News

Senators Unveil Criminal Justice Reform Bill

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators unveiled a major criminal justice reform bill today that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses; make crack-cocaine sentencing reductions retroactive; give judges more discretion in sentencing for gun-related crimes; eliminate the so-called "three strikes" law; enhance prisoner rehabilitation and anti-recidivism programs; and largely ban solitary confinement of juveniles. The measure would also create two new mandatory minimums for crimes involving interstate domestic violence and providing weapons to terrorists. The Washington Post reports on the outlook for the bill.

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Congress Expected to Discuss Foster-care System Overhaul

The Crossville Chronicle reports Congress is moving toward an overhaul of the country’s foster-care system and bi-partisan legislation could be presented this fall. Advocates say foster care funds should be going to help biological parents learn to care for children properly, including paying for psychotherapy or treatment for a parent’s addiction issues. "When you ask a child who has been in foster care how we can best improve the current foster-care system, often the answer will be: You could have helped my mom so that I did not have to go into foster care in the first place," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.

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Memphis Youth Center Requests Money Despite Empty Beds

Damascus Road Residential Center in Memphis is being criticized for doing little to help teenage boys, despite its president and CEO Sharon Paige requesting $550,000 in grants from local governments. The Commercial Appeal reports that no children have been admitted to the facility, which Paige said is equipped to handle 100 boys ages 12-17 as an alternative to juvenile detention. Juvenile court officials say the facility has more beds than necessary for the area and security concerns could keep the court from partnering with the facility. 

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Columns Include Same-Sex Marriage, Tolerance and Atticus Finch

President Bill Harbison makes a plea for tolerance among lawyers who hold divergent viewpoints in his column in the September Tennessee Bar Journal. Marlene Eskind Moses and John A. Day each cover the issue of same-sex marriage in their columns: Moses on how that affects family law and Day on loss of consortium claims. Humor columnist Bill Haltom remains steadfast in his admiration of Atticus Finch, even after the jolting view portrayed in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

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Rule Change Package Released for Review, Comment

The Tennessee Supreme Court has published the annual package of recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Proposals include new authority for appellate courts to dismiss appeals; provisions permitting electronic signatures in courts employing electronic filing; clarification of the effect of service of process on commencement of actions; adoption of the term preliminary hearing in lieu of preliminary examination in criminal procedure; and, refinement of procedure for correction of illegal sentences in criminal cases. The are no evidence rules changes proposed this year. A 90-page comprehensive restructuring and revision of the Rules of Juvenile Procedure is also included.

Six TBA sections -- Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law , Family Law, Juvenile and Children’s Law and Criminal Justice -- will be asked to review the proposed amendments and recommend comments on behalf of the association. Comments on the proposals are due to the Court by November 25, 2015.

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CASA Director Takes New Position in Georgia

Suzanne Wisdom, executive director of CASA of Bradley/Polk County, is leaving to become executive director of CASA in Savannah, Georgia. “I’ve learned a lot about having faith – that if you just keep doing the work, it would work out,” Wisdom said about her work. The CASA board is currently seeking Wisdom’s replacement. CASA volunteer and law student Andrea Chase has been appointed as interim director, the Cleveland Daily Banner reports.

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Nashville Peer Court Educating Students, Saving Money

Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Shelia Calloway conducted training at Lipscomb University in Nashville for her court’s Peer-Driven Youth Justice program, which offers an alternative to juvenile courts. Participating students learn about court proceedings including courtroom etiquette and sentence determination. Calloway estimates that the program has saved more than $1 million by keeping juveniles out of the court system. The AOC has more on the story.

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Gangs Big Contributors to Youth Crimes, Judge Says

Gangs are alive and are actively recruiting young people in Chattanooga, Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw told members of the Pachyderm Club on Monday. He said gangs use children to commit crimes because adult gang members would face felony charges if arrested. They convince youth they will not. In reality, Philyaw said he transfers one or two juvenile cases a week to adult courts. "It breaks my heart literally every time," he said. Chattanoogan.com has more.

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Students Learn Work Ethic Through Summer Jobs

Juvenile offenders who stayed out of trouble had the opportunity to work a summer job for eight weeks through the Madison County Juvenile Court System, the Jackson Sun reports. Christy Little, juvenile court judge, said the program was the product of a gang violence prevention task force that Mayor Jerry Gist launched four years ago. Students worked at mostly local nonprofit organizations like RIFA, the Dream Center, Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club, the Fire Department and the Humane Society.

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9th District CASA Names New Leadership, Seeks Volunteers

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Ninth Judicial District has named Lindsey Brown as executive director following the retirement of founding director Sandra Weaver, the News Herald reports. In addition, former county commissioner Rosemary Quillen has been named the new assistant director and program coordinator for Loudon and Roane counties. The agency also said it is seeking new volunteers.

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Senate Leader: State Ranking on Child Well-Being Unacceptable

Following the release of a report ranking Tennessee 36th in overall child well-being, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris called on his legislative colleagues and the Haslam Administration to focus more effectively on the needs of the state’s youth. The Annie E. Casey Foundation this week issued a report ranking states based on four factors related to children: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community support. The Chattanoogan has more.

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Opinion: Editorial Fails to Recognize True Horror of Child Porn

An editorial saying sentencing laws for child pornography are too harsh drew a strong response from Virginia attorney Stacey Estep Munsey. The Times News's editorial board commented on the disparity between sentences for possession of child porn and murder. “Make no mistake, murder is one of the most serious of our crimes," Estep Munsey wrote in response, "but that is not to say that possession of child pornography isn’t. In the crime of murder, a life is ended. In the crime of child pornography, a life is forever ruined.”

