News

‘State of Juvenile Court’ Focuses on Family Trauma

At the second annual State of the Juvenile Court Address today, Shelby County Judge Dan Michael said the court is making significant progress on reforms mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice. He also called on the community to help break the cycle of trauma that lands young people in state custody. “I’m a juvenile court judge. I’m not the parent of these children. If I have a good parent or parents, I rarely see their children in court,” he said. WMC News 5 has the story.

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Task Force Finalizes Juvenile Justice Recommendations

As the legislature convenes in Nashville this week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, juvenile court officials, judges, district attorneys and academics are pushing for a major overhaul of state sentencing laws for juveniles who commit serious crimes. The Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force met Monday to finalize recommendations that members hope will set the agenda for the legislature in the coming year. The Tennessean looks at the proposals.

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TBJ Covers Immigration, Child Sexual Abuse, Family Law, Humor

Companies’ hiring of employees using work visas is a tedious business, but Nashville lawyer Dan E. White details it in the January Tennessee Bar Journal. Since the printing of the issue, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) increased filing fees by an average of 21 percent. Read the article online, which now includes the specifics on the updated fees. Also in this issue, John Day writes about child sexual abuse victims, and Marlene Eskind Moses and Benjamin Russ explain the doctrine of “inconvenient forum.” Bill Haltom looks at the flip side of “absence of malice.” Read the January TBJ.

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643 Children Identified as Severe Abuse Victims

A Tennessee committee charged with investigating and issuing recommendations on severe child abuse in the state says 643 children were victims of a second or subsequent incident of severe abuse during the 2014-2015 fiscal year. The Second Look Commission found that sexual abuse is the most prevalent type of abuse and that the “lack of consequences for failing to report child abuse continues to be an issue.” The report is based on data provided by the Department of Children’s Services. Fox 17 has more on the findings.

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Have You Heard About the TBA Mashup?

Interested in observing a legal hackathon or getting a hands-on demonstration of the new Fastcase 7 platform? Both will be part of the first TBA Mashup, a full-day of activities and free programming set for Feb. 17 at the Tennessee Bar Center in conjunction with the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program.

In addition to the hackathon and Fastcase 7 demo, the TBA Mashup will feature sessions on: 

  • Current State of Health Insurance for the Small Firms
  • Professional Liability Insurance - What to look for in YOUR Policy
  • A Demo of Fastcase TopForm, a powerful bankruptcy filing software
  • Retirement Planning Guidance from the ABA Retirement Funds
  • Pro Bono in Action: How to help with pro bono events and how to take part in online options

At the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program, you can take as many or as few hours as you need. Registration will be open all day. Payment will be determined at checkout based on the hours you need. Topics will include: 

  • Bill & Phil Tech Show
  • Ethical Considerations for Cyber Security in Law
  • Evolution of the Legal Marketplace
  • Making e-Discovery Affordable 
  • Drone Law
  • Encryption for Lawyers

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Child Advocacy Center Receives $11,000 Donation

The Exchange Club Foundation has donated $11,000 to the Third Judicial District Child Advocacy Center, the Greeneville Sun reports. The center, located in Mosheim, serves victims of child abuse in Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins and Hancock counties. The center is the largest single beneficiary of the foundation, which has made prevention of child abuse its top national priority.

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31 Complete Federal ‘Smart on Crime’ Program

The federal “Smart on Crime” initiative was announced in 2013 and implemented in East Tennessee by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chattanooga and the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office in conjunction with local law enforcement, social service organizations and churches. The program focused on ways to make the district safer by providing federal ex-offenders with the resources necessary to successfully re-enter the community and reduce recidivism. U.S. Attorney Nancy Stallard Harr recently announced that 31 ex-offenders completed the program in 2016. “As a result, these ex-offenders are in a better positon to become productive members of our communities, making east Tennessee a safer and better place to live,” Harr told Chattanoogan.com. She also announced that a special emphasis will be placed on juvenile offenders in 2017.

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State Human Services Commissioner to Step Down

Raquel Hatter, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, is leaving her post, Gov. Bill Haslam announced yesterday. Hatter will work in the private sector “at the national level” when she steps down in February, according to a news release. Haslam touted Hatter’s work on several state initiatives, but the Tennessean reports that her tenure was marred by ongoing problems with food programs for low-income children, licensed child care centers, vocational rehabilitation and general management issues.

