News

Bradley County Hosts Annual Walk in Memory of Child Abuse Victim

On Oct.11, the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Bradley County will host its third annual Moonlight Walk in memory of Melisha Gipson, a four-year-old Cleveland girl who died tragically in 1976 from child abuse. The case gained national exposure and resulted in increased child abuse laws in Tennessee and across the country, the Chattanoogan reports.

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Court: Don't Lie About Who Child's Father Is

The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld a trial court’s damage award against a mother who misled her boyfriend by telling him he was the child’s father when he was not. In its ruling, the court stated that an intentional misrepresentation claim, which is already recognized in Tennessee’s courts, is broad enough to apply to circumstances where a mother intentionally misrepresents the parentage of her child. Learn more about the case

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3 Magistrates Run for Davidson Juvenile Judge

Three county magistrates hope to replace Judge Betty Adams Green to serve on the bench of the Davidson County Juvenile Court, the Tennessean reports. Sheila Calloway, who served under Green as magistrate; Sophia Crawford, a magistrate in juvenile court; and Carlton Lewis, also a magistrate in the juvenile court, are all in the running. Green announced her retirement last month after 14 years in the post.

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Memphis Prosecutors Speak on Sex Trafficking

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton of Memphis and other federal prosecutors spoke to students at the University of Mississippi School of Law about sex trafficking in America, the Commercial Appeal reports. The attorneys discussed the difficulty in prosecuting trafficking cases and effective ways for prosecutors to ensure violators receive longer prison sentences with no parole.

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Accusations Fly Over Agency's Failure to Report Child Deaths

Former Legislative Director Aaron Campbell says he personally briefed Department of Children's Services (DCS) Commissioner Kate O'Day about her responsibility to inform lawmakers of each child fatality and near-fatality in the state — which DCS now acknowledges it has not done in nearly two years. The agency last week released partial information about 31 children who died in the first six months of 2012. The children had all either been in state custody, the subject of an open DCS investigation or had been investigated but whose cases had been closed before they died. DCS lawyer Douglas Dimond conceded that the agency had been violating the law in its requirements to report child deaths. The Tennessee has the story

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Demolition Derby to Benefit CASA

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Cumberland County will have a demolition derby Oct. 6 to benefit its work. According to program director Lee Chiomos, it costs $950 per child per year to have a CASA volunteer. In 2011, the group had 13 advocates working with 41 children in Cumberland County. Chiomos said that number could be doubled if there were enough volunteers, but funding is needed to provide the extensive training necessary. Donations of food for concessions and sponsorships are needed, as are volunteers to work at the event, which will be at the Cumberland County Community Complex at 6:30 p.m. Learn more from CASA and The Crossville Chronicle

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Documentary: Kids Tell What Not to Do in Divorce

A guide for divorcing couples called "Don't Divorce Me! Kids' Rules for Parents on Divorce," debuts next week on HBO. The half-hour documentary tells about divorce from the kids' point of view. The messages include "Tell me it's not my fault," "Don't put me in the middle," and "Don't take your anger out on me." WBIR has details

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Knox County Advocates: Education Now or Prison Later

Knox County police administrators and government representatives joined Fight the Crime: Invest in Kids to stress the importance of early childhood education to reduce crime, the News Sentinel reports. Officials, including Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols, joined the nonpartisan organization on Thursday at a Knoxville Head Start center to read to children and spread their message that paying to educate children now is better than sending them through the justice system as adults.

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Williamson Law Officers to Learn Skills for Combating Child Abduction

Police officers from Franklin, Brentwood, and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office will be attending a four-day child abduction federal training program starting today, the Tennessean reports. The officers will join other school and legal professionals to participate in the free Department of Justice program. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation currently has the only certified Child Abduction Response Team in the state. Upon completion of the program, the Williamson County group will be the first contingent of local officials in Tennessee to be trained and develop its own protocol for responding to abduction.

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Solutions Needed for Juvenile Court Racial Disparity

Police, school and court representatives in Memphis met last week to discuss the racial disparity within juvenile court. WRCBtv reports that officials are participating in a training program intended to reduce the number of minority youth who are sent to the juvenile system at a rate 3.4 times as often as white youth.

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Charter School Coming for Juvenile Court Clients

Memphis City Schools leaders are expected to announce on Wednesday the opening of a new charter school for children in Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court custody. Court officials hope the school setting will provide consistency for children in court custody and beyond their custody. The new charter school will also provide counseling services for behavior, discipline and mental health issues, the Memphis Daily News reports.

Policies Under Review at Juvenile Center

A Rutherford County juvenile detention center's release policies are under review after a man allegedly signed for the release of his stepdaughter under false pretenses, the Daily News Journal reports. The man has been charged with criminal impersonation and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. According to Nashville attorney David Raybin, the center has a legal obligation to ensure only appropriate parental or legal guardians sign a child out of the facility in case the child is harmed upon release.

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Public Defender Likely to Take Role in Memphis Juvenile Court

The office of the Public Defender will likely represent minors who cannot afford legal counsel in Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court proceedings, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told the Memphis Daily News last week, but that funding issues are still being worked out. Appearing on Behind the Headlines, Luttrell said he believes it is a necessary and beneficial change and that staffing and funding issues can be overcome.

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Balkwill is New CASA Association President

Kevin Balkwill, disciplinary counsel in the Litigation Division of the Board of Professional Responsibility, is the new president of the Tennessee CASA Association. Meagan Frazier Grosvenor steps down from the position after serving two years.

Editorial: Don’t Let Costs Block Needed Reforms

In response to reports that Shelby County Commissioners are concerned with the cost of Juvenile Court reforms, editors at the Commercial Appeal write that the “commission should have a formal voice in what is happening with the reforms.” But “at the same time…should be a voice of flexibility and cooperation, not obstructionism.” It concludes “it would be a shame if [changes] were derailed by stubbornness over…cost.”

