News

Date Set for Todd Sign Theft Trial

An Oct. 11 trial date has been set in the case of state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who was charged earlier this month with stealing opponent Mark Lovell’s yard signs, the Commercial Appeal reports. Todd acknowledges taking the signs, but contends the landowner gave him exclusive rights to place signs at the property. According to police, the property owner says he never gave anyone access to the land. Regardless of how the legal case unfolds, Todd will not be returning to the House. He lost his primary election to Lovell earlier this month.

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Armstrong’s Lawyer: Verdict is Legally Inconsistent

Former state Rep. Joe Armstrong’s lawyer is arguing in a new motion that if his client was not found guilty of trying to evade taxes, then he cannot be found guilty of filing a false tax return, Knoxnews reports. The motion also argues that prosecutors were required to present evidence distinguishing the crime of tax evasion from that of filing a false tax return, which they did not do. Lawyers are asking the court to judicially acquit Armstrong of the felony charge or grant a new trial. Armstrong, a Knoxville Democrat who served 14 terms in the state legislature, was on trial earlier this month in connection with the handling of income taxes on a $321,000 windfall from a cigarette tax stamp deal he made with a Knoxville tobacco wholesaler in 2007.

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State Democrats Disband Shelby County Party

The Shelby County Democratic Party was forcibly disbanded Friday after years of bitter in-fighting that recently centered on former chairman Bryan Carson, the Commercial Appeal reports. Tennessee Democratic Party chairwoman Mary Mancini said she notified the county organization in a letter that she had chosen to “de-certify” it, effectively disbanding it. Among the reasons, Mancini said the group “was not supporting, engaging and encouraging all those good and active Democrats” in the area. However, she offered her assistance to Shelby County Democrats interested in rebuilding the organization.

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Knox Dems Select Staples to Replace Armstrong

Rick Staples has been chosen to replace state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, in the race for the 15th District House seat, Knoxnews reports. Armstrong had been nominated for re-election but was disqualified to run after a federal conviction for filing a false tax return. Party leaders met Thursday and held a public vote to replace him.

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Political Parties Choose Presidential Electors

The Tennessee Democratic and Republican parties have selected their representatives for the national Electoral College. Electors for the party that carries Tennessee’s presidential vote will cast the state’s ballots. Both parties choose 11 electors, one for each congressional district and the two U.S. Senate seats. The meeting of presidential electors will take place Dec. 19 in the House Chamber of the Tennessee Capitol. Humphrey on the Hill has the lists of Democractic members and Republican members.

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Rep. Daniel Booked on Assault Charge

State Rep. Martin Daniel was formally booked today on a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from an incident last month in which he allegedly shoved his Republican primary opponent Steve Hall during an on-air radio forum. Daniel went on to win the primary and faces Democrat Brandi Price in the general election. According to Knoxnews, Daniel says he offered Hall a “heartfelt and sincere” apology and was surprised by the assault charge.

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Trespassing Charges Dropped in Case Against Reporter

Lawyers for Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, Nashville Scene reporter Cari Wade Gervin and the local district attorney’s office agreed yesterday to dismiss a trespassing charge Durham had brought against the reporter in May, the Tennessean reports. The parties declined to discuss details of the incident or how the case was resolved. Durham reportedly sat in the lobby of the courthouse with his wife and also declined to comment. The case stems from an incident at Durham's house where Gervin went for a comment on a story. 

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Durham Investigation Hints at Possible Financial Violations

A $191,000 discrepancy exists between bank records and financial disclosures for Rep. Jeremy Durham’s main campaign finance account, according to the Registry of Election Finance. But the state agency says it cannot make a firm determination about the accuracy of the records due to “investments, failure to report contributions and other transactions.” The agency, which was asked to review Durham’s finances based on allegations the lawmaker used campaign funds for his private business, said it will continue to gather facts. The Tennessean has more.

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Armstrong’s Wife Being Considered for Seat

LeTonia Armstrong, wife of state Rep. Joe Armstrong, is one of the top candidates being considered to replace the Democratic lawmaker following his conviction for filing a false tax return, according to Knoxnews. The other two are Knoxville councilman and former city mayor Daniel Brown and Rick Staples, a community advocate who has run several recent unsuccessful bids for local office. The Knox County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee will meet Thursday to choose a successor.

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Former Governor Honored by College of Dentistry

Former Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn, a dentist who served as Tennessee’s governor from 1971-1975, has been honored with a bronze bust in the lobby of the Dunn Dental Building on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Dunn, 89, graduated from the college in 1955 and served as honorary chairman of a capital campaign that once raised $19 million for the college, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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Task Force to Consider Juvenile Justice Department

Legislation approved in 2016 sets up a task force to study the feasibility of creating a Tennessee Department of Juvenile Justice, the Columbia Daily Herald reports. The task force will include legislators and members of the public who have experience or interest in children’s issues, as well as ex-officio members from different state departments. The law also calls on existing children’s services agencies to report on probation programs, recidivism rates, custodial data and system-wide information to guide the task force’s work.

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Shelby Party Leaders Say Former Chair ‘Not Fit’ to Run as Democrat

The Shelby County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee voted Thursday night to declare former chair Bryan Carson “not fit” to run for public office as a Democrat, the Commercial Appeal reports. The panel took the action based on accusations that Carson embezzled “at least $25,000” during his tenure as chair. Carson denies the allegations and says he will appeal the vote to the Tennessee Democratic Party.

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Court Square Series Coming in September

The TBA’s annual Court Square CLE Series is coming to a town near you! Throughout the month of September, programs will be offered in Columbia, Kingsport, Clarksville, Cookeville, Chattanooga, Dyersburg and Jackson. Each program will run three hours and provide attorneys with the latest developments in multiple areas of the law.

