News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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CASA Fundraiser Offers Cornhole, Minor League Baseball

CASA of Northeast Tennessee is hosting a cornhole tournament on July 27 at the Johnson City Cardinals Stadium. The event will run from 1 to 5 p.m. A $30 fee will get a two-person team registered for the tournament, as well as a t-shirt and a ticket to the baseball game later that evening. Call (423) 461-3500 for more information or download this brochure and registration form. All proceeds will benefit CASA.

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Juvenile Judge Launches Parenting Class

Williamson County Juvenile Judge Sharon Guffee says she sees it every day: parents and teens in her court struggling to communicate with each other. So she is doing something about it. Guffee has partnered with psychologist and author Dr. James Wellborn to offer a parenting course one Saturday a month. Classes will be held from 8 a.m. to noon beginning July 20 and running through December. “Raising teenagers can be challenging…” Guffee said. “This seminar will provide parents with valuable tools to improve communication.” Her hope is that the effort will improve relationships in troubled situations and prevent others from ever being involved with the juvenile system. The Williamson Source reports.

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Mental Health Records in Custody Proceedings Featured in July TBJ

Nashville lawyer Siew-Ling Shea looks at how mental health records come into play in divorce custody proceedings in the July Tennessee Bar Journal. Knoxville lawyer Don Paine does double duty in this issue with a column on substitutes for dead plaintiffs and defendants and a feature story about the late Chief Justice William J. Harbison.

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Juvenile Transfer Decisions Worry DOJ Monitor

A 14-year-old boy was recently transferred to adult court in a short amount of time by Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County magistrate Dan Michael -- and this has Department of Justice due process monitor Sandra Simkins questioning the move. Simkins was appointed by the DOJ to oversee changes to the court following a two-year investigation in 2009, which revealed civil rights concerns, routine violations of due process protections, and transfer hearings set only two weeks after a child’s arrest. “The rushed time frame [of transfers], added to the woefully low allocation of resources, challenges the integrity of the entire system,” she said. The Memphis Flyer has the story.

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New Juvenile Judge Calls for Tougher Curfew and Truancy Enforcement, Laws

Newly installed Chattanooga Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw intends to step up enforcement of youth curfews and truancy laws, Chattanoogan.com reports. At a speech yesterday to a local group, Philyaw said curfew enforcement has been "non-existent" and the situation is about the same for truancy. Philyaw also has undertaken an effort to rewrite the curfew ordinance and has presented a draft of proposed revisions to Mayor Andy Berke. Finally, Philyaw said the court is pursuing several initiatives to deal with these issues and is working with prosecutor Boyd Patterson, the former gang task force leader who has been assigned by the district attorney's office to work in Juvenile Court.

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Redactions of DCS Records Questioned

Newly released records from the Department of Children’s Services contain substantial redactions of information that the Tennessean says appear “random” and “contradictory.” According to the newspaper’s review, in some cases DCS redacted autopsy results, which are routinely made public by the state’s medical examiners. In other cases, DCS redactions were contradictory, concealing cause of death on some pages, while leaving it unedited elsewhere in the same child’s file. Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy, who ordered the records released and reviewed each one, said last week that at least 129 pages contained redactions that may have gone beyond what she ordered DCS to eliminate to protect the confidentiality of families.

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Panel Wary of Charter School for Juveniles in Custody

Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton’s plan to extend his charter school network to Nashville hit a roadblock after a review committee “picked apart his plan and recommended denial,” The Commercial Appeal reports. Herenton’s Thurgood Marshall School of Career Development is designed to help high school students in juvenile custody learn entrepreneurial skills. A similar school will open in Shelby County this fall. The Nashville review committee, however, said the application lacked the details needed for the group to understand how the school would operate. The Nashville school board will vote on the recommendation June 25.

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DOJ Finds Sexual Assault Issues at Youth Center

A recent study from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reveals major problems related to sexual assault at the John S. Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville, WMC-TV reports. According to the story, Fayette County District Attorney Mike Dunavant said he is familiar with the problems inside the center and has prosecuted juveniles and workers for sexual assaults in recent years. The DOJ study found that the center had a 19.5 percent rate of sexual victimization, compared to a state average of 13 percent and a national average of 9.5 percent. Dunavant says he will push for changes in policy to require additional staff training, supervision and reporting of sex crimes.

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Monitor Sees Progress, More to Do at Shelby Juvenile Court

A recent report from a federal monitor overseeing the Memphis juvenile justice system says the system is improving, but still has a long way to go. Sandra Simkins, who was hired to oversee reforms at the Shelby County Juvenile Court, said she still has concerns about the transfer of minors to adult court and defense attorneys’ access to their clients' files. She is expected to return to Memphis in the fall for another site visit and progress report, The Commercial Appeal reports.

