News

Knox Juvenile Court Facility Revamp Completed

The ribbon formally was cut yesterday for the expanded Carey E. Garrett Juvenile Court Building in Knoxville, Knoxnews reports. The 8,926-square-foot project cost nearly $4 million — more than $600,000 over the original budgeted amount. It includes four new courtrooms, mediation rooms, holding cells, an enclosed sally port for law enforcement vehicles and expanded space for the clerk’s office. The building will now serve as the central location where all matters pertaining to juvenile justice and child support services in Knox County will be handled.

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Judge Philyaw Not Reappointing 2 Magistrates

Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw said he is not reappointing two of six court magistrates, Chattanoogan.com reports. Leaving their posts will be Emma Andrews, who has been a magistrate for 16 years, and Elizabeth Gentzler, a magistrate for four years. Both handled child support and parentage cases at the Child Support Division. Philyaw described his actions saying, “The magistrates serve at the pleasure of the judge. Coming into a new term, it has been decided to not reappoint these two ...” Philyaw also said a replacement for Andrews has been chosen, but he is not yet ready to announce the name.

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Child Trafficking Forum Set for Memphis

A coalition of federal agencies will hold a forum on human trafficking Sept. 9 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The event will focus on combating child and youth exploitation with the goal of building greater awareness and better responses to the problem of child trafficking. Special training by the office of U.S. District Attorney Ed Stanton will be provided to law enforcement officers in attendance. Sponsors include the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Registration is free, but is required.

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Deputy DA Honored for Child Abuse Prevention Work

The J. Stephens Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Crossville recently honored Deputy District Attorney Gary McKenzie for his years of advocacy on behalf of Upper Cumberland children at risk of abuse and neglect. In presenting the award, the center noted that McKenzie has worked for more than a decade to seek justice for victims of abuse/neglect, has been part of several grass-roots efforts to improve the services available to victims and has worked to strengthen laws concerning abuse and neglect. McKenzie has worked in the district attorney’s office since graduating from law school in 2000. He was named deputy in 2007. Last week he won election as 13th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge, Part I. See a photo of the award presentation in the Crossville Chronicle.

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Michael, Kyle and Weirich Win in Memphis Races

Three races in Memphis caught the state’s attention in Thursday’s elections. Shelby County Juvenile Court Special Judge Dan Michael was elected to the court’s top job with 54 percent of the vote, besting challenger Tarik Sugarmon in the race to become Juvenile Court judge. Michael will replace outgoing Judge Curtis Person, who is retiring. Sugarmon currently serves as Memphis City Court administrative judge. Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle claimed the open seat in Chancery Court Part II, besting three opponents to replace Chancellor Arnold B. Goldin, whose seat opened up when he was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Kyle has said that he would resign from the legislature if he won. A special election will be held this year to fill Kyle’s seat for the remaining two years of his four-year term. The Commercial Appeal has these stories. In the race for district attorney general, incumbent Amy Weirich garnered 65 percent of the vote over Joe Brown to retain the job she has held since January 2011 when Gov. Bill Haslam appointed her as the county’s first female district attorney. Weirich credited widespread support from all parts of town and from both parties. 

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DCS Reports 2 Apparent Suicides at Detention Facility

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the deaths of two teens in separate apparent suicides within a three-week span at a Department of Children's Services facility that houses delinquent youth. Last week, staff at Mountain View Youth Development Center in East Tennessee discovered an unconscious 18-year-old who is believed to have hanged himself. He died the next day at a local hospital. On July 13, a 16-year-old boy fatally hanged himself in his room as other teens left to shower, according to DCS officials. The deaths come a year after the department underwent a reorganization and change in leadership after multiple problems emerged, including a failure to keep track of deaths of children on its watch and a spike in violence at its youth detention facilities. The Tennessean has the story.

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DOJ Suggests Increasing Juvenile Age Limit

The Department of Justice is recommending raising the minimum age for those who can be tried as adults as a controversial solution to reducing violence in Memphis, WREG reports. The agency is recommending juvenile courts raise the age of teens they serve from 18 years old to somewhere between 21 and 24 years old. Shelby County Juvenile Court chief administrator Larry Scroggs said 21 would be a good compromise since cutting services off at 18 is too early.

