News

Memphis Receives $48 Million for Wastewater Treatment Upgrades

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers on Monday announced a $48 million loan for upgrades to the T.E. Maxson Wastewater Treatment Facility in Memphis. The money is part of the State Revolving Fund Loan Program, which provides low interest rate loans to the state’s communities, utility districts and wastewater authorities. Other cities to benefit from the program include Johnson City, which received a $15 million clean water loan and Lebanon, which received a $4.3 million clean water loan and a $1.4 million drinking water loan.

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Memphis Named 1 of 7 Cities for Federal Anti-Crime Effort

Memphis has been selected as one of seven cities nationally for increased activity by federal law enforcement agencies, The Commercial Appeal reports. Operation "Relentless Pursuit” is directed at cities that have seen an uptick in violent crime. Although data from the TBI shows violent crime trending downward in the state, Memphis is nearing its 200th homicide of the year. West Tennessee's U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant was expected to offer more details regarding the effort today.

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Applications Sought for 16th District Circuit Court Judge

The Trial Court Vacancy Commission is accepting applications for a circuit court judge in the 16th Judicial District, which covers Rutherford and Cannon Counties. The vacancy will be created with the retirement of Judge Royce Taylor on March 3, 2020. Applications should be submitted by noon CST on Jan. 7. The commission will hold a public hearing on Jan. 29 at 9 a.m. CST at the Historic Rutherford County Courthouse in Murfreesboro to consider the applicants. A vote to forward three names to the governor is expected to occur immediately following the hearing. Learn more online or download the notice.

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Epidemic of Overcrowding in Rural Jails

The New York Times in a recent piece examines the issue of overcrowding in rural jails, focusing on the Hamblen County Jail in particular. While the facility is intended to house just 255 inmates, it housed 439 at the end of October, with inmates sleeping on mats in the hallways and lawyers forced to meet with their clients in a supply closet. Experts attribute the increase primarily to crimes committed in support of methamphetamine and opioid addictions, which has devastated bucolic communities. While rural jails have seen a spike in inmates, urban jail populations have dropped about 18% nationally since 2013, likely due to increased use of alternative sentencing programs in these areas.

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Controversial Statues Given to Sons of Confederate Veterans

Two years after a local non-profit removed Confederate monuments from two public parks it purchased from the City of Memphis, ownership of those statues has been transferred to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Commercial Appeal reports. The city sold the parks in 2017 to Memphis Greenspace Inc., a non-profit that promised then Gov. Bill Haslam it would relocate the monuments after removing them. The city’s Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen today confirmed the deal, saying the transfer of ownership of the statues happened a few days ago and upheld the promise Greenspace made to Haslam. The Sons of Confederate Veterans spent two years fighting an unsuccessful legal battle against the sale, which ended in October after the state Supreme Court opted not to hear the case. Details of the new arrangement have not been released.

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News Report: Hamblen County is Microcosm of Addiction Crisis, Rural Jail Woes

A recent article in the New York Times looks at the addiction crisis in rural communities and the impact it is having on small-town courts and jails. The piece focuses on the criminal justice system in Hamblen County, Tennessee, as an example of the challenges facing these communities. According to the article, Hamblen County sees a steady stream of repeat criminal offenders who are driven by their addiction, which leads to jail overcrowding and poor conditions. In fact, according to the article, the county sheriff calls the jail a “cesspool of a dungeon.” The piece also features those trying to make a difference, including Willie Santana, one of four lawyers in the county public defender’s office, and county administrator Bill Brittain who says, “We’ve got to do something different.”

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Supreme Court Seeks New Comments on Rules Changes

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday issued orders soliciting comments on three proposed amendments to its rules. In each case, the court had previously requested comments but made additional changes to the proposed amendments. The amendment to Rule 9 Section 10 addresses annual registration and payment requirements. The amendment to Rule 9 Section 26 addresses payment of the professional privilege tax. And the amendment to Rule 43 deals with interest on lawyers’ trust accounts. All comments are due by Jan. 30, 2020.

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Hearing Set for 15th District Circuit Court Applicants

The Tennessee Trial Court Vacancy Commission will consider six applicants for a vacancy on the 15th Judicial District circuit court on Jan. 8, the Administrative Office of the Courts announced today. The hearing will take place at 9 a.m. at the Wilson County Courthouse, 228 E. Main St., Lebanon 37087. The commission is expected to vote immediately after the interviews and forward three names to Gov. Bill Lee for consideration. The court vacancy was created by the retirement of Judge John D. Wootten Jr. The court serves Jackson, Macon, Smith, Trousdale and Wilson counties.

