News

Washington County Family Justice Center Opens

Thursday marked the grand opening of the Family Justice Center in Johnson City, News Channel 11 reports. The center serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse, bringing victims’ services together under one roof, site coordinator Heather Brack said. Agencies with representatives at the center include the Johnson City Police, Washington County Sheriff, Safe Passage, a local domestic violence shelter, Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee and the First Judicial District Attorney General’s office.

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State Leaders Participate in National Child Safety Initiative

Tennessee was one of eight states selected to participate in the Three Branch Institute to Improve Child Safety and Prevent Child Fatalities. The Florida event included sessions on identifying and assessing at-risk populations, parental substance abuse and opioid impact on child welfare. Attendees from Tennessee included Amy Coble and Michael Cull; Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis; Sen. Ferrell Haile, R- Gallatin; and AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate. The AOC has more.

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Coordinator Named for Sullivan Family Justice Center

A site coordinator has been named for Sullivan County’s future Family Justice Center, the Herald Courier reports. Karen Turnage Boyd, who previously worked in private practice and as a mediator, will guide the center through its developmental phase. Tennessee currently has seven family justice centers. The Sullivan County location, which is set to be fully operational in July 2018, will be number eight.

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Medical Emergency Raises Questions of Courtroom Protocol

When a young man in Shelby County Juvenile Court last week became violently ill -- apparently having a seizure-- it raised questions about what procedures are in place to deal with such events in the court. “It was traumatic for everybody to continue on as if this person didn’t exist,” said attorney Mozella Ross who was not in the courtroom but talked to lawyers who were. Court proceedings did stop as soon as paramedics arrived to tend to the patient, WREG reports. Ross said the incident shows the court needs standard protocols to handle medical emergencies in court.

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CASA Hosts Summer Wines Party

CASA of East Tennessee will host its Summer Wines Party Aug. 6 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Brabham Home, 621 Scenic Dr., Knoxville, 37919. The evening will feature summer foods, chilled drinks, raffle prizes and live music. Tickets are $75 per person and $125 per couple and may be purchased on the group’s website. For sponsorship information, contact Britney Sink, 865-329-3399.

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Memphis Law Hosting Juvenile Justice Conference

The University of Memphis School of Law will host the National Juvenile Justice Network conference July 27 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Juvenile justice advocates from across the country will be attending and organizers have invited law school students, faculty and staff to attend free of charge. Registration for the event closes tomorrow.

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Precedent Set for Dogs in Courtrooms

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected a claim that the presence of a comfort dog was "overly prejudicial" to a defendant in a rape trial. The case comes from the appeal of a man convicted of raping a 10-year-old in DeKalb County. Prosecutors wrote detailed guidelines for the dog’s courtroom presence during the trial, including instructions that the dog be invisible to everyone but the victim. The appeals court upheld the local court’s decision, citing case evidence from other states that allow service dogs in courtrooms. “This was the first case in Tennessee for a dog to be allowed in the courtroom to provide comfort to the victim,” said Jennifer Wilkerson, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center. With this win under their belts, prosecutors and child advocacy center directors across the state are planning to introduce service dogs into their own courtrooms, the Herald Citizen reports.

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Judge: Community Action Key for Juvenile Justice Reform

As the Shelby County Juvenile Court is working to stay in compliance with federal directives, Judge Dan Michael says community involvement is critical for the next steps on juvenile reform and diversion. Through the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), Michael is encouraging community members to learn more and be active advocates, News 5 reports. “I need your involvement,” he said. “If we don’t get involved as a community, we won’t solve this problem as a community.”

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Lee: Court Continually Seeking to Improve Services

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee spoke to the Sevierville Rotary this week to update the community on ways the court is modernizing and striving to make itself more accessible. According to the Mountain Press, she highlighted efforts such as allowing e-filing of court documents, improving access for indigent clients, exploring increased pay for indigent representation, consolidating complex business matters in one court, and streamlining the juvenile court system. Lee told local leaders that the court is committed to continually improving its services. “We need to be looking at how we do things to see if we can do them better,” she said.

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Disability Rights Tennessee Wants to Hear From You!

Disability Rights Tennessee has launched a survey aimed at gathering information from people with disabilities, family members, service providers and professionals to help shape the work of the organization.

The organization is looking for as much information as possible, so please feel free to share the survey with partners, colleagues and friends, so that an accurate picture of the needs of those with disabilities in the State of Tennessee can be compiled. Take the survey now. The deadline to respond is July 11.

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Cupcakes for CASA Set for Friday

Dyer-Lake Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) will host “Cupcakes for CASA” this Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Red Brick House on Lake Road in Dyersburg. Tickets are $20 each and are available in advance at First Citizens National Bank or Simmons Bank or the night of the event at the door. To learn more about the organization contact Wendy Smith. The State Gazette has more about the work of CASA.

