Category Archives: Courts, judges

AG joins lawsuit against makers of addiction treatment drug

News release from Attorney General’s office
Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, along with the Division of Consumer Affairs, today announced the filing of an antitrust and consumer protection lawsuit against the makers of Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction. Slatery and attorneys general from 35 other states filed the lawsuit over allegations that the companies engaged in an anti-competitive scheme to block generic competitors and cause consumers to pay artificially high prices.
 
Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, now known as Indivior, is alleged to have conspired with MonoSol Rx to switch Suboxone, a brand-name prescription drug used to treat heroin addiction and other opioid addictions by easing addiction cravings, from a tablet version to a dissolvable film version in order to prevent or delay generic alternatives from entering the market while maintaining monopoly profits. Continue reading

Fired Muslim THP trooper get $100K in damages

U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell has ruled that former Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper De’Ossie Dingus is entitled to $100,000 for wrongful termination and years of discrimination because of his Muslim religion, reports the News Sentinel.

“He was treated as a threat,” the judge wrote. “He was labeled as a possible terrorist-in-the-making. He was subjected to humiliating circumstances. All because he is a Sunni Muslim.”

Dingus, a military veteran who worked for the THP for a decade, was fired in 2010 after military liaison Maj. Kevin Taylor called Dingus a potential terrorist based on a brief encounter in November 2009 when Dingus complained about the airing of a video on the radicalization of children during a training class that was supposed to teach troopers how to recognize weapons of mass destruction.

…Campbell’s ruling notes the terrorist claims were the last in a long string of mistreatments of Dingus by supervisors because of his faith.

…Campbell had already ruled in Dingus’ favor, but there was one big legal problem when it came to damages. Rather than going to a psychiatrist or a therapist as a prelude to proving emotional distress or a doctor to corroborate stress-induced illness, Dingus hustled to pay his bills and filed a claim with the Tennessee Civil Service Commission.

He won $154,000 in back pay and benefits as a result of that claim but had to agree to take early retirement. Attorney Knight insisted the Department of Safety needed to be held accountable, and a financial punch for damages was the only way to do that. But the law requires some showing of psychological and medical damages.

Campbell initially awarded Dingus $1, but the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year Dingus’ case was so “egregious” it didn’t matter whether he had proved psychological fallout via traditional means. The harm he suffered, the court opined, was obvious. That ruling led to this week’s reconsideration of damages by Campbell.

Fred Thompson courthouse coming to Nashville?

Joint news release from Tennessee congressmen
WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 22, 2016 – U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) along with U.S. Representatives Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.), Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) today introduced a bill to name the new Nashville federal courthouse in honor of former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson. 

Senator Alexander said: “Fred Thompson was one of Tennessee’s most celebrated public figures. After graduating from Vanderbilt University law school, he served in Nashville as Assistant United States Attorney. In 1973, Sen. Howard Baker named him minority counsel in the U.S. Senate Watergate hearings. In 1994, Tennesseans elected him United States Senator. He was an actor in more than 20 movies. It is appropriate to name the new federal courthouse in honor of Fred’s distinguished career as an attorney, Senate investigator, and United States Senator.”

Senator Corker said: “Fred Thompson served the people of Tennessee and our country with great distinction. Through his many different roles in public life, Fred never forgot where he came from, and our state and country miss his common sense approach to public service. I was proud to call him a friend and am pleased to join my colleagues to honor his life in this way.” Continue reading

Hamblen County Democratic chair charged with theft

The Hamblen County Democratic Party chairman has been charged with stealing files from the county’s Circuit Court office, reports the Morristown Citizen-Tribune.

Timothy Wayne Woodard, 27, Ponder Drive, Talbott, was indicted Monday by a Hamblen County grand jury for nine counts apiece of illegally removing documents and theft under $500, both misdemeanor offenses.

Woodard, who has graduated law school and recently took the bar exam, is chair of the Hamblen County Democratic Party and a member of the Hamblen County Election Commission, according to Jeff Gardner, administrator of elections.

While prosecutors only presented evidence in nine cases, authorities recovered 57 original files that Woodard allegedly stole, according to Teddy Collingsworth, a criminal investigator with the district attorney’s office.

District Attorney General Dan Armstrong declined to publicly comment on a possible motive in the alleged thefts… Woodard, like anybody else, could have copied the redacted files, which would not have included Social Security numbers and other private identifiers, according to the district attorney.

Armstrong said the criminal inquiry began in early July after Teresa West, Hamblen County Circuit Court clerk, contacted his office.

Woodard worked for the circuit court clerk’s office under a previous administration, but none of the files he allegedly stole were taken while he was working for county government, according to Collingsworth.

Fifty-five of the stolen files allegedly were recovered at a law office in Jefferson County where Woodard was working, according to Armstrong, The other two reportedly were found in the defendant’s brief case.

Islamic Center sues state for denying tax exemption

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Islamic Center of Nashville is suing the state in federal court after it says it was denied a tax exemption.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, argues the center’s religious tax exemption for its Nashville International Academy school was denied because of a banking deal that allowed the center to follow its religious beliefs, reported the Tennessean. The center was billed more than $87,000 in past-due taxes as a result.

