News

Nashville Bar Foundation Awards Nearly $25K in Grants

The Nashville Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the Nashville Bar Association, has awarded $24,925 in grants to four area nonprofits to support their law-related educational and charitable initiatives. The recipients are: the Family Center was given $2,000 to develop a new child abuse prevention program that will help lawyers more effectively respond to abuse cases; the Legal Aid Society was given $10,000 to expand legal assistance for immigrant and refugee communities; Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee was given $1,500 to educate the legal profession on how to deal with clients who have personality disorders, high anxiety or mental illness; and Nashville Community Education was given $1,425 to expand The People’s Law School, a program that offers a series of free legal classes to the public about important legal issues.

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Sugarmon Opens Juvenile Court Campaign

Memphis City Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon says the Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court is “administratively top-heavy” and too expensive to operate but that he will change that if elected. Sugarmon made the comments as he filed his petition to run in the August election for juvenile judge, the Memphis Daily News reports. Sugarmon also said he plans to talk about problems with the court that were identified by the U.S. Justice Department, including lack of due process, disproportionately harsher punishments for minorities and a greater number of minority youth transferred to adult court. Sugarmon will face Juvenile Court Chief Magistrate Dan Michael in the nonpartisan race for the position, now held by outgoing Judge Curtis Person.

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2 Candidates Formally Announce Campaigns

Two additional judicial candidates have now formally announced their election bids. Andrew Mark Freiberg is seeking the Republican nomination for Circuit Court Judge, Part 3 in the 10th Judicial District. Freiberg, who currently is in private practice, previously served six years as a prosecutor in the district, which covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties. On the other side of the state, Memphis City Judge Tarik Sugarmon has made his candidacy for Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court judge official. He will face Juvenile Court Chief Magistrate Dan Michael in a nonpartisan race for the position, now held by outgoing Judge Curtis Person. Read more about the candidates in the Cleveland Banner and the Memphis Daily News.

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Lawsuit Challenges Policy of Shackling During Delivery

Hamilton County’s policy of shackling female prisoners during labor, delivery and postpartum is being challenged in a new federal lawsuit. Attorney Chris Clem told the Chattanoogan that the suit seeks to declare the practice “as cruel and inhuman and a violation of civil rights.” A Metro Davidson County policy was also challenged in the high-profile case of Juana Villegas, an undocumented Nashville resident who was arrested and later held in shackles while giving birth.

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New Advocacy Group Tackles Women’s and Children’s Issues

Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Sara Beth Myers recently founded Advocates for Women’s and Kids’ Equality (AWAKE), which works to foster public policy to “improve the wellness, safety, opportunity and equality for women and children in Tennessee.” Since its inception in November, the group has worked to build a base in Nashville and establish itself within the state. Myers and her team have worked on mandatory sentencing laws for domestic violence offenders, but in an interview with the Nashville Scene, she said she does not want AWAKE to be pigeonholed as strictly a domestic violence organization, and plans to work on other issues such as improving state children’s services and pay equity.

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Boy Pleads Guilty in Shooting Death

The mother of a Nashville boy who was shot and killed earlier this year stood with the grandmother of the 17-year-old who on Monday pled guilty to reckless homicide in the death. Kaemon Robinson shot 15-year-old Kevin Barbee when, witnesses told police, a handgun Robinson was holding accidentally fired. The victim's mother had originally requested Robinson to be tried as an adult, but has since forgiven him. Had he been tried and convicted as an adult, he would have faced up to 51 years in prison, according to Fox 17. As a juvenile, he will likely be out of jail in less than two years.

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Georgia's Juvenile Justice Department Hiring

Georgia's Department of Juvenile Justice is recruiting veterans. NewsChannel 9 reports that the department has openings for administrative roles, corrections and transportation officers, security emergency response teams, probation and parole specialists, nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers and more.

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Drug Courts See Successes

Cookeville area lawyers, judges and others involved in the 13th Judicial District Drug Court celebrated the graduation of the four members of its first class last week, according to the Herald-Citizen. So far, there have been 31 people recommended by the District Attorney’s office in the district to go into treatment. There are 17 in the treatment facility and 10 in outpatient status. Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Seth Norman oversees the Drug Court. Nearby in Coffee County, drug court executive director Mike Lewis and other drug court officials run “Recovery Academy” -- an outlet for youth who have slipped off the educational tracks and are in danger of not getting a high school diploma. Judge Tim Brock serves as the drug court judge and often refers youth to the Recovery Academy, which began last November. The Tullahoma News has this story.

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Youth Courts Train Teens in Hamilton Co.

