News

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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Fundraiser Planned for Madison County CASA

The Jackson-Madison County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division is hosting “Pour Your Heart Out for CASA” – a wine tasting and fundraiser for the Madison County CASA program. The event will take place May 30 at 5:30 p.m. at Flatiron Grille, 1160 Vann Drive, Jackson 38305. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online. For more information contact Terica Smith at terica.n.smith@gmail.com.

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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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