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Cox-Wilhoit Honored at Greene County Courthouse

Pajan Cox-Wilhoit was honored Friday for her retirement after more than 28 years as a child support magistrate for the 3rd Judicial District. “She always treated litigants with respect and dignity,” Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins said. Cox-Wilhoit practiced law until March 1988, when she was appointed to the position by the late Circuit Court Judge Ben K. Wexler, The Greeneville Sun reports

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Men Plead Not Guilty in Connection With Ooltewah Rape Case

Attorneys for Gatlinburg police Detective Rodney Burns and Ooltewah High School head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery today entered not guilty pleas for the men charged in connection with the rape of an Ooltewah freshman. Burns faces charges of aggravated perjury for his testimony in the case; Montgomery was charged for failing to report child sexual abuse. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel

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Shelby County Commission Approves Juvenile Facilities

Former Memphis mayor and school superintendent Willie Herenton cleared a hurdle last night in gaining support for his plan to bring two 200-bed facilities to Shelby County to house local juvenile offenders. The Shelby County Commission signed off on the proposed resolution for the NewPath Restorative Campuses that will include mental health care and educational training. Read more from The Commercial Appeal

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Prosecutor to Drop Charges Against Handcuffed Kids

Rutherford County prosecutor Jennings Jones today said that he intends to dismiss charges against elementary school students who were taken to a juvenile detention center for allegedly taking part in off-campus bullying. The arrest, which involved handcuffing several of the children ages 9-12, sparked outrage in the community. Jones gave no reason for dropping the charges, the Associated Press reports

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Juvenile Judge Reprimanded for 'Sneaky Snake' Comment

The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct issued a public reprimand Monday to Rutherford County Juvenile Judge Donna Davenport after she described a father and/or his counsel as a “sneaky snake” following the transfer of a child custody case. Davenport had signed off on the transfer and acknowledged it as lawful, but later accused the father of “manipulating the court schedule.” As part of the reprimand, the judge agreed to issue a letter of apology to the father and his counsel.  

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DA Drops Charge Against Ooltewah Assistant Coach

Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston today dropped the charge of failing to report child sexual abuse against a volunteer-assistant basketball coach at Ooltewah High School. The Times Free Press reports the charges were dropped against Karl Williams because he "was not provided any training regarding the mandatory reporting law.” The school’s head basketball coach was indicted last week on four counts of failing to report child sexual abuse. 

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Editorial: Improve Pay for Court-Appointed Attorneys

“Tennessee pays its court-appointed attorneys so little that it threatens to undermine the right of their clients to a fair trial.” A Knoxville News Sentinel editorial argues why the state must increase compensation for court-appointed lawyers, calling the current rate – $40 per hour for work outside the courtroom – “ridiculously low.”   The comments come after the Indigent Representation Task Force held a public hearing in Knoxville last week as part of the group’s statewide listening tour. 

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Juveniles Rarely Understand Miranda Rights, Studies Show

Juvenile advocates say that juveniles rarely understand Miranda rights, even though several studies show they waive their rights at the rate of 90 percent. The ABA Journal takes a closer look at the issue, reporting there is no set script for the warnings, the wording varies widely and that at least half of the scripts require an eighth grade reading level. 

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Detective in Ooltewah Rape Case Indicted for Perjury

A Hamilton County grand jury today indicted Gatlinburg Detective Floyd Rodney Burns on two counts of aggravated perjury, following his testimony in the rape case of an Ooltewah basketball player. According to court documents, Burns is accused of making false statements as to whether the victim in the case cried out in pain and when Burns alerted children's services about the assault. Read more from WRCB

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Arrests Raise Questions on Juvenile Justice Procedures

The arrests of 10 children in a Murfreesboro school --  all African-Americans from 9 to 12 years of age -- are drawing continuing attention with an Associated Press report today that says school officials and some police officers tried to prevent the action at the school. The 10 were arrested for a bullying episode that took place off school grounds weeks before the arrests. 

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Principal Agrees to Pre-trial Diversion

An item in Wednesday's TBAToday referenced a news story from WBIR that said that Ooltewah High School assistant principal/athletic director Allard “Jesse” Nayadley had been "sentenced" to community service for failing to report child abuse. According to his lawyer, Lee Davis, Nayadley actually had agreed to pre-trial diversion on the class A misdemeanor of failing to report. After performing the community service and 90 days of pre-trial diversion, he can have the matter expunged.

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Judge: Juvenile Solitary Confinement Suit Can Proceed

U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell today denied a request by attorneys for the state and Rutherford County to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to release a 15-year-old from solitary confinement in Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center. However, Campbell declined to issue an injunction barring the use of solitary confinement for children in Tennessee. Attorneys for the boy and his mother said the boy was locked down for five days, a portion of which he was held in a cell 23 hours a day with a window covered by a board. Jail officials dispute that claim, The Tennessean reports. Campbell ordered the release of the boy in April on the same day as the lawsuit was filed.

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Former Memphis Mayor Proposes Juvenile Facilities

Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton presented before the Shelby County Commission today his plan to build two 200 bed-facilities to house Shelby County juveniles. Herenton said the project, named NewPath, would partner with Juvenile Court and would not require county funding. The facilities, planned for Frayser and Millington, would provide services that include mental health care and vocational training. County Mayor Mark Luttrell supports the idea, but noted the plan will face more scrutiny on the state level. Read more from The Commercial Appeal

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Juvenile Justice Experts Argue for Less Police Action

Last year, nearly 2,000 of Tennessee law enforcement’s juvenile arrests were of children ages 6-12. The highest ranking offense for that age group was simple assault, The Tennessean reports. "Arresting children of that age is just not appropriate, except in extreme circumstances,” Craig Hargrow, director of juvenile justice for the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. Juvenile justice experts argue the focus needs to be on “alternative restorative practices” instead of police action. 

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