News

Court Clerk Accused of Employing ‘Ghost’ Worker

Tim Wheeler, who was fired as second-in-command to the Knox County Circuit Court clerk last April, has filed a lawsuit against his former boss, WBIR reports. Wheeler alleges that Cathy Quist-Shanks has at least one so-called ghost employee working for her. The suit, brought under the False Claims Act, was filed two months ago but only recently was unsealed. It claims that Quist-Shanks paid an employee who did no work. The clerk’s office declined to comment on the suit.

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Court: Mississippi Can Pursue Water Suit Against Tennessee

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday granted Mississippi’s request to file a new lawsuit claiming Memphis is stealing its water, keeping alive a legal battle now in its 11th year. Four years ago, the court denied a similar request, the Commercial Appeal reports. The proposed complaint seeks at least $615 million in damages from Memphis, the city-owned Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, and the state of Tennessee. The court’s order gives defendants 30 days to respond.

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Court Tosses Complaint Against Anderson Law Director

A unanimous decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court’s earlier judgment that an ouster lawsuit against Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager should be tossed out, Knoxnews reports. The appeals court found that the law director’s post is not subject to the ouster law that allows public officials to be removed from office.

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Supreme Court Backs Fair Housing Case

The Supreme Court today ruled that claims of racial discrimination in housing cases shouldn't be limited by questions of intent, National Public Radio reports. The court affirmed a Court of Appeals decision in a case in which a nonprofit group, the Inclusive Communities Project, said that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs had contributed to "segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods." The 5-4 ruling endorses the notion of citing disparate impact in housing cases, meaning that statistics and other evidence can be used to show decisions and practices have discriminatory effects — without proving that they're the result of discriminatory intentions.

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Shelby County Opens Space for Public Data Requests

Shelby County Schools on Friday opened an Open Records Reading Room where citizens will be able to dig into the district’s business. For a handful of public information advocates in the city, it is a triumph. “We feel like this is a breakthrough in Memphis and Shelby County,” said Joe Saino, president of memphisshelbyinform.com, an open-records advocacy group he founded in 2002. The Commercial Appeal has the story

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Couples, Court Officials, Opponents Readying for Gay Marriage Ruling

With a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage expected any day, gay couples in states with bans are making wedding plans, courthouse officials are getting ready for different scenarios and steadfast foes are working on their strategies to keep up the opposition. Marriage license bureaus are bracing for a rush of applicants if the court overturns bans. Meanwhile, there’s been a series of planning sessions by groups that intend to explore religious objection responses to protect “traditional marriage” limited to heterosexuals. WKRN has more from the AP.

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Sumner Adds Court for Driving Infractions

Sumner County is adding a second general sessions judge to hear driving infraction cases, most of which involve driving without a license. Nearly 200 people are in court on such charges each day, Fox 17 News reports. The volume of cases pack the courtroom tying up the judge, police officers, attorneys and the public. Next month, the county will swear in Judge Mike Carter, who will split the docket with sitting judge Jim Hunter.

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Mayor, Judge Concerned for Court Facilities

Maury County Mayor Charlie Norman says he is concerned about the safety and security of the courthouse in Columbia after two people fell while accessing the restroom, another fell going down a stairway, and an inmate escaped and fled from the building. In addition, General Sessions Court Judge Lee Bailey, who works out of a building in Mt. Pleasant, says he is worried about safety for himself, his staff and those coming into that facility. Read more in the Columbia Herald.

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Budget Deal Likely Saves Early Voting in Nashville

A compromise budget deal likely will restore early voting in Nashville, according to the Nashville Business Journal. Two weeks ago, the Metro Election Commission voted to close all but one early voting location, claiming they did not have enough money to operate additional sites. The budget deal approved yesterday by the city council gives the commission $283,000 to operate 11 early voting sites.

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Nashville Jail Plan, Police HQ Move Rejected

The Metro Council voted Tuesday to kill Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s plans for a $113 million jail consolidation in Southeast Nashville and a $23 million police headquarters proposed for North Nashville, the Tennessean reports. The jail plan and police headquarters move were met with heavy opposition from both communities. The council also rejected a $100 million downtown flood wall and protection system.

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Haslam Calls on Local Officials to Influence ‘Changing Legislature’

Gov. Bill Haslam issued a call to local officials to help influence what he described as a “changing” state legislature, less concerned with the interests of traditional institutions, Memphis Daily News reports. In a speech to the Tennessee Municipal League yesterday, Haslam said local officials need to get directly involved in engaging with state lawmakers on key issues if they want them to get passed. "We have a changing Legislature and the old ways of doing things won't necessarily work," Haslam said.

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Memphis City Court Clerk Won't Seek Re-election

Memphis City Court Clerk Thomas Long announced he will not seek re-election after 20 years of service, Memphis Daily News reports. Four prospective candidates had pulled petitions through Monday to challenge Long in the clerk’s race in October. They include Memphis City Council member Wanda Halbert; William Chism, who was the Democratic nominee for Probate Court clerk last year; Roderic Ford; and Antonio Harris, an employee in the clerk’s office who also ran in 2011.

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Debate Continues on New Maury County Justice Center

Maury County Mayor Charlie Norman has asked for direction on constructing a new justice center in downtown Columbia, but commissioners have urged caution in spending the estimated $12 to $15 million needed for the project, Columbia Daily Herald reports. Norman presented a plan to the committee in February but said he received no feedback about how to proceed. According to Norman, about 8,000 people move through the courthouse a month, only 200 of which are inmates. He urged commissioners to visit the courthouse and see for themselves what a "circus" it is.