About 40 students gathered in Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Philyaw's courtroom on Saturday to train to be on the county's new Youth Court, one of 16 diversionary programs in the state that allows non-violent, first-time offenders the opportunity to have their cases heard by a jury of kids their own age. In Chattanooga, the program is supported by the Hamilton County Juvenile Court, Miller & Martin PLLC and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and administered by the Tennessee Bar Association. Miller & Martin partner Randy Wilson tells the Times Free Press that 25 lawyers are volunteering time. Philyaw says he hopes to increase the court members 120 and to have the first actual court session with two cases in April and have a monthly session thereafter. Denise Bentley, the TBA's Youth Court coordinator, says fewer than 7 percent of respondents who participate in Tennessee youth courts re-offend within a year.

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Child Abuse Prevention Month Events

CASA agencies across Tennessee will mark Child Abuse Prevention Month with events, fundraisers and educational programs throughout the month of April. To get involved contact the appropriate invidual below. Don't see your area listed? Find a CASA agency near you at the Tennessee CASA website.


CASA OF THE 9TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT

Contact: Karren Herman, jb020707@yahoo.com

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Racing Series Benefits Local CASA Agency

Rogersville lawyer Mark A. Skelton is again hosting the Skelton Law Racing Series, which this year includes a 10-mile road race, a four-mile road race and four trail races. Proceeds from the 8K and mile run, set for May 31, benefit CASA for Kids, which serves families in Sullivan and Hawkins counties. Events start in February and run through next fall.  Download a schedule of races or contact Skelton at (423) 272-4812 or markskelton@markskelton.com for more information.

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New Candidates Join Race for Juvenile Judge

Several new candidates have joined an already crowded field seeking to replace retiring judge Brandon Fisher as Anderson County Juvenile Court judge. They include longtime Oak Ridge lawyer David Dunkirk, who is running for the Democratic nomination, and Lauren Biloski and Victoria E. Bannach, who are seeking the Republican nomination. Read more about the candidates from Knoxnews.

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Memphis Law Hosts Juvenile Justice Symposium

The University of Memphis School of Law is hosting its annual Law Review Symposium on the topic of “Juvenile Courts in Transition: Where We Have Been and Where We are Going.” The event will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 28 and feature a variety of regional and national experts on the subject of juvenile justice and reform. Topics include special education for juvenile detainees, confidentiality in juvenile proceedings and advocacy for juvenile clients. Speakers, including Sandra Simkins, the Justice Department official monitoring the local court, also will focus on the specific situation in Memphis. Learn more in this press release. Register for the event on the school’s website.

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Shelby PD Now Handling Juvenile Defense

Veteran Memphis defense attorney Donna Armstard is heading up a team of attorneys at the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office that has begun representing juveniles charged with crimes, the Commercial Appeal reports. “We’re basically starting a whole new law firm,” Armstard says of the effort. For decades, minors have been represented by private attorneys appointed to individual cases and paid with public money. But federal findings that black youths are treated more harshly than their white counterparts in the county justice system, have led the public defender’s office to make a number of changes, including gradually taking over the defense of all juveniles. Stephen Bush, the county’s chief public defender in the adult system, eventually will be in charge of representing indigent minors charged with serious crimes. But for now, he is relying on Armstard and her team, who are busy getting up to speed on juvenile law and court procedures.

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If You Did It, Flaunt It With a TBJ Announcement

The Tennessee Bar Journal has a new opportunity for lawyers and firms to promote outstanding achievements, new associates, new partners, mergers, awards and any changes within the firm. Now, Professional Announcements are available at special, lower-rate pricing. You can tell more than 12,000 of your peers about your accomplishments by placing an announcement in the Journal. For information or to place an announcement, contact Debbie Taylor at 503-445-2231 or Debbie@llm.com. To have an announcement placed in the April issue, please contact her before Feb. 18.

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Memphis Child Advocacy Center Names New Director

Virginia Stallworth has been named executive director of the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, Memphis Daily News reports. She succeeds Nancy Williams, who held the post for 20 years. Stallworth had been the agency’s associate director and managed the organization’s development activities. She directed multiple fundraising campaigns, and in 2011, she played a lead role in a child sexual prevention initiative.

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Juvenile Judge Launches Drug Court, Pushes for Teen Curfew

The Hamilton County Juvenile Court has formed a drug court that will start working in April, Juvenile Judge Rob Philyaw told a community group this week. Philyaw also said the court is making progress on the issue of truancy but needs to do more on a teen curfew. He called on Chattanooga’s mayor to support efforts to get “kids off the streets in the middle of the night.” Philyaw also announced new members of the Juvenile Court Commission and provided an update on the county youth court, which is made possible by volunteer lawyers from Miller & Martin and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Read more news from the court in the Chattanoogan.

