News

Judge Protects City, Not Officers, from Lawsuit

A Davidson County Circuit Court judge has ruled that the city of Goodletsville is immune from a lawsuit brought by the family of four teens injured by a drunk driver in August 2018. But he allowed the family to sue the police officers involved in the crash. The family argues the crash could have been prevented if police officers had arrested the driver when they interacted with him earlier in the day. WSMV News 4 has the story.

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Short-Term Fixes Proposed for Sullivan County Jail

Sullivan County law enforcement and judicial leaders, including the sheriff, district attorney, public defender and judges, recently proposed short-term solutions to address overcrowding and outdated conditions at the county jail. Appearing before the Sullivan County Commission, the leaders advocated for a pre-trial release program and ankle monitoring to free up beds, WCYB News 5 reports. For longer term solutions, architects presented several options that involved either extensions or complete renovations of the facility.

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Report: Court Clerk Stanton Won’t Seek Re-Election

Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton is reportedly not seeking re-election to the office he has held since 2011, the Daily Memphian reports. According to County Commissioner Reginald Milton, Stanton has decided to step down. Stanton was appointed to the clerk’s office in 2011, won a full term in the 2012 elections, and was re-elected in 2016 to the four-year term he is currently serving.

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Knoxville Voters Elect New Mayor, City Council

Knoxville voters yesterday elected Indya Kincannon as the city’s next mayor in a run-off race against Eddie Mannis. Voters also elected the first female-majority city council. Kincannon aligned herself with the priorities of outgoing mayor Madeline Rogero, promising to continue plans for a Knoxville Police Department in North Knoxville and a comprehensive review of zoning regulations known as Recode Knoxville. Read more about the election from Knox News.

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Knox Public Defender Reflects on Career

For nearly 30 years, Mark Stephens worked to create the best system to defend the poor, make their lives better and save taxpayers money. Today, that system is considered by the American Bar Association to be a model approach. Last week, the public defender’s office was renamed the “Mark Stephens Community Law Office” to honor the county’s first and only public defender. But Stephens says now is the time for “new energy” and a “new vision,” and he is stepping down early (his term does not expire until 2022). Knox News looks at the history of the public defender’s office and the role Stephens played in its creation.

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City to Hold Public Forum on Police Consent Decree

The City of Memphis will hold a community meeting Thursday to gather public input on a 40-year-old police consent decree, which the mayor says limits police ability to fight crime, the Daily Memphian reports. The 1978 Kendrick Consent Decree resolved a lawsuit brought by Tennessee ACLU alleging that the city conducted political surveillance on protesters and activists. The issue was in the news again this summer when a judge said the city violated the decree when it created fake Facebook accounts to monitor protesters and a “black list” of individuals. The remedy in that case included new requirements for police to adopt written guidelines for social media use and the appointment of former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton as an independent monitor. In September, the city asked the court to modify the decree saying it is outdated. A court hearing is scheduled on Nov. 21 to consider the city’s arguments.

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Judge Rejects Ketron's Request to Dismiss Fraud Case

Administrative Judge Phillip R. Hilliard has rejected Kelsey Ketron's request to dismiss a fraud case against her that alleges she acted as an unlicensed insurance agent, the Daily News Journal reports. Ketron, who is the daughter of Rutherford County mayor Bill Ketron, also faces complaints of impersonating a licensed professional and committing theft while serving as a vice president of her father’s insurance company. She has since resigned from that position. Ketron’s attorney Trey Harwell said the decision does not speak to the merit of the case and that “The court seems to recognize this, in its ruling, by stating that we raised 'legitimate arguments about possible shortcomings.”

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NewsChannel 5 to Air Juvenile Justice Series in November

NewsChannel 5 has announced an “unprecedented investigation” that will “pull back the curtain on Tennessee’s broken juvenile justice system.” Based in Nashville and airing throughout the month, the series aims to expose problems in the juvenile justice system and how that brokenness affects the community. Key findings of the investigation include (1) the system puts violent juvenile offenders back out on the streets again and again; (2) state laws fail to give judges the tools they need to address the problem; (3) children are sometimes detained in conditions that may make them more violent; and (4) police are expected to solve problems that really need a community-wide effort.

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Sumner County Approves New Judicial Center Plan

The Sumner County Commission this week approved plans for a new judicial center, including a new courthouse, parking garage and jail expansion, the Portland Sun reports. County leaders also approved $10.2 million in additional funding for the project in downtown Gallatin. In August, the commission approved a 34-cent property tax increase, with four cents helping to pay for the project. The project is estimated to cost $91 million.