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Court Adopts 2017 Rules Package

The Tennessee Supreme Court today published the 2017 amendments to its rules of procedure and evidence. Proposals include changing the place for filing a notice of appeal to the appellate clerk’s office, requiring payment of fees and taxes to the appellate court clerk at the time of initiation of an appeal, and other changes to the rules of appellate procedure, civil procedure, criminal procedure and juvenile procedure, as well as the rules of evidence. Six TBA sections – Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law, and Juvenile and Children’s Law reviewed the rules when proposed and either found no objections or supported the changes. The proposals now go to the legislature for ratification before becoming effective on July 1.

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Lawyers Report Frigid Temps at Juvenile Detention Center

After hearing reports that underage detainees in the Shelby County Juvenile Court detention center had inadequate clothing to guard against frigid temperatures outside and inside, the criminal justice reform advocacy group Just City donated 80 sweatshirts for residents. Just City’s founder, Josh Spickler, said he learned through attorneys that detainees were speaking to their legal representatives through chattering teeth, while wearing only short-sleeved t-shirts. In response, a detention center official said the building was adequately heated and he was not aware of complaints. Memphis Flyer reports the story.

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Memphis Juvenile Court Adjusts Docket Times

Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Court will implement new docket times effective Jan. 9. All dockets will be at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. except for the Rule 24/Transfer docket, which will remain at 9:30 a.m. Also, due to the increase in cases, two afternoon custody and visitation dockets have been added. View the full docket schedule.

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Task Force Suggests 6 Initial Juvenile Reforms

The state Juvenile Justice Task Force has come up with six initial and tentative recommendations to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders, Fox Chattanooga reports. The list, provided by Senate Majority Leader and task force Chair Mark Norris, calls for (1) reviewing the structure of the current juvenile justice system; (2) ordering treatment instead of jail time for some offenders; (3) collecting data on juvenile crime to determine trends; (4) creating a special group to review juvenile crime data; (5) exploring how probation works; and (6) encouraging partnerships between juvenile courts and schools.

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State Launches Foster Care Awareness Campaign

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam yesterday launched TNFosters, a website and awareness campaign that will work with a variety of non-governmental organizations to encourage more Tennesseans to become foster parents, the Herald Chronicle reports. TNFosters also will showcase innovative methods citizens have created to support foster parents and the children they serve. The effort is being spearheaded in large part by America’s Kids Belong, a national organization that has launched similar efforts in five other states.

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Sammons Admits Paperwork Snafu but Claims Immunity from Suit

Though back on the bench, Campbell County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Amanda Sammons’ legal woes are not over, Knoxnews reports. She allegedly remains under investigation by the Board of Judicial Conduct and is facing a federal lawsuit over an order to move two children to an allegedly abusive father. The suit, brought by the mother, claims that the children were taken without notice and despite a Kentucky judge’s order that they have no contact with the father. In her first response to the suit, Sammons admits that she “inadvertently” messed up the paperwork and did not have documents from the Department of Children’s Services indicating the children were being harmed by their mother, but argues her role as a judge shields her from liability.

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Human Rights Day in Nashville Focuses on Child Trafficking

Human Rights Day will be celebrated around the world Saturday, but in Nashville an event focused on child trafficking in Tennessee will happen tomorrow evening, the Tennessean reports. The program will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the First Amendment Center at 1207 18th Ave. South, No. 200. In addition to a discussion about the issues associated with child trafficking, the Tennessee Human Rights Commission will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Charles Kimbrough; its Rising Star Award to Anna Carella, Justin Jones and Mohammed Shurki; and its Outstanding Service Award to Juan Canedo and Derri Smith. RSVP online.

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Juvenile Justice Task Force Working Toward Report

The state Juvenile Justice Task Force is working toward a final report and is expected to make a number of recommendations to lawmakers on how juveniles should be treated in the legal system. That makes it likely that the legislature will consider some form of juvenile justice reform in the next session, the Tennessean reports. The task force, chaired by state Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is focused on a number of issues, including the youth probation system, inconsistent court practices across the state and use of valid court orders, which put the weight of the court behind directives for school attendance and curfews.

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Memphis Law Clinic Serving Local Youth

Students at the University of Memphis School of Law are making an impact on local youth through the newly formed Children’s Defense Clinic, the Memphis Daily News reports. The clinic allows students to represent youth facing criminal charges in delinquency proceedings. This semester, six students have represented 22 young clients, with four cases resulting in dismissal of all charges and three resulting in one of multiple charges being dropped. Lisa Geis, visiting assistant professor of law and clinic director, says the clinic is the result of a partnership between the county and the Public Defender’s Office formed after the Department of Justice’s 2009 investigation into the county juvenile system. It also is training a new set of juvenile defense attorneys who will be ready to take on cases of their own after graduation.