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Haslam Budget Focuses on Education, Workforce Readiness

In his “State of the State” speech last night, Gov. Bill Haslam laid out his priorities for state spending in the coming year. Programs targeted for increases include TennCare; teacher salaries; services for the disabled; new DCS field workers and child abuse investigators; and a variety of education programs aimed at helping high school students succeed in college, Knoxnews reports. New programs announced include a statewide residential drug court in Middle Tennessee modeled on a program in Morgan County; “Tennessee Promise,” which would allow all high school graduates to attend two years of community college or a technology school for free; and a new Director of Workforce Alignment who would work with state departments and local officials to close the “skills gap” across the state. Revenue would come from proposed cuts in payments to TennCare providers, increases in TennCare co-pays, elimination of 664 state jobs and a $302 million dip into state lottery reserves. Read the text of the speech in the Tennessean.

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Hawkins Bar Pushes for Full-Time Juvenile Court Judge

Hawkins County Sessions Judge J. Todd Ross told County Commissioners Monday that the juvenile court needs to be increased from two to five days per week, and the judge position changed from part-time to full-time. Times News Net reports that Ross told the commission he was speaking on behalf of the Hawkins County Bar Association, as well as Juvenile Judge Daniel Boyd, who was substituting in Ross’s Court Monday morning.

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DCS Responds to ‘Stinging’ Audit

A new state audit of Tennessee's Department of Children's Services (DCS) found the department failed to conduct thorough investigations into child abuse, report deaths to lawmakers as required by law, perform sufficient background checks on those working with vulnerable children and adequately supervise juvenile delinquents. The audit, which looks at the agency from 2007 to 2013, was published today in advance of a legislative hearing where lawmakers are sure to question officials, The Tennessean reports. DCS officials respond to each finding in the audit and note that changes to many of the issues already have been made: investigators have new technology, the computer system has been updated and a new procedure for reviewing child deaths is in place. WBIR.com has the story.

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Child Support Magistrate Sworn In Today

Melissa Moore was sworn in as Child Support Magistrate for the 4th Judicial District during ceremonies this morning at the Sevier County Courthouse. Moore will begin her term on Feb. 1. TBA President Cindy Wyrick made brief remarks at the ceremony. The 4th Judicial district serves Cocke, Grainer, Jefferson and Sevier counties. Read more from the Jefferson County Post.

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Juvenile Court Judge Readies Campaign

Chief Juvenile Court Magistrate Dan Michael says he is prepared if opponents try to make a campaign issue out of reforms underway at the court. In 2009, the U.S Justice Department began a comprehensive investigation of the court that found “serious and systemic failures” in the juvenile justice system in Memphis and Shelby County, noting that black children disproportionately faced harsher punishments than white children and were disproportionately transferred to the adult criminal justice system for trial as adults. “If that is the issue that is raised, bring it on,” Michael said of the report’s harsh conclusions. “I don’t feel like I’m part of the problem. I feel like I am the solution. I’ve been there long enough. I know the system. I know what needs to be changed.” The non-partisan judicial race is on the Aug. 7 ballot. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Volunteers Needed for Juvenile Court Clinic

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) is organizing and staffing a pro bono legal advice clinic at the Hamilton County Juvenile Court on the second Thursday of each month. The next event will be Feb. 13 from 1 to 4 p.m. The clinic focuses on helping families with child support issues and other matters that come before the Juvenile Court. The agency is seeking three to five lawyers to volunteer at the clinic. For those who do not have a background in juvenile law, the court has offered to hold training sessions. Email LAET to learn more or to help out.

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'Messiah' Judge Answers Formal Charges

Child support magistrate Lu Ann Ballew has responded to charges brought against her by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, the Newport Plain Talk reports. In documents filed with the court, Ballew denies that her actions violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. A three-member investigative panel organized by the board earlier found there was "reasonable cause" to believe Ballew violated the Code of Judicial Conduct when she ruled a family could not name its child “Messiah.” Get all documents in the case on the AOC website.

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Justice to Schools: Abandon Overly Zealous Discipline

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday issued new guidelines encouraging the nation's schools to abandon “overly zealous discipline policies” that send students to court instead of the principal's office, the Times Free Press reports. Attorney General Eric Holder said problems often stem from well-intentioned policies that can inject the criminal justice system into school matters. He also said the department, in studying the issues, found that racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem. The Commercial Appeal looks at how the guidelines have been received by Memphis educators.

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