News

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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Memphis Homeless Clinic Moved to Sept. 19

The Project Homeless Connect legal clinic originally scheduled for August in Memphis has been moved to Sept. 19. The event, which brings together a variety of resources and services in one place for the day, will include a “street clinic” offered by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office to help those with unpaid court costs and fines, and a civil legal clinic to help those with child support, collections and landlord/tenant issues. For more information or to volunteer contact the Memphis Bar Association at (901) 527-3575 or afritz@memphisbar.org.

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CASA Fundraiser Offers Cornhole, Minor League Baseball

CASA of Northeast Tennessee is hosting a cornhole tournament on July 27 at the Johnson City Cardinals Stadium. The event will run from 1 to 5 p.m. A $30 fee will get a two-person team registered for the tournament, as well as a t-shirt and a ticket to the baseball game later that evening. Call (423) 461-3500 for more information or download this brochure and registration form. All proceeds will benefit CASA.

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Volunteers Needed for Memphis Homeless Clinic

Volunteer lawyers are needed to help with two initiatives at the next Project Homeless Connect in Memphis. The event, which brings together a variety of resources and services in one place for the day, will include a “street clinic” offered by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office to help those with unpaid court costs and fines, and a civil legal clinic to help those with child support, collections and landlord/tenant issues. The event takes place Aug. 22 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. For more information or to volunteer contact the Memphis Bar Association at (901) 527-3575 or afritz@memphisbar.org.

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Juvenile Judge Launches Parenting Class

Williamson County Juvenile Judge Sharon Guffee says she sees it every day: parents and teens in her court struggling to communicate with each other. So she is doing something about it. Guffee has partnered with psychologist and author Dr. James Wellborn to offer a parenting course one Saturday a month. Classes will be held from 8 a.m. to noon beginning July 20 and running through December. “Raising teenagers can be challenging…” Guffee said. “This seminar will provide parents with valuable tools to improve communication.” Her hope is that the effort will improve relationships in troubled situations and prevent others from ever being involved with the juvenile system. The Williamson Source reports.

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Mental Health Records in Custody Proceedings Featured in July TBJ

Nashville lawyer Siew-Ling Shea looks at how mental health records come into play in divorce custody proceedings in the July Tennessee Bar Journal. Knoxville lawyer Don Paine does double duty in this issue with a column on substitutes for dead plaintiffs and defendants and a feature story about the late Chief Justice William J. Harbison.

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State Child Support Forum Held Today

State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, hosted a community meeting today at the Kingdom Center in Chattanooga to inform parents of child support laws and hear their concerns. Hundreds of people have complained that they have been put in jail, had their driver's licenses revoked and lost housing because they did not earn enough money to pay child support and living expenses, Favors told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The forum intended to teach parents about legal aspects of child support and the federal grant programs available in Hamilton County that can provide specific assistance to parents. As of Tuesday there were 23,729 open child support cases in Hamilton County, said Christopher Garrett, director of communications with the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

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Court Saves Gay Marriage Cases for Last

The U.S. Supreme Court has saved two of its most controversial opinions for what is expected to be the last day of this term. The court is expected to issue rulings on the California gay marriage ban and the federal Defense of Marriage Act tomorrow beginning at 10 a.m. SCOTUSblog will begin live blogging from the court at 9 a.m.

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Court Strikes Key Part of Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a key provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that established a formula used to determine which jurisdictions must get clearance before making changes to their voting practices. In a 5-4 decision, the court said the formula is unconstitutional given the advances in voting rights in the covered states. The justices said Congress needs to revisit the issue, Scotusblog reports, and if it wants to single out certain states for extra scrutiny, it must do so "on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions."

• The court also ruled in an adoption case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act finding that the biological father, who is part Cherokee, did not have an automatic right his child because he was estranged from the biological mother, provided no support during the pregnancy and disclaimed any interest in raising the girl. The court ruled 5-4 that the law was intended to protect Native American children from abusive adoption or foster care practices that removed them from existing families, not every removal proceeding involving an Indian child.

• Finally, the court today rejected a Florida Supreme Court decision to dismiss a case from a landowner seeking to develop a portion of his wetlands property. When officials refused to approve Coy Koontz's project unless he made certain concessions -- including spending money to improve public lands elsewhere -- Koontz sued under a state law permitting him to seek damages. The state Supreme Court held that he did not have a claim based on two previous U.S. Supreme Court cases. The high court rejected the state’s interpretation of those cases but did not rule on whether Koontz’s claim had merit.

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Redactions of DCS Records Questioned

Newly released records from the Department of Children’s Services contain substantial redactions of information that the Tennessean says appear “random” and “contradictory.” According to the newspaper’s review, in some cases DCS redacted autopsy results, which are routinely made public by the state’s medical examiners. In other cases, DCS redactions were contradictory, concealing cause of death on some pages, while leaving it unedited elsewhere in the same child’s file. Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy, who ordered the records released and reviewed each one, said last week that at least 129 pages contained redactions that may have gone beyond what she ordered DCS to eliminate to protect the confidentiality of families.

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Charges Filed Against Memphis Judge

The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has filed formal charges against 30th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Kay Spalding Robilio for alleged misconduct in a domestic relations case, WMC-TV reports. According to the court's six-page complaint filed May 14, Robilio independently investigated facts regarding a post-divorce child custody case. The board alleges that in February 2012, Robilio conducted an independent investigation of a residence by making a personal visit to the home. In the complaint, chief disciplinary counsel Tim Discenza writes that "A judge shall not initiate, permit ... or consider other communications made to the judge outside of the presence of the parties concerning a pending or impeding proceeding.” Robilio has 30 days to respond.

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