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Commissioner Balks on Cost of Juvenile Court Reforms

The Shelby County Commission's chair-elect says the county may not be willing to pay for the federally mandated overhaul of Shelby County Juvenile Court since they were not consulted sooner. "If, in fact, you expect us to help with a bunch of money, why would you not have included us in the process?" Mike Ritz said. The proposed changes, which could run into the millions of dollars, would create new positions, including full-time juvenile public defenders and a court-based disproportionate minority contact coordinator who would work to reduce the number of black youths brought to court, held in jail and transferred to adult court. DOJ staff attorneys are expected to return to Memphis this fall to work on a "comprehensive blueprint" with Juvenile Court staff, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Robertson Judge Recuses Self in Sexual-Abuse Custody Case

Robertson County Circuit Judge Ross Hicks recused himself today in a matter involving a mother who defied his court order, going on the run with her son instead of turning him over into the custody of his father, who she believed was sexually abusing the boy. At the time, an 11-person state investigative team had decided that William Cone, the boys' father, was doing just that but in Hicks' court, Georgia Dunn lost primary custody. Cone was arrested and charged with rape of a child last week, and now Dunn has surrendered to police. Tomorrow she will be back in court to determine whether the felony she is charged with will stand. WSMV reports

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CASA Volunteers Have Emotional Job

The Jackson Sun looks at the 31 CASA volunteers who work with Judge Christy Little in the Madison County Juvenile Court System. Shannon Stewart, executive director of Madison County CASA, said the program does not get involved with a child unless Little has referred the case to CASA workers. “It’s a mix of happy and sad,” Little said of the process that can at times be "emotional roller-coaster" for her and case workers because of the horrific situations children have faced.

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Federal Delegation Views Memphis Youth Initiatives

A delegation from the White House and several federal agencies is in Memphis this week to see how the city is mounting its war on youth violence. The group is looking for initiatives that can serve as national models. In conjunction with the visit, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton unveiled the city’s five-year plan of attack saying “We know where the problems are.” Efforts so far this year include a greater emphasis on collaboration, aggressive prosecution of gang leaders and repeat offenders, and asking area ministers and nonprofits to mentor at-risk teens. Read more about the initiatives in the Commercial Appeal.

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Custody Battle Brews Over Child's Sexy Outfit

A woman who dressed her daughter in a Dolly Parton outfit with a padded bra and backside for an episode of the reality TV show Toddlers & Tiaras could lose custody of the girl over the choice. In a battle unfolding in a Kentucky courtroom, a court-appointed psychologist is siding with Bill Verst, father of 6-year-old Maddy Verst, who contends her mother, Lindsay Jackson, sexually exploited their daughter by allowing her to dress so provocatively. Comparing the activity to training for the Olympics, Jackson said that if she loses custody over this, it would "open the door for any parent to challenge anybody on any activity that a kid does, period." ABAJournal.com has more

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What DOJ Report Tells Us About Indigent Criminal Defense in Tennessee

The Sixth Amendment Center takes a look at the recent Department of Justice investigation of the Memphis Juvenile Court, examining what it also tells us about indigent criminal defense throughout Tennessee. The center’s blog notes that Tennessee had been in the forefront in providing state funding for indigent criminal defense, but suggests that there should be greater emphasis placed on structural standards and the guarantee of sufficient resources to meet those standards.

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Life Sentences for Juveniles Under Scrutiny

On Thursday, the California Assembly passed a bill that would give "juvenile lifers" -- those who killed as juveniles and are serving life in prison without parole -- in that state a shot at freedom. Nationwide, there are roughly 2,500 inmates who fit into this category. "Because their brain is still developing, they have the ability to rehabilitate," said Michael Harris, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. Despite the legal rulings and the legislative activity, some survivors of people killed by juveniles are pushing back and arguing that a life sentence is appropriate punishment for juveniles who commit heinous murders. NewsChannel 5 has this AP story

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Lawyers Needed to Work Anti-Bullying Legal Clinics

Volunteer at one of three legal clinics -- "The Puck Stops Here" -- to help stop bullying in schools. The events are sponsored by the Nashville Predators and the Disability Law Advocacy Center (DLAC) to help students and their families identify, prevent, and legally respond to bullying in schools. Volunteer attorneys are needed at the clinics for brief client consultations and to assist clients in drafting key points in notification letters to schools and/or an OCR complaints. Learn more here. DLAC will provide training for all volunteer attorneys on bullying legal issues on Aug. 24. The clinics will be in Clarksville, Sept. 15; Nashville, Oct. 6; and Lebanon, Nov. 10. For more information, contact Sherry Wilds at DLAC at (615) 298-­‐1080, ext. 141 or at sherryw@dlactn.org

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Editorial: Good Change for Shelby Juveniles

In an editorial, the Commercial Appeal praises Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court for taking "another step to ensure that children are provided with adequate legal counsel when they wind up in the juvenile justice system." Court officials have made the decision to move the juvenile defense system from Juvenile Court oversight and place it under the county Public Defender's Office.

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Shelby Juvenile Defense to Move to PD's Office

Shelby County Juvenile Court defense operations will be transferred to the Public Defender's Office in response to a federal investigation that found juvenile court "discriminates against black children," WMC-TV reports. Court officials say they will move the juvenile defense system from Juvenile Court oversight and place it under the office in charge of defending adults. Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush will head up the attorneys handling cases ranging from vandalism and minor theft to aggravated assault and murder, said Bill Powell, the county's criminal justice coordinator. The public defender's office in Memphis hasn't held that role in 35 years, Bush said. The Commercial Appeal has more

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