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DOJ: Youth in Tenn. Juvenile Correctional Facilities at Greater Risk of Sexual Victimization

Youth in Tennessee juvenile correction facilities are at greater risk of being sexually victimized than the national average, according to a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice. The report estimates that 9.5 percent of youth in state or private correctional facilities across the nation were sexually victimized in 2011-2012. The rate for Tennessee facilities was 13 percent. The report defines sexual victimization as forced sexual activity between youths and all sexual activity involving youth and staff. The Tennessean has the story.

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New Bill Defines Sex Trafficking as Child Abuse

Under proposed legislation, child prostitutes would be considered victims of abuse rather than juvenile offenders and be referred to child welfare, WRCB-TV reports. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services. Tennessee recently developed one of the nation’s most comprehensive anti-trafficking programs with 12 new laws approved by lawmakers.

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Initial Reports Positive from Boys & Girls Club Program

An $800,000 grant from the Tennessee Office of Justice Programs is funding a three-year initiative in Columbia that refers juveniles from the city’s heaviest crime areas to the Boys & Girls Club. The program is limited to those who have committed first- or second-time minor offenses. Since the start of the program, 28 juveniles have been referred, mostly for truancy or shoplifting, The Columbia Daily Herald reports. Though it is too early to measure the impact of the program, young people who have participated say they found new friends and decided to stay off the streets.

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More DCS Child Death Records Released

Chancellor Carol McCoy released additional records of children who died or nearly died under the supervision of the Department of Children’s Services, the Tennessean reports. The state indicated that the batch of documents released on Friday contains blacked-out information beyond what the court deemed appropriate, citing federal HIPPA protections. In particular, Janet Kleinfelter with the attorney general’s office said that the date of death, provided medical care and potentially other information is protected information. McCoy said the state will turn the next 50 records over on June 26.

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NAACP Holds Criminal Justice Seminar June 8

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP will host the 6th Annual Criminal Justice Seminar June 8 at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. This year’s event, Let the Dreams Live!, seeks to shed light on how legal issues, social challenges and advents in the law affect social welfare. Featured topics and presentations will include youth- and adult-oriented seminar tracks. Youth presentations include a session by Rosalyn L. Rice, southeast regional coordinator for the Tennessee Commission of Children and Youth, who will discuss children's advocacy, juvenile justice and conflict resolution strategies. Adult tracks will feature presentations on evolving gun laws, inmates’ rights, neighborhood safety and identity theft. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP at chattanooganaacp@comcast.net or by calling (423) 267-5637. For more information contact Eric Atkins at (423) 320-8598 or atkinse@hotmail.com. Chattanoogan.com had information on the event.

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Judge Explains Reasons for Tossing Confession

A Shelby County judge filed an order Friday explaining why he tossed out the confession of a teen that admitted setting a house fire that killed his mother. Juvenile Court Special Judge Dan Michael said he considered 14-year-old murder suspect Jonathan Ray’s age, experience, education and intelligence as well as investigators’ actions before agreeing with the teen’s attorney that the boy was not properly informed of his Miranda rights before answering questions about the arson. A review of the videotaped interrogation reveals that police officers did not read Ray his Miranda rights, but instead handed him a piece of paper and said his dad had already signed it and authorized the questioning. But the teen’s stepfather was in Detroit, unaware of the death or his son’s legal predicament, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Juvenile Court Receives $1 Million for Upgrades

After debate over a budget increase request, the Shelby County Commission has approved more than $1 million to give to the juvenile courts after the U.S Department of Justice found problems with discrimination and children not being given their constitutional rights, WREG reports. The state is also giving $1 million. The commission also approved $300,000 to pay for the monitors who will come down from the DOJ to inspect and make sure the county is following orders. Although all don't agree, Commissioner Terry Roland says “the reason why we’re in this situation is because the pool of lawyers over there are mad they’re only making $40 an hour."

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State Takes Tough Stand on Human Trafficking

Tennessee is credited with developing one of the most comprehensive anti-human trafficking programs in the nation, WKRN reports. Survivors and advocates against trafficking gathered at a conference in Nashville on Thursday, where they shared their stories and applauded Tennessee for taking a tougher stand. The state’s new laws create harsher penalties on traffickers and extend the window of time for prosecutors to pursue cases. Furthermore, authorities will be able to prosecute people paying for sex as traffickers.

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