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Immigration Courts Work to Speed up Children’s Cases

Immigration courts are speeding up hearings for the tens of thousands of Central American children caught on the U.S. border after criticism that the backlogged system is letting immigrants stay in the country for years while waiting for their cases to be heard. There are 375,000 cases before the immigration courts, and many immigrants wait months or years for a hearing. Instead of bumping children to the back of that long line, the courts are now giving each child an initial court hearing within three weeks, according to the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review. A spokeswoman for the courts didn't answer questions about how many children's hearings had been set under the new plan or which courts had scheduled additional hearings. The Daily Times has more.

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Domestic Abusers Asked to ‘Check-in’

Davidson County court officers appear to be misapplying a new state law that was intended to cut down on frivolous arrest warrants by issuing summonses instead of warrants for domestic abuse suspects, a Tennessean editorial suggests. Domestic abusers are among criminals most likely to reoffend in a short amount of time, because of the level of anger involved, and the episodes only grow more violent and more deadly. Switching to summonses, for which there are no consequences if you choose to ignore them, may be the worst turn of events yet, the publication says.

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Tennessee to be Pilot Site for Juvenile Tracking Plans

The Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is partnering with two national groups to improve the collection and analysis of recidivism data.The Council for State Governments Justice Center and the National Reentry Resource Center will join the DCS Juvenile Justice Division on the project, with the goal of improving outcomes for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris on Monday applauded the move, saying the “project is a significant opportunity … to improve the way we are tracking these youth.” Chattanoogan.com has more on the story.

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Hamilton Juvenile Court Launches Video Hearings

The Hamilton County Juvenile Court initiated its first video hearing this week, Chattanoogan.com reports. Officials said the new technology will save the sheriff’s office and juvenile corrections staff both time and fuel costs and will increase security of the court by not moving prisoners through public areas. Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler proposed the idea and Judge Rob Philyaw signed off on it.

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Access and Visitation Grants Available

The Administrative Office of the Courts has approximately $200,000 in grant funding available for the development or continuation of initiatives that will aid self-represented litigants in accessing the Tennessee court system regarding child support issues. To receive funding, the initiatives must address the needs of divorced or never married parents, and focus on services to help them resolve any or all issues concerning parenting and visitation in child support cases or cases involving child support issues. Proposals must be received by Aug. 8.

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Judges Call to Double Number of Foster Families

Montgomery County Judge Ken Goble and Juvenile Magistrate Tim Barnes are asking citizens to look at their circumstances and see if they have the ability to become a foster parent, the Leaf Chronicle reports. There are currently 50 foster families, but the judges say the county needs to double that number to adequately serve all of the 279 children in the system.

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Juvenile Court Reform Moves to Child Welfare Cases

Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court has been selected as one of eight courts in the nation in which the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will establish a new child welfare program. Juvenile Court reform has often focused on delinquent children who come into court for their actions — the nonprofit council now plans to examine the reason why children come to the court in the first place. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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First Mom Charged Under Prenatal Drug Law

A 26-year-old Tennessee woman has become the first mother to be charged under a state law that criminalizes drug use by pregnant women, MSNBC reports. Mallory Loyola was arrested and charged Tuesday with simple assault after she and the baby girl she gave birth to on July 6 both tested positive for methamphetamine, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. Loyola told police she smoked the drug a few days before she gave birth. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of one year. Tennessee is the first state in the nation to allow such charges.

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Sevier CASA Holds Youth Rodeo Fundraiser

CASA of Sevier County will host a youth rodeo to raise money for its work. Cowboys for CASA will take place Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. at Tri C Farms in Seymour. Tickets are $20 and corporate sponsorships are available for $300. For more information, contact director Jim King, (865) 654-7097.

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CASA to Host Juvenile Court Judicial Forum July 14

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Tennessee Heartland, which serves Blount County, will host a forum for juvenile court candidates Kenlyn Foster and Susan Rushing at 6 p.m. Monday at the Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Community College. Each candidate will have an opportunity to address the group and answer questions from the audience. The public is invited and no RSVP is necessary. The Daily Times has more.

