News

Commissioner Balks on Cost of Juvenile Court Reforms

The Shelby County Commission's chair-elect says the county may not be willing to pay for the federally mandated overhaul of Shelby County Juvenile Court since they were not consulted sooner. "If, in fact, you expect us to help with a bunch of money, why would you not have included us in the process?" Mike Ritz said. The proposed changes, which could run into the millions of dollars, would create new positions, including full-time juvenile public defenders and a court-based disproportionate minority contact coordinator who would work to reduce the number of black youths brought to court, held in jail and transferred to adult court. DOJ staff attorneys are expected to return to Memphis this fall to work on a "comprehensive blueprint" with Juvenile Court staff, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Robertson Judge Recuses Self in Sexual-Abuse Custody Case

Robertson County Circuit Judge Ross Hicks recused himself today in a matter involving a mother who defied his court order, going on the run with her son instead of turning him over into the custody of his father, who she believed was sexually abusing the boy. At the time, an 11-person state investigative team had decided that William Cone, the boys' father, was doing just that but in Hicks' court, Georgia Dunn lost primary custody. Cone was arrested and charged with rape of a child last week, and now Dunn has surrendered to police. Tomorrow she will be back in court to determine whether the felony she is charged with will stand. WSMV reports

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CASA Volunteers Have Emotional Job

The Jackson Sun looks at the 31 CASA volunteers who work with Judge Christy Little in the Madison County Juvenile Court System. Shannon Stewart, executive director of Madison County CASA, said the program does not get involved with a child unless Little has referred the case to CASA workers. “It’s a mix of happy and sad,” Little said of the process that can at times be "emotional roller-coaster" for her and case workers because of the horrific situations children have faced.

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Federal Delegation Views Memphis Youth Initiatives

A delegation from the White House and several federal agencies is in Memphis this week to see how the city is mounting its war on youth violence. The group is looking for initiatives that can serve as national models. In conjunction with the visit, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton unveiled the city’s five-year plan of attack saying “We know where the problems are.” Efforts so far this year include a greater emphasis on collaboration, aggressive prosecution of gang leaders and repeat offenders, and asking area ministers and nonprofits to mentor at-risk teens. Read more about the initiatives in the Commercial Appeal.

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Custody Battle Brews Over Child's Sexy Outfit

A woman who dressed her daughter in a Dolly Parton outfit with a padded bra and backside for an episode of the reality TV show Toddlers & Tiaras could lose custody of the girl over the choice. In a battle unfolding in a Kentucky courtroom, a court-appointed psychologist is siding with Bill Verst, father of 6-year-old Maddy Verst, who contends her mother, Lindsay Jackson, sexually exploited their daughter by allowing her to dress so provocatively. Comparing the activity to training for the Olympics, Jackson said that if she loses custody over this, it would "open the door for any parent to challenge anybody on any activity that a kid does, period." ABAJournal.com has more

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What DOJ Report Tells Us About Indigent Criminal Defense in Tennessee

The Sixth Amendment Center takes a look at the recent Department of Justice investigation of the Memphis Juvenile Court, examining what it also tells us about indigent criminal defense throughout Tennessee. The center’s blog notes that Tennessee had been in the forefront in providing state funding for indigent criminal defense, but suggests that there should be greater emphasis placed on structural standards and the guarantee of sufficient resources to meet those standards.

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Life Sentences for Juveniles Under Scrutiny

On Thursday, the California Assembly passed a bill that would give "juvenile lifers" -- those who killed as juveniles and are serving life in prison without parole -- in that state a shot at freedom. Nationwide, there are roughly 2,500 inmates who fit into this category. "Because their brain is still developing, they have the ability to rehabilitate," said Michael Harris, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. Despite the legal rulings and the legislative activity, some survivors of people killed by juveniles are pushing back and arguing that a life sentence is appropriate punishment for juveniles who commit heinous murders. NewsChannel 5 has this AP story

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Lawyers Needed to Work Anti-Bullying Legal Clinics

