News

Court Agrees to Hear 2 New Civil Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently agreed to hear two civil cases. The first addresses business liability when customers injure third parties. The suit will test whether businesses have a duty to take steps to protect customers from reasonably foreseeable risks, which in this case involved an inebriated customer who was expelled from the store and then caused a car accident in the parking lot. The second case concerns surrogacy agreements and the rights of a surrogate who changed her mind about giving up the child. The Raybin Perky Hot List has a summary of each case.

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Haslam Names Henry Permanent DCS Chief

Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Jim Henry, the temporary head of the troubled Department of Children's Services (DCS), as the department’s new permanent director. He will take office on June 1, WBIR News 10 reports. Henry, who has continued to serve as commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) during the interim period will be replaced there by Debra Payne, a deputy commissioner. Read more about the Henry and Payne appointments in the governor's announcement.

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Columns Cover Common Law, Parenting Plans, Impeachment

If you haven't yet had a chance to read all of this month's Tennessee Bar Journal, be sure not to miss the works of Journal columnists John Day, who writes about common law, Marlene Eskind Moses, who explains how and when to modify permanent parenting plans, and Don Paine, who tells readers about the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

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Drink Some Coffee for CASA

Do you love drinking coffee and want to support Tennessee CASA at the same time? Then visit the group’s Just Love Coffee Roasters online store. Just Love Coffee Roasters is a brand of hand-roasted coffee produced by people who also have a desire to help others in their efforts to make the world better. A portion of the proceeds from purchases will go directly to Tennessee CASA.

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Putnam County to Consider Family Justice Center

District Attorney Randall York received approval from the Putnam County Fiscal Review Committee to apply for a three-year, $80,000-per-year Family Justice Center grant that would help fund a Family Justice Center, a domestic violence center to assist victims in Putnam and surrounding counties. York cited the criminal court docket to support why a Family Justice Center should be started, the Herald Citizen reports. “When you go to a docket that’s more than 50 percent domestic-related, what we’re trying to do is break the cycle of violence, and we can only do it if we address the problems head on.” he said.

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Judge: 'Balls Dropped' in Child Deaths

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy said at a hearing Friday that after seeing case files of children who died as a result of abuse and neglect, it was clear that Department of Children's Services (DCS) social workers should have done more to protect the children. "There have been balls dropped by several individuals," she said in releasing 42 records of cases of children who died or nearly died after being under the supervision of DCS. McCoy also gave the state until May 31 to release records on 50 additional cases. Knoxnews has the story.

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DCS Appeals Cap on Document Production Charges

Lawyers for the Department of Children’s Services say they will appeal a judge’s ruling limiting how much the agency can charge for records of children who died or nearly died in its care. Instead of the 50-cent per page cost ordered by Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy, lawyers for the state argue the department will spend thousands of dollars to hire, train and supervise contract paralegals to review the records before making them public. By its internal calculations, DCS predicts it will cost $5 a page or an average of $212 for each case to produce the records.

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Modification of Permanent Parenting Plans in Tennessee

I worry when a client appears to be on the verge of giving up on getting the terms of an initial Permanent Parenting Plan just right. Whether they are in the throes of active blood-bath litigation or even just negotiating amicably in a mediation session, parties often will do just about anything to move forward quickly, including settling on a parenting plan with which they are not altogether satisfied. Many parties mistakenly believe that if they can just get divorced or otherwise get past entry of an initial parenting plan, things with the other parent will magically become easier.

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CASA Plans Fundraiser, Volunteer Training

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will hold its 5th Annual Benefit Motorcycle Ride on May 11 at Smith Brothers Harley Davidson in Johnson City. Registration begins at 10 a.m. The ride starts at 11 a.m. A $10 donation is requested per rider. Food and drinks will be provided after the ride. The event also will feature a corn hole tournament from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information contact the agency at (423) 461-3500 or admin@casanetn.org. In other news, the agency also recently announced it would conduct training for new volunteers on May 28.