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A Step Ahead Foundation Honors Late Volunteer

Attorneys and community leaders gathered yesterday at the Nashville home of Colleen Conway Welch to celebrate A Step Ahead of Middle Tennessee, an affiliate of the original A Step Ahead Foundation in Memphis. Program founder Claudia Haltom, an attorney and former juvenile magistrate in Memphis, launched A Step Ahead in 2011. There are now four affiliates in other Tennessee cities. The event also honored the late Mary Ruth Shell, one of the founding board members of the foundation and an active pro bono volunteer with the Nashville Conflict Resolution Center and on behalf of children in the juvenile court system. The Administrative Office of the Courts reported the news.

From left: Nashville attorneys Brenda Dowdle, Anne Russell, Claudia Haltom, Deborah Taylor Tate, Jackie Dixon and Mary Walker

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Memphis Leaders Release New Crime Plan

Keeping young people out of jail and hiring more police officers are the two main goals of a new crime prevention plan unveiled in Memphis yesterday, WREG reports. The five-year plan, released by the Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission, calls for reducing the overall crime rate by 25 percent and the violent crime rate by 30 percent, and growing the police force to 2,500. With regard to juveniles, the goal is to look at “smarter, more effective ways to ... keep them out of the adult correction system,” said state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Memphis, who was on hand for the event. 

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Bystander Intervention Summit Planned

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence and the State Department of Health are joining forces to host a Bystander Intervention Summit Nov. 29 and 30 at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro. The event will feature national speakers leading discussions centered on issues related to bystander intervention, which is defined as the psychological phenomenon in which someone is more likely to intervene in an emergency situation when alone than when others are present. Participants will leave with a toolkit to enhance bystander intervention messaging in their own communities. Register online.

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Juvenile Law Annual Forum Coming Soon

The TBA will host its annual Juvenile Law CLE on Dec. 1 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. Speakers will include representatives from Vanderbilt’s Center of Excellence for Children in State Custody and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS). Sessions will cover case law updates, immigration issues in juvenile court, and using medical evidence in severe abuse cases. A panel on DCS administrative hearings and policies and a session on ethical issues in juvenile courts will round out the day. Learn more or register online.

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Lawsuit Challenges State Sex Offender Registry

Retroactive enforcement of Tennessee’s sex offender registry law is being challenged in a federal lawsuit that mimics a successful suit that struck down similar laws in Michigan, the Tennessean reports. The case, filed Tuesday in federal court in Nashville, argues that the state’s registration laws, which have been added piecemeal over the years, are illegally applied retroactively. The suit alleges the increasingly burdensome requirements are onerous, vague and arbitrary, and cites 10 cases from around the country that have found retroactive enforcement of registries unconstitutional.

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Youth Courts Expand, Maintain Low Recidivism Rate

Tennessee has seen growth in its youth court program recently with new pilot programs at Antioch Middle Prep and Dupont Hadley Middle Prep in Nashville, a new program at Stratford High School in Nashville and a new program in Union County. Tennessee Youth Courts Executive Director Denise D. Bentley also recently reported that a review of the statewide program showed a recidivism rate around three percent for the third year in a row with 2,000 youth served this past year. The program celebrated October as National Youth Justice Awareness Month. In a proclamation designating the month, President Barack Obama praised the work of youth courts and called on Congress to “increase protections for youth and limit the number of minors held in adult jails and prisons.”

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Court: Videos Do Not Meet Statutory Standard for Exploitation Conviction

The Tennessee Supreme Court today reversed and dismissed the conviction of a Knoxville-area man for “especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor” saying the videos he took of his 12-year-old daughter showed nudity but not sexual activity, both of which are needed to meet the requirements of the statute. The decision sends the exploitation convictions back to the lower court for a new trial on different charges with the justices suggesting the state might want to consider a charge of "attempt to commit especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor." The justices let other convictions related to the case stand. Read the decision

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Chili Contest, Lunch, Auction to Benefit Foster Kids

The Knoxville Bar Association will hold its annual chili cook-off, lunch and basket auction on Nov. 18 at the Knox County Juvenile Court, 3323 Division St. Chili judging will occur at 11 a.m. followed by lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. A silent auction will open at 11:30 a.m. A live auction will begin at 12:45 p.m. All winners must be present to accept their items. All proceeds from the event go to an annual foster care parents’ appreciation dinner and to meet any emergency needs of foster care children. Those interested in donating a basket should complete a donation form. For more information, call 865-215-6475.

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