In 2008, the mosque built a new school building. Since the Islamic center adheres to Islam’s prohibition against paying interest, it struck a banking agreement known as an ijara to pay for the construction without interest, according to the lawsuit.

The arrangement transferred the property’s title to a bank until October 2013 when the Islamic center paid its final payment. It was the transfer, the lawsuit said, that led to the denial of the Islamic center’s retroactive exemption request.

“We believe the Tennessee statute is unconstitutional because it imposes a burden on Muslim institutions that it does not place on those of any other faith community,” said Christina Jump, an attorney representing the mosque.

The lawsuit requests damages and asks a judge to say the center does not have to pay the taxes.

The Islamic center first appealed the denial to an administrative law judge and the Assessment Appeals Commission. In May, the commission said the transfer of title disqualified the center from exemption. It also sympathized with the mosque and suggested they take legislative action.

A state spokesman said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

New coalition set up to push ‘criminal justice reform’

Press release from Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice
NASHVILLE – Leaders from advocacy, business and social service groups with constituents across the state came together today to launch the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice. The nonpartisan coalition is committed to advancing criminal justice reform. Founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These diverse organizations from across the political spectrum came together because we all agree that criminal justice reform is both necessary and urgent,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Our current criminal justice system is functioning like a revolving door. We as a state can and must do better to ensure public safety, fair treatment and equality in the justice system. This coalition will be a powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature.”

The coalition will promote reforms that enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation and re-entry, and save taxpayer dollars in order to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society. Continue reading

Sunday column: On the legal validity of dumping Durham

Last week’s extraordinary session of the Tennessee Legislature had some ordinary aspects — predictable partisan and bipartisan bickering, for example — but the Jeremy Durham debacle was really something special.

After the 70-2 vote Tuesday to expel the Franklin Republican from his House seat, Durham made the rounds at Nashville television stations declaring that he’s likely to file a lawsuit, contending that his removal from office violated the state constitution.

This was somewhat anticipated during the House floor debate. Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, suggested that a lawsuit would cost taxpayers more than paying Durham’s pension, which he will lose as result of being booted prior to completion of his term in November. That, and concerns about constitutionality, were among the reasons cited by Holt in boldly pushing the blue light on House voting machines, which means he was present but not voting. Three others did the same, including one bold Democrat, Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis. Continue reading

Koch-sponsored forum talks TN criminal justice reform

Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation over criminal justice reform, reports The Tennessean. They discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses, thus capturing people in a cycle of repeat offenses and poverty, to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population.

“It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of conservative thinktank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.”

For some like Owen, the dollars make sense to tackle reform.

“By and large we’ve done very little in the state of Tennessee to reform our criminal justice system, and it’s cost taxpayers a significant amount of money,” he said. “It’s become the third-highest expenditure in our state budget and our crime rates have continued to go up.”

The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, an outreach effort backed by one of the nation’s richest and most politically influential men.

Perhaps luckily timed because the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session brought lawmakers to Nashville the same day, those in the audience included state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and several other legislators. Also there were active local donor and businessman Lee Beaman (who is on the Beacon Center board) and Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City in Memphis, a group of lawyers and activists who advocate justice reform.

53 GOP legislators want to intervene in same-sex divorce

Fifty-three Republican state legislators have teamed with a Christian conservative group in trying to become involved in the pending divorce of two Knoxville women who are arguing over child custody.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) announced Friday that its legal arm, known as the Constitutional Government Defense Fund, is representing the legislators in filing a motion to intervene in the divorce case of Sabrina Renae Witt vs. Erica Christine Witt.

The motion contends the legislators’ “unique and substantial interest in the legislative power and process will be impeded, impaired, and/or nullified” if courts interpret a state law “to apply to any persons other than a man and woman joined together as ‘husband’ and ‘wife.”

Knox County Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan ruled in June that Erica Witt has no legal rights under Tennessee law to involvement with a daughter born to Sabrina Witt through artificial insemination, as reported by the News Sentinel at the time. The couple were legally married at Washington, D.C., in April of 2014, when same-sex marriage was prohibited in Tennessee. There is still no state law on the books authorizing same-sex marriages, but they were validated by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. Continue reading

Former THP sergeant charged with harboring illegal immigrant

A former Tennessee Highway Patrol sergeant charged with harboring an illegal immigrant will be released from custody Tuesday and allowed to remain at home pending his trial, according to The Tennessean.

In early August, a federal judge ruled that Ronald E. Strickland should remain in custody because connections to Honduras could make him a flight risk. But U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp signed an order Friday releasing Strickland, who will be electronically monitored and allowed to stay at home, according to court records and Strickland’s attorney, Ed Yarbrough.

At a court hearing in early August, Yarbrough said Strickland’s work as a public servant — he served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining THP — and other factors meant he was not a risk and should be released from custody.

Strickland was arrested in late July on a federal charge of harboring a 22-year-old Honduran woman, according to court records. Court documents say he picked up a woman he knew in Texas in mid-July after she traveled from Honduras and through Mexico to meet with him.