News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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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