News

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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CASA Holds Information Session Monday in Jonesborough

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Northeast Tennessee is looking for additional volunteers to represent children in the judicial system as well as community leaders to serve on its board of directors. The agency will hold an information session for prospective volunteers on Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Hutson & Howell Mediation Office, 132 Boone St., Ste 6, Jonesborough 37659. The Johnson City Press reports on the unmet needs in the region.

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Baby Messiah Case Back in Court

An appeal of Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew’s decision to change a baby’s name from Messiah to Martin will be heard tomorrow in Cocke County Chancery Court. A brief filed on behalf of the family argues that Ballew originally ruled to keep the baby’s first name but later that decision was "whited out" in the court record. Ballew later called a second hearing where she changed the child's name to Martin saying, "Messiah is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ." Fox News reports on the story.

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Hamilton Juvenile Court Going Electronic

At the Hamilton County Juvenile Court, clerks are "drowning in paper," but box by box, that's changing, the Times Free Press reports. Gary Behler, the Hamilton County Juvenile Court clerk, began a massive document-scanning project Aug. 5 that will digitize more than 25,000 records for the juvenile court and the child support division. In addition to saving space, the project will allow attorneys and judges to view electronic files simultaneously on monitors in courtrooms. In addition, the new system will allow child support clerks to apply payments immediately and pull up data for payees and recipients. Finally, new video monitors are being installed in the courtrooms so that arraignments may be handled remotely. The changes are part of Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw’s effort to streamline logistics at the court.

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Shelby Judicial Officials Reflect on Sentencing Changes

In a video interview with the Memphis Daily News, Shelby County’s Public Defender Stephen Bush and County Corrections Division Director James Coleman say county courts and prisons are improving, but more intervention should take place before citizens come into contact with the justice system. “The prison system is probably the worst place to engage people … struggling with other life issues,” Bush said. The program is the second in a series of interviews reflecting on changes in federal prosecution guidelines announced last month by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The first installment featured District Attorney General Amy Weirich and U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton. Watch that interview here.

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Parents, Grandparents Subject to Same Visitation Standard

A ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday puts parents and grandparents on equal footing in disputes over modifications to court-ordered grandparent visitation. While Tennessee case law gives parents a “presumption of superior parental rights” in initial visitation decisions, the court ruled that such presumption does not exist for subsequent decisions to modify or terminate visitation. The ruling now requires both parties to satisfy the same legal standard – that a material change in circumstances has occurred and that modification or termination of visitation is in the child’s best interests. Download the opinion.

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DCS Partners with TBI to Improve Caseworkers' Training

The CPS Investigations Academy is a new joint venture between the Department of Children’s Services and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation intended to increase the level of instruction for child protective services workers. Taught by TBI agents and national child abuse investigation experts, the three-week program will graduate its first class in December. “In many cases, DCS makes the determination whether a crime has been committed,” said TBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Margie Quinn, who oversees TBI investigations into sex trafficking. “But in some cases, you may not have a worker trained well enough to make that determination,” the Tennessean reports.

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Shelby County Public Defender to Create Juvenile Defense Unit

The Shelby County Public Defender’s office has been allocated $2 million in state and local funds to create a juvenile defenders unit, as it was directed to do by the U.S. Department of Justice after an investigation found deficiencies in the juvenile court system. “These funds will be used to hire additional attorneys and other professional staff to create a specialized juvenile defender unit within the public defender’s office, and also to meet the county’s obligation to support the work of members of the private bar who agree to take court appointments in Juvenile Court,” Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender, told the Commercial Appeal.

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DA Offers Bikes for School Attendance

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich is offering a bike to students with perfect attendance in 12 elementary and middle schools in the county school system. The Bike Rewards program is funded by the Hyde Family Foundation and is part of the office’s Truancy Reduction Program. Bicycles will be awarded at the end of the school year to students who have no absences and no tardy occurrences for the entire year. Read more in the Memphis Daily News.

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Child’s Death Highlights DCS Computer Issues

A Chattanooga couple accused of child abuse and murder returned to court today in a case that is shedding new light on how computer problems within the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) impacted caseworkers’ ability to protect children. In this case, a 4-year-old died Dec. 19, 2011, after suffering multiple blunt force injuries. Prosecutors believe the child was beaten by his mother and her live-in boyfriend. In the weeks before the death, at least three claims of child abuse were called into DCS by family members and educators. But in a mix-up that DCS later blamed on its computer system, the abuse reports were assigned to different caseworkers with the result that neither fully knew the extent of the allegations.

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