News

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

Family Still Seeking Answers Year After Teen’s Death

The family of Brentwood teen Kendall Oates is still seeking answers about their son a year after he died in Department of Children’s Services (DCS) custody, The Tennessean reports. DCS records show Oates, who suffered from seizures, may have lain sick or dead for hours, undetected by a security guard who was supposed to check on him every 15 minutes. In addition, DCS was required to administer anti-seizure medication, but the autopsy found no trace of the medicine in his body. Finally, Oates was not wearing his lifesaving anti-seizure wristband, which he was required to wear at all times. Oates’ parents have tried to get their son’s records to no avail. And now that a year has passed, a wrongful death suit is not an option. Meanwhile, DCS closed its investigation, finding that the teenager died of natural causes.

read more »

Williamson County CASA Hires New Executive Director

Marianne Schroer has been hired as the new executive director of Williamson County CASA (WCCSA). She will take over as of Sept. 3, the Nashville Post reports. Schroer has more than 30 years experience as a licensed psychological examiner and has an extensive background in nonprofit work. “Marianne possesses a unique set of skills that will only enhance this challenging and critical role,” Alex Marks, WCCASA board president, said in a release. “With a background in both the nonprofit and counseling sectors, the board believes that she is in the position to quickly make a deep imprint on the community we serve. We are looking forward to seeing the ripple effects of her work.”

read more »

Judge Bailey Reflects on Career

Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Suzanne Bailey is enjoying retirement after 30 years on the bench. In an editorial in the Hamilton County Herald this week she reflects back on her career. A 1975 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, Bailey began working with juveniles on one of her very first cases. She was so touched by the experience, she asked to be placed on the appointment list at juvenile court. “I enjoyed taking appointments there. We didn’t get paid...but my heart attached to juvenile court and the children who came through there,” she says. Bailey went on to become the first woman elected to any judgeship in the county when she became juvenile judge in 1982. Bailey, who retired in April, says her only advice to successor Judge Rob Philyaw is simple: “Have the heart of a servant.”

read more »

New Court for Drug-Dependent Moms to Open in Knoxville

Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin announced this week that a new drug court for drug-dependent moms will open Sept. 1, Knoxnews reports. Under the program, Knox First Family Recovery will work with the mothers, and judges gradually will give them more time with their kids as they progress. Irwin unveiled the court at the 30th annual Joint Conference on Juvenile Justice, which drew nearly 500 juvenile judges and court workers from across the state. Funding for the effort will come from a federal grant administered by the state. Dirk Weddington, a Juvenile Court magistrate, will help supervise the program and work with local treatment providers.

read more »

Juvenile Court Collecting Stuffed Animals

The Anderson County Juvenile Court is holding a stuffed animal drive this week to provide the comfort of a furry friend to children who have to appear before the court. New stuffed animals may be dropped off at Stokes Lighting & Electric, 6220 Papermill Rd. in Knoxville or Anderson County Co-Op, 110 S. Charles G Seivers Blvd. in Clinton. For more information contact Rebecca Franklin at (865) 712-2091 or rfranklinrnjd@gmail.com.

read more »

TBJ: When She Lies About Paternity

What are the consequences of lying about who the father of a child is? Lacy A. Daniel explores intentional misrepresentation of paternity, in the August Tennessee Bar Journal, out today. It comes with a pretty sweet picture on the cover, too. (This baby, whose paternity is not in question, is the child of former TBA Access to Justice Coordinator Sarah Hayman.)

read more »

Judge Releases DCS Record, Redaction Questions Raised

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy on Monday turned over to The Tennessean and other media dozens of state records of children who died or nearly died under the supervision of the Department of Children’s Services. “The department is back on track,” McCoy said. But Nashville Public Radio reports that the state may have released too much information, failing to delete details like children’s ages and addresses. Commissioner Jim Henry says the department hired outside paralegals to go through the files and that “everybody doesn’t redact in the same way” but assured those concerned it was not their intent to release information that should have been protected. The Tennessean reports that 90 additional case files will be released on Aug. 21.

read more »