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DCS Announces Shakeup After Child-Deaths Debacle

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) yesterday unveiled the results of an internal shakeup following months of criticism about its ability to track the death of children in its custody. Under the reorganization, three top deputies have been reassigned or relieved of duties, while a fourth announced his retirement. Two new deputy commissioners — one for child health and one for child safety — will fill new positions that will focus on training Child Protective Services workers and strengthening internal investigations. Finally, the plan calls for collaborating with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to train caseworkers on how to evaluate drug use and other potential criminal behavior. The Tennessean has details on the plan.

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Judge Receives Censure and Reprimand

The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has issued a public censure and public reprimand to Third Judicial District Circuit Court Judge John K. Wilson. The board reports that the censure is a result of Wilson’s conduct at a 2011 deposition as well as his failure to abide by a resolution and agreement previously reached with the Court of the Judiciary (the board’s predecessor organization). The reprimand was due to an improper ex parte hearing and improper ex parte relief granted with respect to a petition to modify a permanent parenting plan. A public censure requires Wilson to personally appear before the board, which will meet next in August. Read more or download the censure and reprimand.

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DA Names Domestic Violence Prosecution Team

Addressing a growing need to help victims of domestic violence, the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office will create a special team to handle domestic crime-related cases. District Attorney Torry Johnson said the Domestic Violence Prosecution Team will devote six assistant district attorneys and five victim witness coordinators to the effort. A similar team was disbanded 10 years ago because of budget concerns, WTVF NewsChannel 5 reports, but it has been reconstituted after Mayor Karl Dean recognized the growing need. "The trend has to be to bring these cases into the criminal justice system and break the cycle of violence," Johnson said in announcing the team.

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DCS Found Liable for Shooting Deaths, Injuries

The state Department of Children’s Services (DCS) has been found liable in the deaths of a teenager and her foster father as well as for injuries to the girl’s foster mother after the biological father went on a shooting rampage. In a ruling that was unsealed last week, a judge ordered DCS to pay $875,000 after the agency was found to have overlooked a prior domestic violence charge against the father and notes in a report that he “acts like a pedophile.” The DCS caseworker also admitted backdating her signature to a date prior to the shooting on the paperwork placing the girl with the foster parents. She also was found to have checked “no” on the form as to whether there was serious physical harm to the child despite evidence to the contrary. Read more in NWTNTODAY.

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DCS Rehires Director Fired in January

Interim Commissioner of the Department of Children’ Services Jim Henry has rehired Debbie Miller, the agency’s former executive director of family and child well-being, the Nashville City Paper reports. Miller was removed from the department in early January by former commissioner Kathyrn O’Day. “The department had a recent vacancy and Commissioner Henry asked Ms. Miller to return. He has known her work for many years and respects her skills and experience in the area of child welfare,” a spokeswoman for DCS said.

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AOC Seeking Proposals for Grant Funding

Organizations offering parent education or victim offender reconciliation programs have until mid-April to apply for funding from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). The AOC has approximately $200,000 in grant funds available for the development or continuation of parent education initiatives. Proposals must be provided by April 22. The AOC is also accepting requests for funding for Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs. These must be provided to the AOC by April 23.

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Attorney’s Police Aspirations Evolved into Legal Career

Memphis native Shayla Purifoy had planned to become a police officer before deciding that the legal profession was the right fit for her. She began working on domestic violence cases through a general civil litigation clinic after taking a social welfare and policy course at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Now with Memphis Area Legal Services, Purifoy works with immigrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. “I just enjoy helping people,” she told the Memphis Daily News.

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Court Affirms End to 'John B.' TennCare Agreement

The 15-year-old legal agreement that mandated regular medical and dental care for some 750,000 of the state’s poorest children was thrown out today by a federal appeals court, the Tennessean reports. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld federal judge Thomas Wiseman Jr.'s decision that Tennessee is now meeting federal requirements, effectively terminating the “John B.” agreement that had mandated compliance. Attorneys from the Tennessee Justice Center, which filed the original suit, say there are still serious concerns over whether children are receiving the services to which they are entitled.

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Bills Take on Drug Addiction and Pregnancy

A proposal that would put pregnant women at the front of the line for drug treatment programs passed a state House subcommittee Tuesday. The “Safe Harbor Act” also would prevent newborns from being taken from families by the Department of Children’s Services solely because of drug use during pregnancy. It is one of four proposals concerning babies born addicted to prescription drugs working their way through the General Assembly, the Tennessean reports. The bill now moves to the Health Committee.

