Congress. "Nevertheless, the unique circumstances presented here warrant non-enforcement."

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Judges Discuss Domestic Violence and the Court System

Maury County General Sessions Judge Bobby Sands and Circuit Court Judge Stella Hargrove talk to the Columbia Daily Herald about the difficulty of handling an overwhelming docket of domestic violence cases. The county had more domestic violence cases per person in 2011 than any other city in Tennessee, the paper reports. “Our dockets are so overwhelming that we’re apt to let domestic violence slip just to get it off the docket,” Hargrove said. “I guess we feel like we have to do something with this docket out here staring us in the face, when we really should slow down, like I try to do on revocations, try to slow it down and try to get some justice out of this.”

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Child’s Death Highlights DCS Computer Issues

A Chattanooga couple accused of child abuse and murder returned to court today in a case that is shedding new light on how computer problems within the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) impacted caseworkers’ ability to protect children. In this case, a 4-year-old died Dec. 19, 2011, after suffering multiple blunt force injuries. Prosecutors believe the child was beaten by his mother and her live-in boyfriend. In the weeks before the death, at least three claims of child abuse were called into DCS by family members and educators. But in a mix-up that DCS later blamed on its computer system, the abuse reports were assigned to different caseworkers with the result that neither fully knew the extent of the allegations.

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Family Still Seeking Answers Year After Teen’s Death

The family of Brentwood teen Kendall Oates is still seeking answers about their son a year after he died in Department of Children’s Services (DCS) custody, The Tennessean reports. DCS records show Oates, who suffered from seizures, may have lain sick or dead for hours, undetected by a security guard who was supposed to check on him every 15 minutes. In addition, DCS was required to administer anti-seizure medication, but the autopsy found no trace of the medicine in his body. Finally, Oates was not wearing his lifesaving anti-seizure wristband, which he was required to wear at all times. Oates’ parents have tried to get their son’s records to no avail. And now that a year has passed, a wrongful death suit is not an option. Meanwhile, DCS closed its investigation, finding that the teenager died of natural causes.

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Court Overturns ‘Antiquated’ Statutory Rape Rule

The Tennessee Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion today, overturned what it called an “antiquated rule” that classifies statutory rape victims as accomplices and requires victims’ testimony to be corroborated by other evidence. The decision came in the case of DeWayne Collier of Shelby County, who was convicted of statutory rape based primarily on the testimony of his victim. He appealed on the basis that prior rulings required that testimony to be backed up by other proof. The court disagreed finding there no longer exists a “no defensible reason” to classify minor victims of sex crimes as accomplices or to characterize their testimony as “inherently unreliable.” Read more from the AOC.

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Judge: Mother May Not Name Baby ‘Messiah’

A Newport mother is appealing the decision of a child support magistrate who ruled last week that she may not name her baby "Messiah." The mother and father of the child, who could not agree on a last name for the baby, were in court to settle that issue. The magistrate ordered the baby’s last name to be DeShawn McCullough, which incorporated both of the parent’s last names. But she also directed them to change the first name saying, "The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ." The couple is appealing the decision to the local chancery court, WBIR reports.

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Williamson County CASA Hires New Executive Director

Marianne Schroer has been hired as the new executive director of Williamson County CASA (WCCSA). She will take over as of Sept. 3, the Nashville Post reports. Schroer has more than 30 years experience as a licensed psychological examiner and has an extensive background in nonprofit work. “Marianne possesses a unique set of skills that will only enhance this challenging and critical role,” Alex Marks, WCCASA board president, said in a release. “With a background in both the nonprofit and counseling sectors, the board believes that she is in the position to quickly make a deep imprint on the community we serve. We are looking forward to seeing the ripple effects of her work.”

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Grants Available to Help Pro Se Litigants with Child Support Issues

The Administrative Office of the Courts is making approximately $200,000 in grant funding available through its Access and Visitation Grant for the development or continuation of initiatives that help self-represented litigants deal with child support issues. To receive funding, initiatives must address the needs of divorced or never-married parents, and focus on services to help them resolve issues related to parenting, visitation and child support. Proposals must be received by Sept. 13. Click here for more information and to download the grant application.

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New Court for Drug-Dependent Moms to Open in Knoxville

Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin announced this week that a new drug court for drug-dependent moms will open Sept. 1, Knoxnews reports. Under the program, Knox First Family Recovery will work with the mothers, and judges gradually will give them more time with their kids as they progress. Irwin unveiled the court at the 30th annual Joint Conference on Juvenile Justice, which drew nearly 500 juvenile judges and court workers from across the state. Funding for the effort will come from a federal grant administered by the state. Dirk Weddington, a Juvenile Court magistrate, will help supervise the program and work with local treatment providers.

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TBJ: When She Lies About Paternity

What are the consequences of lying about who the father of a child is? Lacy A. Daniel explores intentional misrepresentation of paternity, in the August Tennessee Bar Journal, out today. It comes with a pretty sweet picture on the cover, too. (This baby, whose paternity is not in question, is the child of former TBA Access to Justice Coordinator Sarah Hayman.)

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Judge Releases DCS Record, Redaction Questions Raised

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy on Monday turned over to The Tennessean and other media dozens of state records of children who died or nearly died under the supervision of the Department of Children’s Services. “The department is back on track,” McCoy said. But Nashville Public Radio reports that the state may have released too much information, failing to delete details like children’s ages and addresses. Commissioner Jim Henry says the department hired outside paralegals to go through the files and that “everybody doesn’t redact in the same way” but assured those concerned it was not their intent to release information that should have been protected. The Tennessean reports that 90 additional case files will be released on Aug. 21.

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Northeast CASA Plans Golf Tournament

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will hold its 8th Annual Golf Tournament Aug. 19 at the Johnson City Country Club. Registration will begin at 11 a.m. with a shotgun start at noon. The event, a four-person scramble, includes lunch and a number of door prizes. Participants are encouraged to raise $400, which will support a child for one year, or pay the $100 players fee. Sponsorship opportunities include cart sponsorship for $100, hole sponsorship for $250 and tournament sponsorship for $1,000. For more information or to register call (423) 461-3500, email Executive Director Leslie Dalton or visit the agency’s website.

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New Resource for Family Law Practioners

Memphis lawyer Claudia Haltom has released a new e-book titled The Single Parent Referee Workbook. The book provides step-by-step guidance to help single parents find solutions to real world problems and set positive goals for their future. Available online at Amazon’s Kindle store, the book draws on Haltom’s many years as a family law practioner and juvenile court judge. She now runs the Memphis nonprofit A Step Ahead, which she founded after leaving the bench.

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Lawsuit: Family Says Conservator Stole $300K

The family of Nannie P. Malone of Nashville has filed suit against a former court-appointed conservator, claiming he misappropriated at least $300,000 from the elderly woman’s estate. Malone, who died in 2012, was afflicted with cancer and Alzheimer's disease when the court appointed Nashville lawyer John E. Clemmons to be her conservator. The family alleges that Clemmons put Malone in a nursing home though they wanted her at home, and wrote the first of many checks to himself within two weeks of taking on her care. WSMV has more. Clemmons was suspended a few months ago for collecting more than $50,000 in unauthorized fees from the bank account of another disabled client.

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