FBI Trafficking Sting Hits 11 in Tennessee

In 76 cities across the country, FBI agents arrested more than 150 people — including at least three in Memphis and eight in Chattanooga — who were involved in sex trafficking. The operation, conducted over the weekend, also freed more than 100 sexually exploited minors, officials said. In Memphis, three were arrested for forcing a 14-year-old girl into prostitution according to The Commercial Appeal. In Chattanooga, eight people were arrested on pimping charges while 11 women were arrested for prostitution, Knoxnews reports.

read more »

DCS Commissioner Praises Youth Court

Jim Henry, newly installed head of the state Department of Children's Services, was in Jackson last week to learn more about programs offered through the local juvenile court. After a presentation about the Madison County Youth Court, Henry praised the program saying he would like to see it expanded. To learn more about youth courts, visit the TBA’s youth court site or contact Youth Court Coordinator Denise Bentley, who helps communities establish alternative sentencing programs for non-violent youth offenders across the state. Henry’s comments were covered by WBBJ TV.

read more »

Northeast CASA Plans Golf Tournament

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will hold its 8th Annual Golf Tournament Aug. 19 at the Johnson City Country Club. Registration will begin at 11 a.m. with a shotgun start at noon. The event, a four-person scramble, includes lunch and a number of door prizes. Participants are encouraged to raise $400, which will support a child for one year, or pay the $100 players fee. Sponsorship opportunities include cart sponsorship for $100, hole sponsorship for $250 and tournament sponsorship for $1,000. For more information or to register call (423) 461-3500, email Executive Director Leslie Dalton or visit the agency’s website.

read more »

Commissioner of Children’s Services Visits Jackson

The state’s new Commissioner of Children’s Services Jim Henry visited Jackson at the invitation of Madison County Juvenile Court Judge Christy Little. Henry was introduced to a number of Madison County Juvenile Court programs that are conducted in conjunction with the Department of Children’s Services and met with children and teens who highlighted the successes they have achieved through the programs.

read more »

Holder in Nashville to Address Police Group

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Nashville today to speak to the annual convention of the National Association of Police Organizations, The Tennessean reports. Afterward he met privately with six black ministers, reportedly discussing the Trayvon Martin case, voting rights and incarceration rates. Though he did not get into specifics of the Justice Department’s investigation of the incident or discuss the state’s "stand your ground law," Holder said Florida was "full of targets of injustice," giving his agency plenty to do there, according to Rev. Enoch Fuzz, pastor of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church. Holder also talked about the need to educate citizens about their voting rights and the problem of too many young people going to prison.

read more »

New Resource for Family Law Practioners

Memphis lawyer Claudia Haltom has released a new e-book titled The Single Parent Referee Workbook. The book provides step-by-step guidance to help single parents find solutions to real world problems and set positive goals for their future. Available online at Amazon’s Kindle store, the book draws on Haltom’s many years as a family law practioner and juvenile court judge. She now runs the Memphis nonprofit A Step Ahead, which she founded after leaving the bench.

read more »

UT Law Profs Lead Trial Advocacy Workshop

University of Tennessee College of Law faculty led a group of 64 lawyers from around the county in a three-day workshop designed to help lawyers who represent children and families in juvenile court and serve as Guardians ad Litem. The program was hosted by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy in conjunction with the Tennessee Court Improvement Program in Murfreesboro, the UT Informant reports.

read more »

Juvenile Court Moving to Digital Files

The Chattanooga Juvenile Court is moving from paper files to digital record keeping, the Chattanoogan reports. The firm DigiPoint Solutions has been hired to scan 11,900 files at the Third Street main office and 13,550 files at the child support center at a cost of $149,000. "We no longer will have to roll carts with massive files into the courtrooms," Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler said. "The judge and magistrates will have laptops where they can quickly access records."

read more »

CASA Needs More Volunteers

The Manchester-based nonprofit organization CASA Works needs more volunteers to assist children in Franklin, Bedford and Coffee Counties’ juvenile court systems. "Judge Thomas Faris has let us know that there are 200 kids in Franklin County who could potentially use the assistance of a CASA volunteer,” development coordinator Mindon Whalen told the Herald Chronicle. “Only 10 percent of those children are currently being served.” If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a volunteer for CASA Works, call (931) 728-0126 or visit www.casaworks.org.

read more »