News

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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Tennessee CASA Earns GM Foundation Grant

The General Motors Foundation today announced that Tennessee CASA is among 11 nonprofits in the state to receive grants totaling $75,000. Cheryl Hultman, Tennessee CASA executive director, said in a press release, "The GM Foundation grant to Tennessee CASA is very significant and will ultimately touch the lives of many children who have been appointed a CASA volunteer."

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Judge to Educate Parents about Teen Drug, Alcohol Use

Williamson County Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Guffee knows all too well how drug and alcohol use can impact young people; she sees it in her court every day. To equip parents to address abuse issues with their teens, Guffee is hosting a seminar on Sunday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Summit High School in Spring Hill, The Tennessean reports. The program is a partnership between the Juvenile Court, 21st Judicial Drug Task Force, Dr. James Wellborn and a local church. Parents can expect to hear about current trends in drug use, an overview of court related services and responses, and expert advice about parenting teens. Students who attend will gain information about the physical and legal dangers of drug and alcohol abuse as well as tips for talking to their parents.

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Herenton Closing 2 Juvenile Court Charter Schools

Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton is closing two charter schools for juvenile delinquents, the Commercial Appeal reports. The schools, operated by Herenton and located inside Northside High, will shut down Friday because of low enrollment. Herenton had predicted 200 students would flow into the schools from juvenile court referrals, but enrollment was less than 70. Herenton explained the low numbers as follows: “What we found, there must be strict enforcement of the court order. There were many parents and students who did not honor the court order to attend. You could not force them to.” Five other Herenton-run charter schools remain open.

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Blount Teens Sworn in to New Youth Court

Blount County's first youth court became official this weekend as 30 students were sworn in as jurors of the court, the Daily Times reports. The Blount County Youth Court, a legacy project for the Leadership Blount Class of 2013, will operate under Juvenile Judge Terry Denton’s supervision. Student volunteers will hear cases and determine the sentences of first-time, nonviolent juvenile offenders. “They’re proven programs,” said Lynn Peterson, youth court president and attorney with Lewis, King, Kreig & Waldrop. “We’ve seen an increase in juvenile offenses, but many of these offenses are simply mistakes. Youth courts have been successful in turning them into opportunities.”

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DCS Gets Leeway with Federal Funds

The Department of Children’s Services is receiving leeway from U.S. officials in spending money intended for foster children, with the goal of keeping children out of foster care, the Tennessean reports. Until now, DCS has had to spend approximately $40 million in annual federal dollars, known as federal title IV-E funds, to pay foster parents and provide services to kids who have already been taken from their families and placed into state custody. Beginning next October, the agency will be able to use "waivers" to spend grants on a wider variety of interventions designed to keep kids safely out of the foster care system. 

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Red Shoe Masquerade Raises Funds for CASA

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will host its Eighth Annual Red Shoe Masquerade and Silent Auction Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Carnegie Hotel in Johnson City. Dress is cocktail attire. Red shoes are encouraged. The event is the agency’s primary fundraiser and community awareness activity for the year. For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.casanetn.org or call (423) 461-3500. All proceeds will support the group's work with abused and neglected children.

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Governor Names Judge Scott to Child Protection Board

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has named Rutherford County Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott as one of seven to represent the judicial branch in the Three Branches Institute. The institute is an initiative of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) that brings together members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches to strengthen the state’s child protection and juvenile justice systems. The group is looking at how the state’s child protection system works; how standardized assessments are used by the courts and DCS; whether to implement uniform data collection processes; how alternatives to incarceration may be used in juvenile cases; and how to allocate resources to support community-driven solutions. It will continue working through August 2014. WGNS Radio has the story.

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Courthouse Dog Demonstrates New Clarksville Program

During an informational meeting hosted yesterday by the Clarksville's District Attorney’s Office and the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, canine companion Molly B was a big hit, the Leaf Chronicle reports. The black Labrador-Golden Retriever has been trained for two years to care for the physical and emotional needs of people who need assistance, and can follow orders to sit, stand, lay down, roll over and speak with precision. In November, the district attorney’s office will receive a facility dog that can be used in court, at the child advocacy center, or at other facilities throughout the 19th Judicial District where a victim may need therapeutic comfort or emotional support.

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Panel Meets to Evaluate DCS, Juvenile Processes

A panel of seven state agency commissioners, eight elected representatives and seven judges — known as the Three Branches Institute — will meet Thursday to discuss ways to improve the state’s child protective services and juvenile justice system. The members of the group, which also includes first lady Crissy Haslam, have met quarterly since August 2012 to align services among the branches of government. A Department of Children’s Services news release said the members are seeking to develop standardized assessments to be used by the courts and guide DCS in data collection. The group also is investigating alternatives to juvenile incarceration. The meeting will be its last one for the year, The Tennessean reports.

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DCS to Release Child Fatality Records at No Cost

The Department of Children’s Services will release at no cost all records from July 2012 going forward of children who died or nearly died while in its custody, the Tennessean reports. During an ongoing legal battle with the Tennessean and other news organizations to release the files, DCS originally said it would charge the news organizations over $30,000 to make copies of more than 200 records from January 2009 to June 2012. In response to a second request from The Tennessean and other media groups for more recent records spanning the period from July 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013, the agency again set a high price tag. This week however, an attorney for the agency said DCS Commissioner Jim Henry now views releasing the records as part of the agency’s day-to-day responsibilities.

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