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Indigent Task Force Holds Final Hearing

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force held its final listening session today in Franklin, hearing from more than a dozen members of the private bar and parents of children in the child welfare system. The task force will meet in September to consider all comments and recommendations submitted during the tour and discuss the timing of presenting its own findings.

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Judge Wants to Expand Juvenile Court to 25 Year Olds

Speaking before members of the Rotary Club of Memphis on Tuesday, Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael said he is behind a bill in the state legislature that would expand jurisdiction of the Shelby County Juvenile Court to those 25 years of age or younger. Currently, the court has jurisdiction over a child until he or she turns 19. Michael argued that the change would allow young adult offenders to stay in the juvenile justice system longer and receive needed treatment and rehabilitation, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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Opinion: Senate GOP Inaction Puts Judiciary in Crisis

Nashville appellate lawyer Daniel Horwitz writes in the Tennessean that the U.S. Senate’s “unprecedented inaction” on judicial nominees has thrown the American judicial system into crisis. Horwitz argues that “large swaths of the federal judiciary are simply missing – resulting in excessive delays, exploding dockets and inconsistent application of the law in different parts of the country.” Nearly one-third of federal court vacancies are designated “judicial emergencies,” which means filings exceed 600 per judge. 

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Dickson County CASA Holds First Awards Dinner

CASA of Dickson County recently held its inaugural Champions for Children Awards Dinner and recognized state Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, for her contributions to local children in need, the Tennessean reports. The group also announced a new community service award that will be presented next year. Board chair and TBA Government Relations Committee Chair Meagan Frazier Grosvenor addressed attendees, sharing how her experience serving on the local Foster Care Review Board led her and several colleagues to establish a CASA agency in the county. The group, which is in the final stages of formation, is looking for a full-time executive director.

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Georgia Congressman Takes on Music Licensing Fight

Georgia congressman Doug Collins is vowing a legislative response to the Department of Justice’s recent decision not to update music licensing consent decrees but instead enforce “100 percent licensing,” the Tennessean reports. Under that scheme, a songwriter and publisher may license a song no matter how small a percent ownership they have in the copyright. Many in the music industry fear the new opinion could threaten the practice of co-writing songs, curb the creative process and complicate royalty payouts. 

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Matlock to Challenge Harwell for Speaker Post

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock today told House Republican Caucus members that he will seek election as speaker for the 110th General Assembly. The move by the Lenoir City Republican sets up a contest with House Speaker Beth Harwell, who is expected to seek another term but has faced criticism recently from conservative members, Knoxnews reports.

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Democrats Reportedly Considering 3 Armstrong Alternatives

Three potential candidates have emerged to replace Rep. Joe Armstrong as the Democratic party’s House District 18 nominee, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Party members reportedly are looking to outgoing County Commissioner Sam McKenzie, City Councilman Dan Brown and community advocate Rick Staples as top candidates to replace Armstrong on the ballot. The party has called an Aug. 18 meeting to select a candidate. Armstrong, who had run unopposed in his primary race last week, was convicted Monday on a felony charge of filing a false income tax return, disqualifying him from seeking re-election.

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Armstrong Guilty on 1 Count, Party to Find New Candidate

Federal jurors found state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, guilty of one felony count of filing a false income tax return today, while acquitting him of two other charges: conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and tax evasion. Jurors began deliberating Friday and resumed discussions today, the Tennessean reports. A felony conviction disqualifies individuals from seeking office, so the local Democratic party has until Sept. 29 to nominate a new candidate, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State. Armstrong was unopposed in Thursday’s primary.

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Todd's Lawyer Says Arrest Was a Stunt

State Rep. Curry Todd pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning in Shelby County General Sessions Court to a misdemeanor charge of stealing an opponent's campaign signs, but his lawyer questions the timing and handling of the arrest. The Commercial Appeal reports that his lawyer Ted Hansom said the arrest appeared to be "a calculated stunt to embarrass him on the eve of an election." A person working with opponent Mark Lovell's campaign videotaped Todd last month taking some of Lovell's signs from along a busy street. In a twist, Lovell, who filed the complaint, paid Todd's $100 bond.

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Democrats Call for Voter ID Law Changes

Seizing on recent federal court decisions that have struck down voter identification laws in several southern states, Tennessee Democrats today called for changes to state law. Citing decisions by federal judges in North Dakota, North Carolina and Texas – which have similar voter identification laws as Tennessee – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, said the tide is turning on such measures. He also pointed to circuit court decisions that have come from courts within the jurisdiction of the Sixth Circuit to argue the time has come to revamp Tennessee state law. Read more in the Tennessean.

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Early Voting Falls to Half of 2014 Levels

The state Division of Elections reported today that 281,278 Tennesseans voted early for Thursday’s election – only about half the early vote reported in 2014 and below the 2012 early turnout as well. Early voting ended this past Saturday. The reported statewide total includes 178,915 persons voting in Republican primaries and 89,534 voting in Democratic primaries. In 2014, early voting numbers totaled 564,733 with 354,226 Republicans and 164,939 Democrats going to the polls before election day. Humphrey on the Hill suggests some reasons why numbers may be down.

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Rep. Todd Charged With Campaign Sign Theft

Authorities say state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, has been arrested after failing to respond to requests to be interviewed by sheriff’s officials over accusations that he stole a rival’s campaign signs. Humphrey on the Hill reports that Todd was arrested on a charge of theft under $500. Law enforcement wanted to question the legislator after a video surfaced showing him removing signs belonging to his opponent Mark Lovell from alongside a road. Todd told media outlets that took the signs but he had permission from the property owner to remove them and place his own signs.

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