Volunteer at one of three legal clinics -- "The Puck Stops Here" -- to help stop bullying in schools. The events are sponsored by the Nashville Predators and the Disability Law Advocacy Center (DLAC) to help students and their families identify, prevent, and legally respond to bullying in schools. Volunteer attorneys are needed at the clinics for brief client consultations and to assist clients in drafting key points in notification letters to schools and/or an OCR complaints. Learn more here. DLAC will provide training for all volunteer attorneys on bullying legal issues on Aug. 24. The clinics will be in Clarksville, Sept. 15; Nashville, Oct. 6; and Lebanon, Nov. 10. For more information, contact Sherry Wilds at DLAC at (615) 298-­‐1080, ext. 141 or at sherryw@dlactn.org

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Editorial: Good Change for Shelby Juveniles

In an editorial, the Commercial Appeal praises Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court for taking "another step to ensure that children are provided with adequate legal counsel when they wind up in the juvenile justice system." Court officials have made the decision to move the juvenile defense system from Juvenile Court oversight and place it under the county Public Defender's Office.

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Shelby Juvenile Defense to Move to PD's Office

Shelby County Juvenile Court defense operations will be transferred to the Public Defender's Office in response to a federal investigation that found juvenile court "discriminates against black children," WMC-TV reports. Court officials say they will move the juvenile defense system from Juvenile Court oversight and place it under the office in charge of defending adults. Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush will head up the attorneys handling cases ranging from vandalism and minor theft to aggravated assault and murder, said Bill Powell, the county's criminal justice coordinator. The public defender's office in Memphis hasn't held that role in 35 years, Bush said. The Commercial Appeal has more

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Conference on Juvenile Justice Held, Officers Elected

Putnam County Judge Nolan Goolsby was elected president of the Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Tennessee Juvenile Court Services Association last week during the 29th Joint Conference on Juvenile Justice in Nashville. Those elected to the TCJFCJ executive committee are Judge Robert Lincoln, vice-president, Washington County; Judge Dennis Humphrey, secretary-treasurer, Roane County; and Judge Ray Grimes, vice-president, Montgomery County. Those elected to the council are Judge Tim Brock, Coffee County; Judge Tim Irwin, Knox County; Judge Christy Little, Madison County; Judge Jeff Rader, Sevier County; Judge Vicki Snyder, Henry County; and Judge John Whitworth, Benton County. Learn more from the AOC.

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Juvenile Inmates Moved After AC Breaks

A broken air conditioner at the Memphis Juvenile Detention Center is forcing officials to move about 50 juvenile offenders to the adult jail. The boys will be housed separate from adults on a lower level with plenty of security, says Juvenile Administrator Rick Powell. WMC-TV Memphis reports

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Judge Green Honored for Legacy

Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green was presented with the juvenile justice conference’s McCain-Abernathy Memorial Award for outstanding service yesterday. In accepting the honor, she reflected on the advancements Tennessee has made in keeping children safe while she has served on the bench. Though she did not take credit for any of the improvements, local observers said her impact could not be overstated. Read more in the Tennessean.

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Juvenile Judge Announces Retirement

Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green plans to retire from the bench in six weeks, ending 14 years in that role, the City Paper reports. The Metro Council will choose a replacement.

Golf Scramble Benefits CASA

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will hold its seventh Annual Golf Tournament on Aug. 20 at 11 a.m. at the Johnson City Country Club. Funds raised by the event will go to the local agency’s programs. Teams will play four-person scramble. Warm up and registration will take place 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., with a shotgun start at noon. Lunch will be provided, as will prizes for the longest drive and the ball closest to the hole. Donation amounts range from $25 to $100. Download an informational brochure

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Youth Program Helps With Decrease in Detentions

An at-risk 17-year-old girl who faced charges just months ago was congratulated last week by Judge Christy Little for working hard to better herself by participating in a youth employment program created by Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist’s Gang Prevention Task Force. She was one of 42 who came through the program created "to take young people off the streets, to give them jobs, to teach them a work ethic and to show them that a sense of accomplishment comes with earning your own living." Little has seen a decrease in detention hearings this summer, which she said she attributes not only to the youths involved in the program, but also to the influence those young people carry with them when they interact with their peers. The Jackson Sun has more

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State Grant Helps Children of Prisoners

State prison officials awarded a $250,000 grant today to the Big Brothers Big Sisters Amachi initiative, which provides mentors for the children of incarcerated parents. According to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Correction, the initiative is designed to break the intergenerational cycle of crime and incarceration and give an often forgotten group of children the chance to reach their highest potential. Memphis Daily News has more

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Judge Asks for Help in Sumner County Juvenile Court

Sumner County commissioners were expected to vote today on whether to add resources to the county’s Juvenile Court in an effort to reduce the current backlog of cases. Sumner County General Sessions Judge Barry Brown asked commissioners to change a part-time magistrate position to full-time because he said the backlog can put children in danger and delay decisions in sensitive cases involving families, WKRN-TV reports.