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Nashville Lawyer to Donate Book Proceeds to Local Nonprofits

Nashville lawyer Randy Kinnard with Kinnard, Clayton & Beveridge will donate proceeds from his book, Respect: Through the Eyes of Children, to the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee and Nashville CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children), LAS announced. Released last fall, the book is a collection of essays written by local students illustrating the definition of respect from a youth’s perspective.

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Opinion: Some Child Porn Sentences Too Harsh

State and federal sentencing laws for child pornography has "gone overboard," the editorial staff of the Times News Net writes. “The notion that consumers of child pornography should be treated as harshly as the deviants who produce it, who rape children, seems a gross injustice,” the publication states. “Nor does downloading child pornography from the Internet merit a more severe punishment than first-degree murder.”

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DCS Child Abuse Registry Raises Concerns

The Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS) is now publicly posting accused child abusers’ names, personal information and type of abuse, even if the case was never prosecuted or the individual was not convicted, Local Memphis reports. "Even if it were technically constitutional, it does raise some policy concerns with significant consequences to people for being accused and never actually proven guilty," says Steve Mulroy, associate dean at the University of Memphis School of Law.

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CASA to Benefit from GM Foundation Grants

The General Motors Foundation has awarded $75,000 in grant funds to 11 Tennessee organizations including Tennessee CASA, which will use the money to expand and strengthen its statewide network, and Maury County CASA, which will use the funds to train volunteers. This is the fifth consecutive year the Foundation’s Plant City Grants were awarded.

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Hommrich Named New DCS Commissioner

Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Bonnie Hommrich as the new commissioner for the Department of Children’s Services, the Tennessean reports. Hommrich has been serving as deputy commissioner for child programs at the department since 2004. She takes over for outgoing commissioner Jim Henry, who recently was named the governor’s new chief of staff.

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Haslam Applauds Youth Villages’ Former Foster Youth Program

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam applauded the work of Memphis-based Youth Villages Monday, joining the youth services agency in unveiling the results of a clinical trial on the effectiveness of its program to aid young people who age out of the foster care system. YVLifeSet provides participants with help and guidance with housing, education, and life skills, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Restaurant Hosts Benefit for CASA Saturday

Losers Bar and Grill in Cool Springs will host a benefit for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. For $15, guests will receive a beer ticket and an all-you-can-eat BBQ chicken buffet. Alternatively, guests can purchase a $5 drink ticket and participate in games of cornhole. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. Losers will donate all event proceeds directly to Williamson County CASA and Nashville CASA, two nonprofits that serve abused and neglected children in their respective communities. Franklin Homepage has more.

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Domestic Violence Reports Expected to Spike After Family Justice Center Opens

As the city of Chattanooga readies for the official launch of the Family Justice Center on July 1, Police Chief Fred Fletcher and others told the Chattanooga Times Free Press they expect the number of domestic violence incidents in Chattanooga and Hamilton County to spike by 20 or 30 percent because more people will report the crime. The center is designed to cater to victims of domestic violence by offering a variety of services — from legal advice to health care — under one roof near the Eastgate Town Center.

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9th District CASA Director Named

Court Appointed Special Advocates of the 9th District, an organization that helps abused and neglected children in Roane, Morgan and Loudon counties find safe homes, has hired a new director. Lindsey Brown, who has extensive child welfare experience as a lawyer in Tennessee and Florida, will be taking over as a director effective July 1.

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More Tools Available to Aid Domestic Violence Victims

The Upper Cumberland Family Justice Center has begun using a training program to help law enforcement better help domestic violence victims who are in critical danger, the Herald-Citizen reports. Several area law enforcement jurisdictions are using the Maryland Model Lethality Assessment Program (LAP), which has 11 assessment questions for a police officer to ask domestic violence victims. And in Grundy County, the Sheriff's Office is using a tracking device able to alert victims when an offender is close, in hopes of warding off another attack.  WRCB has more.

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6th Annual ‘Lawyers for Littles’ Event Raises $21,500

The sixth annual “Lawyers for Littles” Bowl for Kid’s Sake event helped raise over $21,500 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. Twenty-three teams participated in the bowling event on June 4, representing all spheres of the legal profession, including law firms, corporate counsel, government agencies and bar associations. Money raised in events like “Lawyers for Littles” is used to conduct background checks on volunteers to ensure child safety and to provide ongoing support for children, families and volunteers to build and sustain long-lasting relationships. For more information contact Elizabeth Sitgreaves or Bart Pickett.

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Counties Look for Right Recipe for Juvenile Justice

The Nashville juvenile justice system is changing the way it treats children who commit crimes, WSMV reports. Instead of parole officers, the Davidson County Juvenile Justice Center will now have support intervention and accountability teams. Whether it's criminal trespassing or a theft charge, an assessment team will go into the child's home and school and spend 30 days writing an assessment report to get to the root of the problem. In Maury County, The Columbia Herald covers an ongoing debate about the treatment of juvenile offenders.

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Court Dogs Provide Furry Comfort, Stress Reduction

The six “court dogs” that attend proceedings at the Knox County Juvenile Court have proven to be a comfort and stress reducer for the children and families who pass through the court. CASA Volunteer Coordinator Summer Colbert started the program in collaboration with HABIT, or Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee, a University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine program that offers animal-assisted therapy. Knoxnews has the story.

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