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Former Nashville Mayor Returns to Law Firm

Former Nashville Mayor David Briley will return to his previous law firm of Bone McAllester Norton on Nov. 1, the firm announced today. Briley practiced at the firm from 2007 to 2018, focusing on civil, commercial and class-action litigation. He will resume his past practice areas and also advise clients on administrative and regulatory matters. Briley was elected vice mayor in 2015 and mayor in 2018. During his tenure, he helped bring Amazon and Alliance Bernstein jobs to the city, obtain final approval for a major league soccer expansion team, increase recognition for LGBT-owned businesses in government procurement, and push forward initiatives on affordable housing, community college and domestic violence prevention.

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City of Chattanooga Settles Lawsuit Regarding Traffic Stop Beating

The city of Chattanooga has settled a lawsuit regarding the beating of a man by police during a traffic stop, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Fredrico Wolfe maintains that Chattanooga police officer Benjamin Piazza assaulted him despite his compliance, which body camera evidence appears to support. Footage shows the officer approaching Wolfe’s car, gun drawn, while ordering him out of the vehicle. Wolfe then exited the car appearing to obey but fell as he was being handcuffed. The officer is then seen on the video punching Wolfe 10 times. A spokesman for Hamilton County District Attorney Neil Pinkston said that the office has not yet decided whether it will file criminal charges against Piazza.

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Family of Man Killed by Knoxville Police Officer File Suit Alleging Suppression of Evidence

Attorneys for the family of a man killed by a Knoxville police officer have filed a lawsuit in Knox County Chancery Court alleging that city officials are withholding records regarding the incident, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Channara Tom “Philly” Pheap was shot in the back by Knoxville Police Officer Dylan Williams after an altercation in response to a hit-and-run call. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Joshua Hedrick and Lance Baker, say they are being stonewalled in their quest for public records such as the final autopsy report, 911 recordings and police cruiser video. The suit named the city of Knoxville, Knox County and the Knox County Emergency Communications District as defendants.

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Court Affirms Decision to Dismiss Confederate Statues Suit

The Tennessee Supreme Court this week affirmed a lower court's decision to dismiss a suit against the City of Memphis regarding the removal of Confederate statues, the Commercial Appeal reports. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp #215 had appealed a June decision from the Court of Appeals that had found the city acted legally in removing the statues. The statues, which are now in the possession of Memphis Greenspace, a nonprofit, will be relocated outside of Shelby County.

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Former AG Cooper Named Nashville Law Director

Former Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper has been appointed as Nashville’s newest law director, the Tennessean reports. He will begin working for the city on Nov. 4. A member of Bass Berry & Sims’ compliance and government investigations practice, Cooper currently serves on the city’s community oversight board but will have to resign from that post. He will replace current law director Jon Cooper, who is awaiting approval to take over as attorney for the Metro Council.

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Ranked-choice Voting Likely Headed to Court

Backers of a proposal to move to ranked-choice voting in certain Memphis elections expect to lose another decision by state election officials and are preparing for a court proceeding, according to the group Ranked Choice Tennessee that is pushing for the change. Mark Goins, the state’s election coordinator, has twice ruled that ranking candidates by preference (which is then used instead of run-offs to determine the winner of any race where no candidate receives a majority of votes) cannot be used in Tennessee. Memphis voters first approved ranked-choice voting in a 2008 referendum. City officials now say they can accommodate such a ballot. Goins is set to rule on the most recent request before the end of the year, the Daily Memphian reports.

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Court Clerk Facing Ethics Complaint Counters with Defamation Suit

A man who filed an ethics complaint against Smyrna Town Court Clerk Brittany Stevens now says her $150,000 defamation lawsuit against him should be dismissed. “I filed the Ethics Complaint in good faith expecting it to be reviewed and handled confidentially by the Ethics Commission,” Tony Sees says in a deposition. Even though the complaint was supposed to be confidential, the document ended up being shared through email and social media. The ethics complaint alleged that Stevens simultaneously is serving as town court clerk and a practicing lawyer. Stevens asserts that she stopped practicing law in 2016 when she was appointed to the clerk position, the Daily News Journal reports.

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Shelby Voters Appeal Dismissal of Election Security Suit

A group of Shelby County voters is appealing the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the security of voting machines in the county and calling for a switch to handwritten ballots and a voter-verifiable paper trail. Shelby County Advocates for Valid Elections filed an appeal to U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker’s ruling last month that their lawsuit failed to show that any harm has come to them and that they have no legal standing. The group says Parker disregarded “circumstantial evidence that election tampering has occurred” in the county, WREG reports.