Incoming DA Encourages Involvement in Fight Against Alcohol, Drug Abuse

Recently appointed Eighth Judicial District District Attorney General Lori Jones rallied support for the Stand in the Gap anti-drug program Sunday. Other counties taking part in the coalition include Claiborne, Campbell, Hawkins, Hancock, Union, along with Lee County, Va., and Bell County, Ky. Learn more about he coalition’s efforts from the Claiborne Progress.

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DCS Slow to Comply With Reform

A report shows issues with a new computer system are preventing the Tennessee Department of Children's Services from fully complying with a court-ordered plan to improve foster care across the state. The Memphis Daily News reports that the new computer system has prevented the collection of DCS data in over 20 areas of court-ordered reform, including response times, compliance with caseload standards and compliance with required visits between case workers and foster care children.

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Gang-Related Crimes Triple in Small Tennessee Towns

Gang-related crimes statewide rose by nearly 25 percent in 2011, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. They have more than doubled since 2005, the first year gang crimes saw a significant spike. But the real story isn’t necessarily in cities -- in that same time period, cities with fewer than 50,000 residents saw gang crime more than triple. The Tennessean reports

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Court: Constitution Bans Life without Parole for Juveniles

Justice Kagan announced the opinion for the court in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs today, holding, in a five-to-four vote, that “the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” SCOTUSblog has the story. The American Bar Association hailed the ruling saying, “We are gratified that the court followed its precedents…in determining that juvenile offenders are constitutionally different from adults for sentencing purposes. Juveniles are less morally culpable and more capable of rehabilitation than adults convicted of the same crimes.” Read the ABA’s brief in the cases

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DOJ Meets With Memphians, Names Powell to Investigate Juvenile Court Failings

Last night in Memphis, Department of Justice officials held a forum that allowed citizens to pose questions to the department, which conducted a recent investigation that found a pattern of unconstitutional conduct in several areas of the Shelby County Juvenile Court system. Bill Powell, criminal justice coordinator for the county, announced his appointment to help correct the failures. He said he will head a committee of officials and citizens to brainstorm ideas to correct issues in the local juvenile justice system. County Commissioner Henri Brooks, who filed the complaint that triggered the federal investigation, criticized Powell's appointment, saying "it looks like the Department of Justice is asking Juvenile Court to monitor itself." The Commercial Appeal has the story

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DA Candidates Discuss Juvenile Court Reform

Contenders for the Shelby County District Attorney General post addressed problems plaguing the Memphis Shelby County Juvenile Court at a forum on Monday. In discussing the Department of Justice's recent report about the court, Republican incumbent Amy Weirich focused on the lack of attention to victims of the system. "What is frustrating as a prosecutor of 21 years is that nowhere in that report does anyone mention the victims." She also defended the work being done to clean up the problems saying, "We're addressing those issues...In fact, we have a much more aggressive plan than the Department of Justice even asked us to accomplish." By contrast, Democratic challenger Carol Chumney maintained that the problems have been ongoing and persistent and "need to be dealt with." The Daily News reports

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Event Raises $8,600 for Teen Court

The annual Mary Ann Williams Scholarship Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction raised $8,600 for the Sumner County Teen Court earlier this summer. The event honored Williams, who worked for 20 years with the Department of Children Services before becoming the program coordinator with the Sumner County Juvenile Court. While serving in that role, she was instrumental in starting the first teen court program in the state. Money raised at the event funds several college scholarships, which the court awards to teen participants. This past year, the court awarded $7,500 in scholarships. The evening also included the presentation of awards and a celebration of the program’s 10-year anniversary. Download an article about the event

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