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Memphis Gets Federal Grant to Test Rape Kits, Fight Violent Crime

The City of Memphis has received $4.1 million as part of more than $376 million awarded by federal law enforcement to police departments across the country. Of the total received, $1.8 million is for cutting the backlog of untested rape kits, the Daily Memphian reports. The city identified 12,000 rape kits that had not been tested in 2013. As of April of this year, 98% of those had been tested. The rest of the funding will go to law enforcement training and equipment, efforts to address violent crime, gunshot recognition technology and program evaluation. In addition, Shelby County received a $602,482 grant to reduce recidivism through innovative re-entry initiatives, and the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center of Memphis received $500,000 for youth gang diversion programs and $100,000 to strengthen its medical examiner program.

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18 File for Shelby Sessions Court Clerk Post

The deadline to file for clerk of the Shelby County General Sessions Court passed yesterday with 18 applicants filing petitions, the Commercial Appeal reports. Those filing in the Republican primary are former probate court clerk Paul Boyd, Michael Finney, George Summers and Lisa Wimberly. Those filing in the Democratic primary are current Shelby County Commissioners Reginald Milton and Eddie Jones; Memphis City Councilman Joe Brown; current employees of the clerk’s office Gortria Banks, Rheunte Benson, Adrienne Dailey-Evans and Tavia Tate; former city court clerk Tanya Cooper; Wanda Faulkner; Assistant to the Register of Deeds Deidre Fisher; Roderic Ford; Del Gill; and Thomas Long. Former State Sen. John Ford also filed a petition but according to the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections he is not eligible to run, reducing the total eligible applicants to 17.

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Shelby County to Honor Potter, Stanton with Lifetime Achievement Awards

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris will honor retired Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter and departing General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton Jr. with Lifetime Achievement Awards tomorrow, the Daily Memphian reports. Potter established the county’s environmental court and retired in 2018. Stanton was appointed as clerk in 2011, elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. The awards presentation will take place tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in the criminal justice auditorium of the Walter L. Bailey Jr. Criminal Justice Center at 201 Poplar Ave.

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17 Express Interest in Shelby Sessions Court Clerk Post

Seventeen candidates have pulled election petitions for the Shelby County General Sessions clerk race, the Daily Memphian reports. The political scramble for the office began in November when incumbent clerk Ed Stanton Jr. told his staff he would not be seeking a third full term. The filing deadline for the March 3 primary is noon tomorrow.

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Nashville, Shelby County Still Weighing Voucher Lawsuit

Metro Nashville and Shelby County public schools are still considering legal action against the state should Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher proposal continue moving forward, the Nashville Post reports. Leaders at the schools say they are still considering a lawsuit but would prefer the legislature repeal the law. The law would give qualifying families more than $7,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for private school tuition and other related costs.

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Nashville Drops Plan to Desegregate 3 Schools

Metro Nashville Public Schools has dropped a plan to integrate three of its most racially isolated schools because a federal grant that would have paid for the program has been cancelled. According to Nashville Public Radio, the grant funding would have been used to encourage middle-class parents to consider Buena Vista Elementary School, Jere Baxter Middle School and Pearl-Cohn Magnet High School. The federal program, Opening Doors Expanding Opportunities, was created by the Obama Administration but cancelled shortly after President Trump took office.

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Have Student Loans? TBA’s Credible Can Help

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‘Policy Violations’ Enabled Teens to Escape Detention Center

Four teenagers escaped from Nashville’s juvenile detention center last week because employees broke “multiple rules in quick succession,” the Tennessean reports. Youth Opportunities, the company that manages the facility has acknowledged the failures and has fired three employees and put a fourth on suspension. On the night of the event, employees let youths out of their cells after bedtime; left them alone and unsupervised; left an elevator open and ignored security camera footage from within the elevator; and failed to call 911 immediately after realizing the teens were missing. Two of the teens have been apprehended, while two remain at large. The company has announced a $5,000 reward for tips leading to their arrest. Metro Nashville Police also announced this week it will undertake an investigation of the incident.

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Nashville Councilman Dissolves Law Firm, Joins Sherrard Roe

Nashville At-large Councilman Bob Mendes is dissolving his current law firm, Waypoint Law, and joining Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison, effective Dec. 31, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The two-term councilmember has become a recognizable face in Metro politics in recent years, after unsuccessfully petitioning his fellow council members to increase the city’s property-tax rate the past two years. He now serves as chair of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, and is expected to again lead an anticipated debate over a tax increase. Mendes also has spearheaded various reforms to incentives given to real estate developers.