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DCS Grant Expands Children's Center

The Claiborne Children’s Center (CCC) has received a Community Partnership Program grant from the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to its expand programming and allow DCS to regain its presence in Claiborne County, the Claiborne Progress reports. The old Juvenile Detention Center has been used to house the offices of the CCC but the limited space did not provide adequate room for the Center to expand its programs and projects inside the county. The new center is expected to open in July.

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Juvenile Court Judges, Magistrates Face Lawsuit

A complaint filed in Shelby County Chancery Court on Tuesday alleges longstanding violations of due process in the juvenile court system of Shelby County. The complaint argues that people with business before the court have the right to have their cases heard before the elected judge, and claims the judge has declined to hear cases, passing that responsibility on to appointed magistrates. The juvenile court responded, saying it handles approximately 50,000 cases each year and that state laws do authorize Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person to appoint magistrates who have the power of trial judges. News Channel 5 has more.

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Juvenile Court Addressing Mental Health

The Shelby County Juvenile Court has improved its approach to mental health, one of the many reforms outlined in the 2012 mandate from the U.S. Department of Justice. The report called for improvements in the competency evaluations used in court and in the detainees’ overall mental health care. Changes began in August 2013, the Commercial Appeal reports, when the court’s health care budget jumped from $100,000 to $800,000 annually, thanks to a $700,000 contribution from the Shelby County Commission. Now, there is a nurse on call 24 hours a day and full-time mental health professionals available seven days a week. 

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DCS Computer Errors Have Human Impact

According to a Tennessean editorial, the Department of Children’s Services’ four-year-old computer system TFACTS is still riddled with glitches, an issue that the newspaper claims was made rosier than the reality in a recent progress report. The system, which tracks child deaths, caseloads and other core tasks, was supposed to be fixed in January but will not be completed until October at the earliest. “This is not a case about a computer system,” U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell said. “It’s about actual care for actual foster children.”

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Tennessee Chosen for Juvenile Justice Aid

Tennessee is one of four states chosen for a federal program to better help juveniles with behavioral disorders stay out of custody. Along with Georgia, Indiana and Massachusetts, Tennessee state officials are getting support from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the MacArthur Foundation to create better ways to screen for behavioral health disorders and care for juveniles in community settings. Although the state has been praised for reducing its jailing of teens in the past 15 years, the new program seeks to help youth long before they come into contact with the justice system. The Tennessean has more.

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New Reports Find Progress, Work to Do at Juvenile Court

Two new reports released this month largely praised Shelby County Juvenile Court for its continued progress in making reforms ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice, but both highlight shortcomings that need attention, the Commercial Appeal reports. The first report dealt primarily with protecting those detained from harm. Progress was noted in the areas of employee training and performance evaluations as well as availability of medical and mental health services. However, concerns were raised with the lack of adequate staffing. The second report looked at due process for detainees. It found that while compliance rates had increased, none had reached substantial compliance. The report praised the creation of a juvenile unit in the public defender’ office and improvements in administering Miranda rights. Concerns with the transfer of juveniles to adult court and defense attorney access to psychological evaluations, however, continue to be an issue for the court.

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'Justice in Motion' Proceeds Presented to Domestic Violence Shelters

First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark and Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal presented checks to two local domestic violence shelters yesterday, WJHL reports. Clark and Graybeal presented the proceeds from the April 26 Justice in Motion 5K run/walk to Safe Passage of Johnson City and CHIPS of Erwin. The checks totaled more than $5,000.

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New Anti-Trafficking Effort Focuses on Visitors’ Centers

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Department of Transportation rolled out a new campaign this week to compliment existing efforts to combat human trafficking in the state, the Tennessean reports. The new effort will focus on working with the state Department of Tourism to reach out to interstate travelers who might notice any suspicious activity. The campaign will feature posters of women in visitors centers across the state with captions such as, “You see a girl who can do anything. He sees a girl he can force to do anything.” In announcing the effort, the Tennessee Department of Tourism noted the posters would be seen by some 12 million visitors who pass through the welcome centers each year.

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