News

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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Report: Memphis Juvenile Court Improving

Independent monitor Sandra Simpkins, who is overseeing reforms at the Shelby County Juvenile Court, has cited improvements, particularly involving the issue of when to transfer a minor to adult court, the Commercial Appeal reports. In a recent 33-page report, Simpkins wrote that defense attorneys are fighting harder to keep youths in the juvenile system and judges are scrutinizing more closely which felony cases merit transfer to adult court. She concludes that the court “is becoming a healthy court environment where due process rights of children are protected and public safety concerns are addressed.”

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Ballew Granted Extension to Respond to Complaint

Cocke County Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew has been granted an extension until Jan. 6, 2014, to file a response to formal charges brought against her by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, the Newport Plain Talk reports. Charges were filed against Ballew on Oct. 23, after she ruled that a Cocke County child could not be named "Messiah." Read more from the paper.

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DCS One Year Later

One year after various media coalitions sued the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services for access to child death records, WREG news Channel 3 reviews the changes and progress DCS has made. In the past year, DCS has made major staff and policy changes and revised its child death review process. Agency leaders say the abuse hotline is dropping fewer calls, case workers are training with the TBI and more data will be added online, like a child’s age, gender and history with the department before the full case file is posted. “We’re trying every way we can to be more open, we think that, that makes us better, we invite the oversight,” says Commissioner Jim Henry.

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Clinton Lawyer Running for Anderson County Juvenile Court Judge

Clinton lawyer J. Michael Clement is running for Anderson County Juvenile Court judge in the May 2014 Democratic primary, Knoxnews reports. Clement is seeking the post now held by Brandon Fisher, who is running for the Anderson County chancellor seat vacated by the retiring Chancellor Bill Lantrip. Clement said he has represented clients in Juvenile Court since he began practicing law and brings “a wealth of knowledge and a depth of feeling for the Juvenile Court system.”

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Judge Completes Training, Project for ‘Crossover’ Youth

Rutherford County Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott Davenport has completed 44 hours of training and a community project designed to reduce the number of youth who “crossover” from the child welfare system to the juvenile justice system, or vice versa. Her project, Rutherford County: A Multi-Systemic Strategy with Partners, was approved by the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and she was named a member of the center’s fellows network. Davenport completed training on crossover issues last year at the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. That program aims to create a network of individuals across the country committed to reforming the juvenile justice system. WGNS Radio has more on the story.

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Hamilton Juvenile Court Recognizes Volunteers

Judge Rob Philyaw and the Hamilton County Juvenile Court recently recognized volunteers who serve as court appointed special advocates and Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) members as well as organizations that provide work and living skills for youth. Valerie While was named CASA of the Year; Nancy Pagano was named FCRB Member of the Year; and Goodwill Industries Inc., was named Community Worksite of the Year. See a photo of the award recipients on Chattanoogan.com.

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Nashville Firm Sponsors Snowflake Run

The Nashville law firm of Kinnard, Clayton & Beveridge is sponsoring the Snowflake 5K Tacky Sweater Run again this year to benefit Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee. The run/walk will be held Dec. 14 at 9 a.m. at Shelby Bottoms Park, 1900 Davidson St., Nashville 37206. Register here and use the promo code FRIEND to receive $5 off the registration fee.

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Meet Santa, Help CASA

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Ninth Judicial District is offering two opportunities for the public to have a photo of a child or pet with Santa Claus in Harriman while learning how to help abused children, Roane County News reports. The agency reports that Santa will be in front of the former Roane Medical Center from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 before the city’s Christmas parade and again from 10 a.m. to noon on Dec. 14 at Earl Duff Subaru. The outreach provides an opportunity to educate local families about CASA's work in the community.

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Judge Wimberly Receives Adoption Honor

Knox County Circuit Court Judge Harold Wimberly Jr. received the Bill Williams Service Award for outstanding achievement in adoption services last week from the Department of Child Services (DCS). The award recognized his commitment, dedication and service to assisting the department in finding adoptive families for children in full guardianship of the state, the Knoxville Focus reports. Wimberly, a Knoxville native, has served on the bench for 39 years – first as a general sessions judge and then as a circuit court judge. DCS reports that he has overseen 584 adoptions, leading to 1,000 children being placed in homes.

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Juvenile Judge Running for Chancellor

Anderson County Juvenile Court Judge Brandon Fisher has announced he is running for chancellor. William Lantrip now holds that post but has announced he’s retiring at the end of his term. Fisher, 34, will be a candidate in the May Democratic primary, Knoxnews reports. Fisher was first appointed juvenile judge in January 2010. A native of Clinton, he earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law. After law school, he became a partner in the law firm of Cantrell, Cantrell & Fisher and maintained a private practice until joining the bench.

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Juvenile Clerk Announces Intent to Run

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler announced last week that he would seek re-election to the post, Chattanoogan.com reports. Behler argued he has a strong track record, bringing greater fiscal responsibility, enhanced customer service and increased efficiencies to the office. Saying there is more work to be done, however, he also laid out plans for the future including remote video hearings for those incarcerated at county facilities and e-filing for attorneys practicing in juvenile court.

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Judge Philyaw to Seek Re-election

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw has announced he is seeking re-election. He will be on the ballot in the Republican primary to be held May 6, Chattanoogan.com reports. Philyaw was named to the post by the Hamilton County Commission after Judge Suzanne Bailey stepped down earlier this year.

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DCS Seeks Budget Increase for More Caseworkers

A federal court order that requires the Department of Children’s Services to limit the caseloads of foster care workers has encouraged agency officials to propose a $2 million increase in state dollars next year to hire and train more child protective services workers. As the number of children coming into foster care continues to climb, DCS plans to hire 45 more caseworkers, give them additional training and equip them with computer tablets to better documents child abuse and neglect cases in the field. The Tennessean has the story.

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New K-9 Staffer Helps Calm Crime Victims

The newest member of the Clarksville District Attorney’s office is a docile, black Lab, whose presence often calms children and other victims of rape and sexual assault. The Leaf Chronicle introduces us to Orson, a 2-year-old black lab/golden retriever mix that was specifically bred and trained from birth to serve those with special needs.

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Juvenile Judge Seeking Re-election

Williamson County Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Guffee yesterday announced her candidacy for re-election. Judge Guffee was appointed by the Williamson County Commission in 2012 to become the first judge for the court that was newly created by the General Assembly, the Tennessean reports.

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