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Dean to Reconsider Police HQ Move

Mayor Karl Dean is now promising additional community meetings before deciding whether to pursue a controversial relocation of the Metro police headquarters to Jefferson St., the Tennessean reports. North Nashville residents oppose the relocation, which many said would bring added police patrol and racial profiling to the predominantly black area. The headquarters — which includes only administrative offices — would relocate from the aging downtown Criminal Justice Center. The mayor and Sheriff Daron Hall also want to move the downtown jail to a new $110 million facility in southeast Nashville.

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Nashville Considers Cutting Early Voting Sites

The Davidson County Election Commission is prepared to cut the number of early voting sites in the upcoming general election from 10 to one unless money is added to the mayor's requested budget, the Tennessean reports. The election commission yesterday voted to operate only one early voting site ahead of Nashville's August election — the number required by state law — if the Metro Council approves the mayor's recommended budget without changes. The budget from Mayor Karl Dean is $868,000 short of the funding needed, according to the commission.

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Court to Hear 6 Cases This Week

The Tennessee Supreme Court has six cases set for oral argument this week. Among the issues involved are termination of a mother’s parental rights by default judgment, whether the Tennessee Department of Revenue can impose a variance on the formula used to compute taxes, whether the city of Nashville can sue the Board of Zoning Appeals over a decision to convert static billboards to digital billboards, whether retaliatory taxes violate the state constitution and whether state law eliminates the distinction between medical and ordinary negligence claims when a health care provider is sued. The sixth case is an appeal of a Board of Professional Responsibility recommendation for discipline against a Memphis lawyer.

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Hamilton County Jury Awards $20 Million to Developers

A Hamilton County Circuit Court jury today awarded $20,599,000 to the developers of Canyon Ridge on Lookout Mountain against a financial firm that allegedly secretly started working on a rival project. The jury also said the plaintiffs are due punitive damages. Attorneys tell Chattanoogan.com that it is believed to be the largest verdict award in Hamilton County history.

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Gallatin Judge Sues City for Legal Fees

Gallatin Judge Connie Kittrell is suing the city, seeking reimbursement for outside legal fees incurred for representation in the wake of grievances filed against her by three former employees. The suit asks for reimbursement of attorney fees, the cost of the filing and other relief deemed proper, the Tennessean reports. The former employees alleged that Kittrell subjected them to verbal mistreatment and did not conduct the court in accordance with state law. An investigation into the claims found that the situation did not meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment.

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Chattanooga Considers Cost of City Court

The Chattanooga City Council is looking into whether under its charter it is required to have a city court, and if so, whether it is required to have two divisions, the Chattanoogan reports. A number of years ago, the city court lost jurisdiction over felony cases to the General Sessions Court and now hears just traffic, animal control and environmental cases. The council reports that it costs $468,814 to operate division 1, $442,861 to operate division 2 and $1.2 million to fund the clerk’s office. Judge Sherry Paty defended the city court budget saying it “is bare bones.”

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Former Court Clerk Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

Tammy Brooks-Carpenter, a former deputy court clerk for the city of Memphis, has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $24,000 in traffic fines paid by traffic violators, the Commercial Appeal reports.  She faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000. Brooks-Carpenter also drew criticism because her actions targeted vulnerable members of the Hispanic community. Sentencing is set for Aug. 21.

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County Names New Commissioners

The Cumberland County Commission recently named new judicial commissioners. They are: Herbert L. Blevins, Danny F. Cantwell and Steve P. Recoil. The three will serve through May 2019, the Crossville Chronicle reports.

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Deficiencies Found in Memphis Public Records Process

A study of how Memphis fulfills public records requests has generated 23 recommendations to improve the process, the Commercial Appeal reports. A former Shelby County commissioner undertook the review at the request of the mayor. He found that deficiencies stemmed from inefficient processes, a lack of understanding of state law and a growing distrust between public records staff and government officials and local media. The recommendations include transferring public records responsibilities from the law division to the executive division and appointing a public records ombudsman and oversight committee.

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Mold Spores at Old Courthouse Source of Suit

Knox County and its Public Building Authority have asked a judge to toss a lawsuit filed by Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr., WBIR reports. The suit alleges that “toxic mold spores” in the downtown Old Courthouse are causing Arnett's health to deteriorate and substantially interfering with his staff’s ability to work. Lawyers for the county argue that Arnett lacks standing to sue. WBIR has the news.

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Halbert to Run for Memphis Court Clerk

Memphis City Council member Wanda Halbert will not seek re-election in this year’s city elections and will instead run for city court clerk against incumbent clerk Thomas Long. Halbert is the fifth incumbent on the 13-member council to pass on a re-election bid in the October elections, the Memphis Daily News reports.

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'Swingers Club' Claims it is a Church in Zoning Fight

A "swingers" group relocating to suburban Nashville plans to change its name from The Social Club to the United Fellowship Center — part of a strategy to rebrand itself as a church, according to the ABA Journal. The club’s lawyer, Larry Roberts, tells the Washington Post he came up with the idea of changing the club to a church to afford religious protections to the group, which is still operating in Nashville pending resolution of legal disputes.

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