Local

Woman Files Lawsuit Against Rutherford County Regarding Guilty Plea in Child Abuse Case

A woman who pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse in 2007 is suing the Murfreesboro Police Department and Rutherford County, claiming the plea was made under duress, The Daily News Journal reports. Catherin Funk-Vaughn filed the pro se lawsuit in federal court on Nov. 28, asking for $9.9 million, alleging she thought that she was pleading to a diversion charge — not a guilty plea — and that her attorney told her the only way she would see her children again was if she pleaded guilty. She also says her name was misspelled as “Catherine” on court documents, making them void and claims violations against several of her constitutional rights. Funk-Vaughn has also filed a separate suit against the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

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Local Government Forum 2019

The TBA Local Government Section will host its annual forum on Thursday, March 28 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. This seminal seminar has become the must-see, must-do event for municipal leaders across the state, offering guidance and insight on timely topics affecting Tennessee’s communities. This year’s forum will feature presentations on ABC laws, government employment laws, legal ethics in a government setting and more. Attendees and section members will be invited to a social event following the program (more details to come). Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from and engage with community leaders and attorneys of a similar focus. Here are the key details:
 
When: Thursday, March 28, 2019 – Registration begins at 8 a.m., CST
Where: Tennessee Bar Center, 221 Fourth Ave. N., Nashville
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Former Accountant Accused of Stealing Nearly $1 Million from Energy Provider

A former accountant for the Meigs County-based Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) has been charged with stealing nearly $1 million from the organization, The Times Free Press reports. Jason Kittle was indicted by a Meigs County grand jury on a charge of theft over $25,000 after an investigation by the State Comptroller's Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which were probing suspicious transactions reported by the cooperative. According to the comptroller's office, Kittle stole $735,318 by making 242 transfers from a VEC account to his personal bank account, with another $229,293 stolen by making 204 payments to his personal credit card account. Kittle is claimed to have hidden the embezzlement by recording the fraudulent transactions in VEC's accounting system as online payment fees, returns, or similar transactions, according to auditors. VEC services 115,000 customers in Tennessee, including the communities of Benton, Cleveland, Georgetown, Decatur, Spring City, Crossville, Monterey, Jamestown and Byrdstown.

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Tennessee Taxpayers on the Hook for Amazon’s Operations Center of Excellence

Tennessee taxpayers will fork over $102 million in cash and tax breaks to secure Amazon’s Operations Center of Excellence in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. Gov. Bill Haslam said that the incentives for the Amazon investment would be repaid in just over a year and that the returns will be immeasurable for years to come. State officials have agreed to only pay if the company hires at least 5,000 employees.

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Tennessee Comptroller Reports $3.7 Million Shortfall in Funds

Tennessee’s counties and municipalities have approximately $3.7 million in cash shortages, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. While fraud cannot be proven in all cases, several recent incidents have contributed to the shortcomings, including state school employees fraudulently purchasing iPads, phone cases and even $187,000 in luxury auto parts for a Knox County Schools mechanic’s personal car repair business. The comptroller's office has set up a hotline to anonymously report misuse of state funds.

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Tennessean: No People of Color in Tennessee's Top Congressional Staff Positions

Tennessee congressional staffs are among the lowest in the the country in their diversity, The Tennessean reports. According to a study released last week by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, those who serve as full committee staff directors, personal office chiefs of staff, legislative directors and communications directors of Tennessee's U.S. House and U.S. Senate members, were all white. About 25 percent of Tennesseans identify as being persons of color.

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Attorney Testifies to Extortion in Trial of Hamilton County Commissioner

A witness in the trial of Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd told a jury on Wednesday that he received a call from an attorney who said that Boyd had damaging information about East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert which would be released if Lambert did not "pull his papers" when running against Boyd, The Chattanoogan reports. Attorney Allen McCallie said the call was from Mike Mallen — his former law partner — regarding a special meeting called by Lambert to ask the East Ridge City Council to approve a deal with Exit One developers. District Attorney Neal Pinkston told the jury the call and follow-up conversations that Lambert secretly recorded went beyond free speech, amounting to extortion, the paper reported.

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Memphis Reevaluates Its Pre-trial Bonding Process

The city of Memphis is evaluating changes to its bail bond system, The Commercial Appeal reports. The Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) received a MacArthur Foundation grant last year to help reduce jail overcrowding, especially related to pre-trial detention. SCSO will use a portion of the grant to update the Pre-Trial Services process, used for everyone brought in by law enforcement. The new system will focus on specific risk factors based on the individual's arrest record and likelihood that they will come to court, replacing current questions that focus on factors that may preference affluent suspects. The new screening process is expected to reduce the number of people jailed by 25 percent or more.

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Former Knoxville Utilities Board Confesses to Embezzling from Law Firm

A former chair of the Knoxville Utilities Board pleaded guilty last Friday to pocketing more than $100,000 from his former law firm, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. John Thomas "Tom" Jones was a senior partner at Jones, Meadows & Wall when he embezzled the money between 2010 and 2015. Jones’ sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 31.

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Hamilton County Commissioners to Vote on New Wastewater Plant

Hamilton County commissioners will vote Wednesday on a proposal to buy land for a new wastewater treatment plant, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The county intends to pay $3 million for the 150-acre site, with the plant expected to cost another $45 million. Funding for the project will come from $125 million in bonds the county sold after a property tax increase last year.

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