News

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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Sumner CASA Receives 3 Grants

The Court Appointed Special Advocate program in Sumner County recently was awarded nearly $30,000 in grants from three organizations, reports The Tennessean. The funding came from The Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund ($5,900), The Memorial Foundation ($20,000) and The Tennessee Bar Foundation ($3,500). Funds will be used to train and support volunteers to advocate for the abused and neglected children in the county.

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DCS Ordered to Produce Child Death Records in One Week

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to turn over child fatality records within seven days and to overhaul its fatality review process within 90 days, reports The Tennessean. Judge Todd J. Campbell said he has become impatient with the agency’s inability to accurately count child deaths and that time is running out for DCS to fix the computer system it uses to keep records. Also last week, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed a special adviser to probe the department, naming his former mayoral deputy and retired Knoxville banker Larry Martin to the post.

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Judge Hopes to Expand Drug Court for Moms

Shelby County Drug Court Judge Tim Dwyer sees the good his court is doing and wants to expand it. There are 13 mothers in the program, affecting 45 children, but he would like to be able to offer the services to 30 women. The special drug court pairs Dwyer up with the district attorney's office, juvenile court and Memphis police. If a mother gives birth to a baby addicted to drugs, she's now charged with reckless endangerment. Her only options are jail time or the treatment program. "We've got a long way to go," Dwyer says, "but at least were doing something." ABC24.com has the story

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Judge Orders DCS to Release Child Death Records

Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy this week ordered the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to release the forms it fills out when a child dies in its care. Each form provides information about the child’s cause of death, the department’s prior involvement, and prior services provided to the child. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed Dec. 19, 2012, by The Tennessean and a coalition of a dozen other news organizations. Responding to the court, Gov. Bill Haslam said the state would provide the records, reports The Tennessean. In related news, officials announced yesterday they had discovered nine more cases of children who died during the past two years while under the supervision of DCS. The News Sentinel has more on that story.

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Judge to Review DCS Records

Chancellor Carol McCoy said today in court that she will review a sample of records of children who died after being brought to the attention of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) in order to determine whether the agency is required to release child fatality records. McCoy presides over the lawsuit brought by the Tennessean and a coalition of other news organizations against DCS for allegedly violating the Tennessee Public Records Act by declining to disclose the records of about 30 children who died in the first half of 2012 while under the agency’s supervision.

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Kansas Sues Sperm Donor for Child Support

The Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) is suing a sperm donor for child support despite his written agreement with a lesbian couple to relinquish parental rights, the ABA Journal reports. Although the Kansas Supreme Court refused to allow a sperm donor to assert parental rights in a case five years ago, the DCF says the written agreement is void and the law doesn’t apply since a physician did not perform the artificial insemination. The nonbiological mother of the child who supports her has been unable to work reportedly due to health problems.

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Report: Child Protection Improvements Needed

According to the 2012 Annual Report by the Second Look Commission, investigations into severe child abuse cases were left incomplete and failed to address the complicated needs of the family. The 23-page report details eight areas in which Tennessee can improve the protection of children including providing more training for child abuse investigators, Department of Children’s Services (DCS) caseworkers, mental health providers and law enforcement.

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Russia Passes Ban on U.S. Adoptions

Lawmakers in Moscow effectively banned Americans from adopting Russian children by passing a bill that imposes a series of sanctions on U.S. interests, WCYB News reports. The move is widely seen as retaliation against the Magnitsky Act, which President Obama signed on Dec. 14. That law imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia. Russia is one of the top countries of origin for international adoptions in the United States, behind only China, with more than 60,000 Russian children joining American families in the past 20 years.

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Judge Highlights Success in Child Support Collections

At a recent meeting of the 15th Judicial District Bar Association, Judge Clara Byrd congratulated attorneys in the area for their diligent efforts and positive working relationship with the courts, which resulted in successful collection of child support payments in the district. Byrd reported that the local district attorney general’s office collected a higher percentage of child support obligations over the last 12 months than any other judicial district in the state.

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Task Force Working to Improve Child Protection Efforts

A task force on child protection wants more consistency in how reports of abuse are investigated and how decisions about criminal charges are made in the state. The group, comprised of Department of Children's Services (DCS) officials, doctors, law enforcement, attorneys and child advocates, is set to release a draft of its findings next month, Knoxnews.com says. In its report, the task force is expected to recommend that investigative teams train together; that communication be improved between DCS, law enforcement and community service agencies; and that additional funding be provided to hire more caseworkers and increase current caseworkers’ salaries.

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Court Grants Review in 2 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review in two cases. The first case is one of first impression and addresses whether criminal contempt in a civil domestic relations case is subject to collateral attack in a post-conviction proceeding. The second concerns jury instructions where two offenses are committed during a common criminal episode. Read more about the issues and predictions as to how the new cases may be decided in the Raybin Perky Hotlist

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Justices Struggle with International Custody Law

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether American courts have any further say in a custody dispute between a U.S. soldier and a Scottish woman over their daughter, the Associated Press reports. In a complicated international custody fight, the justices seemed concerned by the idea that a foreign parent could escape U.S. court jurisdiction simply by leaving the country. WDEF.com has the story. 

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Haslam to Focus on Reducing Domestic Violence Rate

Gov. Bill Haslam says that while the crime rate is showing an overall decline in Tennessee, instances of aggravated assault, prescription drug abuse and domestic violence remain a major concern for his administration. He stated yesterday that domestic violence accounts for about half of all crimes committed in the state each year. This year, Haslam introduced and signed into law a measure to require mandatory jail time for repeat convictions for domestic violence, but it is too soon to tell if it has made a significant difference. Gov. Haslam said his Cabinet will continue to work with law enforcement to seek ways to reduce violent crimes and drug abuse.