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Murfreesboro Council Accused of Violating Open Meetings Law

The Murfreesboro City Council has been accused of violating the state’s open meetings law by meeting in private executive session for legal advice on selling an electric utility, the Daily Journal News reports. The city manager, who previously served as city attorney, says the executive session was called “to talk about legal issues that could result in a lawsuit.” Tennessee Press Association attorney Rick Hollow says, “That’s not a legal controversy. Executive session is for lawsuits or threats of pending litigation.” Another legal expert says case law requires there to be an existing lawsuit or threat of litigation. But Lee Pope, the open records counsel for the state, said the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that controversial issues can be permissible reasons to seek attorney-client privileges in private.

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Abdur’Rahman’s Lawyers: AG Usurping Power of Local DA

The ongoing battle over the fate of Tennessee death row inmate Abu-Alu Abdur’Rahman heated up today, with Abdur’Rahman’s attorneys accusing state Attorney General Herbert Slatery of usurping the power of Glenn Funk, Nashville’s elected prosecutor. Funk recently negotiated a deal to let Abdur’Rahman spend the rest of his life in prison rather than be executed. Slatery claims Funk does not have the authority to negotiate such a deal. Now Abdur’Rahman’s lawyers have responded, Knoxnews reports. “The notion that a District Attorney cannot enter an agreed resolution based on his reasoned judgment is utterly alien to basic principles of due process, statutory interpretation, and local power,” the lawyers argued.

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Ben Carson Visits Memphis, Pence in Nashville Area

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was in Memphis on Friday to visit the planned Union Row development -- an “opportunity zone” where investments by both public and private sectors provide housing and work opportunities for economically neglected communities. Carson also spoke against the “Not in My Backyard” mentality, which he argues has kept mixed-income housing from being built in many areas. The Memphis Business Journal has more. Today, Vice President Mike Pence was in Middle Tennessee to visit the Tyson Foods plant in Goodlettsville and speak about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, the Tennessean reports.

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Judge to Consider Making Consent Decree Hearing Public

U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla has asked attorneys for the city of Memphis to show why the transcript from a closed-door session on police reforms should not be made public. Following an August update hearing on the city’s compliance with the 1978 Kendrick Consent Decree, which prohibits police from gathering surveillance on protesters, attorneys for the city asked the court to seal the record. The city had sought modifications to the consent decree and cited “potential security vulnerabilities” that could arise if the record was made public. McCalla gave the parties until Oct. 15 to make their arguments. The Daily Memphian has the story.

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Wilson County Court Clerk Disputes DUI Arrest

Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Debbie Moss, who was charged with a DUI over the weekend, is disputing the allegations and how the sobriety tests were performed, the Tennessean reports. Moss was also charged with leaving the scene of a property damage accident and violation of the implied consent law. Moss maintains that she had a glass of wine after returning home but at no time was an impaired driver. The field sobriety tests were conducted at her home several hours after she returned home from a social function where witnesses said she backed into another car and then left the scene.

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Memphis Judges Win Re-election

All three of Memphis’ incumbent municipal judges won re-election yesterday. They are: Teresa D. Jones, Division 1; Tarik Sugarmon, Division 2; and Jayne Chandler, Division 3. All but Sugarmon had a challenger. In addition, Myron Lowery was elected court clerk. The Commercial Appeal has a breakdown of the vote as well as the results of the mayoral and city council races.

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Nashville Metro Council Loses Lawyer to New Mayor

Nashville Metro Council attorney Mike Jameson is leaving to work for newly elected Nashville Mayor John Cooper, the Tennessean reports. Jameson will serve as Cooper’s director of legislative affairs and senior adviser, the city announced this week. For now, Metro Director of Law Jon Cooper will take over as the council’s attorney and Hannah Zeitlin, who worked for Jameson, will serve as interim legal director.

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Full-Time Ordinance Delayed After Surprises in Draft

A proposed ordinance requiring Memphis’ chief legal officer to work full time for the city included a few surprises, the Daily Memphian reports. The proposal from council member Martavius Jones would have required all city “officers and directors” to live in the city and report to the mayor directly. The move is intended to affect the city attorney, who is a part-time city employee as well as a shareholder at Baker Donelson. Jones withdrew the ordinance in a committee sessions yesterday after the city’s chief operating officer said the proposal would impact provisions in the city’s charter and thus would require a referendum of city voters.

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