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50-year Public Servant Bill Whitson Passes Over the Weekend

Bill Whitson, who served more than 50 years in Nashville and Tennessee governments, died this past weekend at age 90, The Tennessean reports. Throughout his illustrious career, Whitson served on multiple Nashville mayoral administrations and in the cabinet of former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter, overseeing the state General Services Commission. "He was there at the very start of Metropolitan Government and was one of the legendary public servants who assured our success," said former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell. "He was very much aware that he is among the last of an extraordinary cohort of people." Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.

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Ethics Roadshow Coming to a City Near You This Month

The Ethics Roadshow is coming to a city near you! The program will be in Knoxville on Dec. 4, Chattanooga on Dec. 5, Memphis on Dec. 9, Nashville on Dec. 10, Jackson on Dec. 16, and Johnson City on Dec. 18. Sign up today to reserve your spot for this annual event, guaranteed to meet your ethics requirements for the year and enhance your knowledge of crucial changes in the legal profession. The course also is always full of surprises and humor. Earn up to three hours of dual CLE credit. See the list of all courses.

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Flaw in School Voucher Program Could Cost Indigent Families

Tennessee education officials have identified a glitch in the state’s school voucher plan that could negatively impact low-income families, the Commercial Appeal reports. As it stands, the plan would subject indigent parents who opt for the private school voucher to federal taxes on the approximately $7,300 annually given to attend non-government institutions. Additionally, some of these families risk losing other tax-based benefits if they choose the private school voucher. The Tennessee Department of Education said it intends to address the issue and make the necessary changes to ensure the vouchers will not be considered taxable income.

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Court: Prosecutors Not Immune from Defamation Claims

In the first ruling of its kind in Tennessee, the state Court of Appeals ruled this week that although state policymakers enjoy “absolute” immunity from defamation lawsuits, prosecutors do not. The ruling came in the case of Gatlinburg Police Department Detective Rodney Burns, who in the course of handling a high school hazing case, was accused by Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston of “perjurious testimony … during sworn testimony.” Burns then sued Pinkston for defamation. The state attorney general’s office, which represents Pinkston, likely will ask the state Supreme Court to review. If the court declines to hear the appeal, Burns’ defamation lawsuit could then move forward. He is seeking $300,000 in damages. Knox news has the story.

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Hoover Named GOP Nominee for Chancellor Seat

Paris attorney Vicki Hoover was elected as the Republican candidate for 24th Judicial District chancellor at a party convention held over the weekend in Benton County, the McKenzie Banner reports. Hoover was selected over Assistant District Attorney Vance Dennis of Savannah and McKenzie attorney Brent Bradberry. The district represents Henry, Carroll, Benton, Decatur and Hardin counties. The vacancy was created by the appointment of Judge Carma Dennis McGee to the Court of Appeals. Gov. Bill Lee had appointed Huntingdon attorney Jennifer King to the post but she resigned after two weeks amid controversy over the caucus process. Democrats plan to select their candidate during the March 2020 presidential primary.

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Second Shelby Commissioner Officially Enters Court Clerk Race

Weeks after Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton announced he would not seek reelection in 2020, County Commissioner Reginald Milton has announced his candidacy for the position, the Daily Memphian reports. Milton was elected to his second four-year term on the commission in 2018 and will be unable to run for another term. He joins a growing list of candidates, including fellow county Commissioner Eddie Jones.

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Downtown Nashville Clinic Set for Next Week

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee & the Cumberlands will host its Downtown Free Legal Clinic at the Nashville Public Library on Dec. 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. The clinic is held the first Wednesday of each month at this same time and location. For more information or to volunteer, please contact Kendra Cheek at 615-780-7131.

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Johnson City Passes Ordinance to Ban Chaining of Animals

Johnson City commissioners last week approved an ordinance banning the chaining or tethering of animals for longer than 12 consecutive hours, the Johnson City Press reports. The ordinance will take effect in two stages – beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, with the 12 consecutive hour rule, then on Jan. 1, 2021, adding the additional requirements that the animals cannot be under six months old or left unattended while tethered. The new rule currently affects only Johnson City, but proponents say surrounding cities, including Kingsport and Bristol, have asked to review the ordinance for consideration.

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