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Judge Adds Unusual Procreation Condition to Probation

Wisconsin judge Tim Boyles of Racine County has prohibited a man who owes $50,000 in child support and $40,000 in interest from fathering any more children as a condition of his three-year probation, unless he can show ability to pay. The U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in a similar case in 2001. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Justices Hold Private Meeting Over Gay Marriage

U.S. Supreme Court justices were to meet privately today to begin discussing if they will accept any of 10 pending cases testing whether the constitution offers a fundamental right of marriage to homosexuals. According to court observers, three separate issues confront the justices: federal benefits, state benefits and state referendums. If they agree to hear any of the cases, oral arguments could be held in March with a ruling by late June. WCYB Channel 5 has this story from CNN.

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DCS: Child Tracking System to be Fixed by June

Glitches in a computer system that have hampered the work of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) should be fixed in the next seven months, officials told lawmakers on Monday. At a hearing before the Fiscal Review Joint Committee, department heads blamed glitches in the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System for problems in paying foster parents, producing statistics on child abuse and accessing information on children in state custody. The committee approved money to address the problems. Meanwhile, DCS has asked the attorney general to consider whether legal action is merited against Dynamics Research Corporation, the company that designed the software program. The Tennessean reports

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CASA Nashville Hires New Development Director

CASA Nashville has hired Patience Long, former manager of development for a large Illinois hospital chain, as its new development director. As manager of major gifts and the annual fund for Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, Long orchestrated a $10 million capital campaign, soliciting donations from individuals and corporations. She also previously was director of fundraising and special events for Gilda’s Club, a nonprofit cancer support group. Learn more about Tennessee CASA and its Nashville program here.

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Family Law Forum to Offer Credit for Mediators, Too

The TBA Family Law Section's annual Family Law Forum is tomorrow from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Tennessee Bar Center. The centerpiece will be presentations on two issues of critical importance to family law attorneys. Mark Sullivan, a nationally renowned military divorce and family law expert, will present three modules on the special concerns that arise when one or both parties are serving or have served in the Armed Forces, from dividing military pensions, to military benefits, to unique parenting issues. Dr. Kathryn Steele will provide an extensive review of the role of neuropsychology in family law, how to use psychological tests and reports to bolster your own case and attack the other side’s position. In addition to offering five hours of general and one hour of dual CLE credit, CME credit for Rule 31 mediators will also be offered. For more information, visit TennBar U.

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CLE Programs Underway Across State

The Tennessee Bar Association will host continuing legal education programs across the state this week. Avoid Malpractice: The Risks and Opportunities of Social Media will be held Tuesday in Knoxville, followed by sessions in Nashville on Wednesday and Memphis on Thursday. Also on Thursday, the Family Law Forum will take place at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville and on Friday, the TBA's Dispute Resolution Section will host Getting the Arbitration Process You Want and Need, also in Nashville. A webcast on Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act: More Small Business Capital in Tennessee? will also take place on Friday at noon.

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Suspension Lifted for Texas Judge Filmed Beating Daughter

The Texas Supreme Court has lifted the suspension of Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams, who was shown on video beating his then-16-year-old daughter with a belt for illegally downloading music. Adam’s older daughter uploaded the video to Youtube last year, but since the video was from 2004, the Aransas County district attorney said too much time has passed to bring criminal charges. News Channel 9 has the story.

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New Davidson County Juvenile Judge to Be Sworn in Next Week

The newest Davidson County Juvenile Court judge, Sophia Brown Crawford, will be sworn in at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Juvenile Justice Center on Woodland Street in Nashville. Crawford was appointed by the Metro Council on Oct. 16 to complete the term of Judge Betty Adams Green, who retired in September. Crawford was appointed to the bench as magistrate in 2002 by Green and has presided continuously since that time. Prior to her appointment, Craword spent 14 years in private practice with a focus on family and juvenile law. During that time, she was appointed as a contract attorney by the governor to prosecute termination of parental rights cases for the state Department of Children’s Services for 14 counties.

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Comments Sought on Parenting Plan Pro Se Form

For almost two years, the Parenting Plan Subcommittee of the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission has been working on a plain language version of the Permanent Parenting Plan. The TBA's Family Law Section and Access to Justice Committee also have been involved in the process. The project is now in its final stages and comments are being solicited from practioners. Interested lawyers may review the draft parenting plan form, instructions and tips for familes online. Comments and suggestions should be submitted by Oct. 31 to Claudia Lewis by email at claudia.lewis@tncourts.gov or by fax at (615) 741-6285. 

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Court Grants Review of 3 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review of two criminal cases that address retroactivity of a new rule regarding guilty pleas in certain sex offender cases and the sufficiency of evidence in an attempted murder case. A civil case accepted concerns the standard of review in modification of domestic relations Permanent Parenting Plans. The Raybin Perky Hotlist reviews the cases and predicts how they may be decided.

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State to Spend $3.96 Million to Fix DCS Computer System

The Department of Children’s Services (DCS) has identified more than 1,700 defects in its computer system, the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System. The system, which has been in place since 2009, is said to account for a multitude of DCS problems such as skipped payments to foster parents and failure to identify children's abuse histories. The $27 million system will cost the state $3.96 million to fix. The Tennessean has the story

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