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2 Proposals Take Aim at Epidemic of Drug-Addicted Newborns

State lawmakers are at odds as proposed bills attempt to tackle the issue of the steadily rising number of prescription drug-addicted newborns in Tennessee from two completely different approaches. The Safe Harbor Act, which would give pregnant women incentives to enter drug treatment programs, passed the Senate and will be taken up by a House subcommittee on health today. The subcommittee on criminal justice is scheduled to consider a bill that would criminally prosecute pregnant women whose drug use harms the baby. The flurry of legislation comes on the heels of a statewide push by the Health Department to confront the worsening epidemic, the Tennessean reports.

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DCS: Computer System Mostly Fixed

The Department of Children's Services reported on Friday that all major problems with its computer system have been fixed, and that a list of 1,700 defects identified a year ago has been reduced to just 383 minor issues. After a review of agency data, Commissioner Jim Henry said that 14 children died in DCS custody in 2011, while 11 more died in 2012. Henry said he hopes to be able to report "in the near future" on the larger group of children who died after having some interaction with DCS but were not taken into custody. DCS previously reported that at least 73 children fell into that category. WBIR Channel 10 has the story.

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Bill Would Raise Standard for Protection Orders

State Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville has introduced legislation that he says will help “avoid abuse of the judicial system by making it tougher to get orders of protection,” the Elizabethton Star, reports. But the director of a domestic violence prevention group says it could put more women in danger. HB 1128 would raise the level of proof needed for a one-year order of protection from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” Hill said he introduced the bill to begin a conversation on the issue, leaving the door open to further revision.

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DCS Promises Swift, Deliberate Fixes

Officials now heading up the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) say they’re seeking swift, but deliberate solutions to problems that have plagued the agency -- though they still are not able to give a definitive answer about how many children who have come into contact with DCS have died. Interim Commissioner Jim Henry told The Tennessean that the agency’s $27 million computer system appears to be improving as glitches are found and fixed. Larry Martin, a longtime aide to Gov. Bill Haslam, also is on board and promises to deal with whatever problems are found. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Court Upholds Mother’s Parental Rights

The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s ruling that termination of a mother’s parental rights was not in the best interest of the children. In 2002, a Bradley County couple divorced and entered into a parenting plan for their two minor children. The mother was incarcerated in 2003 after pleading guilty to attempted second degree murder of the father. The mother and father entered into an amended parenting plan stipulating that they would follow the original plan upon the mother’s release from prison. In 2009, the father remarried and sought to terminate the mother’s parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeals ruling that the father and stepmother established clear and convincing evidence that the termination was in the best interest of the children.

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Courthouse Shooting Leave 3 Dead in Delaware

A shooting at the New Castle County Courthouse on Monday morning has left two women dead. The gunman, who authorities say “spent years in court battles over custody disputes,” also exchanged gunfire with police before being fatally shot. After the shooting, police searched the courthouse and area streets remained closed Monday night. Officials said the courthouse would be closed Tuesday while repairs are made and authorities continue their investigation, WRCB in Chattanooga reports. In its story about the incident, the ABA Journal reported that the women, one of whom was the shooter's estranged ex-wife, were at the courthouse for a custody hearing.

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DCS Head Resigns; Interim Commissioner Named

Department of Children’s Services (DCS) Commissioner Kate O’Day resigned today, leaving behind a child welfare department struggling with numerous issues, reports The Tennessean. O’Day’s departure comes a day before a legislative hearing at which she had been scheduled to speak and a day after the department said it would cost at least $55,585 to gather and release child deaths records being sought in a lawsuit. Over the past year, DCS has faced scrutiny over a series of problems, including the death of children in state care, inaccurate data about the deaths, a child abuse hotline that left calls unanswered, a spike in violence at juvenile detention centers, a computer system that doled out improper payments and a high level of executive staff turnover. Gov. Bill Haslam named Jim Henry, who currently heads up the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, to replace O’Day as interim commissioner.

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