Category Archives: Courts, judges

Nashville sues state over education funding

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville is suing the state over what it says is inadequate funding of public education, in violation of the Tennessee Constitution.

Nashville joins Shelby County and a cluster of seven counties that includes Hamilton, which have filed their own lawsuits over the state’s funding of the Basic Education Program, or BEP. That’s the method the state uses to meet its constitutional obligation to provide free K-12 public education.

According to the Nashville lawsuit filed Thursday, lawmakers have not provided enough money for the school system to hire the legally required number of teachers and translators for its English language learners.

Nashville has the highest number of students who come from a non-English language background in the state, according to the lawsuit. They make up about a quarter of total Metro Nashville Public School students and include more than 16,000 Spanish speakers, more than 3,000 Arabic speakers and more than 1,000 Kurdish speakers. Continue reading

Lawsuit over public records via email

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has agreed to let both the Tennessee School Boards Association and the Tennessee Risk Management Trust weigh in on an appeal in a Sumner County open records lawsuit, reports The Tennessean.

Sumner County Judge Dee David Gay ruled in November that the Sumner County Board of Education violated the Tennessee Public Records Act by denying a records request Joelton resident Ken Jakes made via email and over the telephone. In his ruling, Gay said the school system’s policy of only accepting records requests via U.S. mail or in person was too restrictive for citizens, and ordered the board to craft a new public records policy.

School board members voted unanimously in December to appeal Gay’s ruling to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, and enacted a new policy in March that includes the use of a dedicated phone line for public records requests.

The TSBA, an organization comprised of 141 school districts from across the state, filed a motion Aug. 3 requesting permission to both file a brief on behalf of the Sumner County Board of Education as well as address the court during oral arguments.

“… the case is one that affects the rights and responsibilities of school systems in their capacity as a local government subject to Tennessee’s open records laws,” the TSBA said in its court filing. “The issue of interpretation of these laws is statewide in principle and has the potential to affect not only how school systems respond to open records requests but also how local governments respond to open records requests.”

The Tennessee Risk Management Trust, a member-owned insurance trust for public entities, requested Aug. 19 to also file an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief in the case. The briefs are often a way for someone not a party to a case to offer advice to the court in a decision likely to hold broader implications than just for the two parties arguing the case.

“The ruling of the trial court has a far-reaching and potentially detrimental effect on the Trust’s members,” TRMT attorneys said in the court filing. The document also says that the trust’s members include 60 counties, 102 school systems and 40 municipalities and other governmental entities within Tennessee. The Sumner County Board of Education is not a member of the trust, according to spokesman Jeremy Johnson.

The appeals court granted this week both organizations’ requests to file the briefs. However, neither group will be allowed to make oral arguments in the case. A court date has not yet been set.

Statue honors TN Supreme Court Justice A.A. Birch

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue of former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr. was unveiled Saturday in a ceremony honoring the judicial pioneer’s legacy, reports The Tennessean.

The unveiling also marked the 10-year anniversary of Nashville’s downtown criminal courthouse, which bears Birch’s name. The larger-than-life statue, created by New Jersey artist Brian Hanlon and paid for by donations, sits on a base at the courthouse’s main entrance on Second Avenue.

“It’s quite fitting, too, because Justice Birch was, and is, a larger-than-life judicial trailblazer, and now we can all see and say that literally,” said Presiding General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell, who led the committee to get the statue in place. Bell said she grew up three houses down from Birch and grew to admire the man.

Birch was the first African-American prosecutor in Davidson County, and the county’s first black judge in both General Sessions and trial courts. He later became the second black justice on the state Supreme Court, and the first to serve as chief justice.

Before beginning his career on the bench, Birch had a private law practice in Nashville and taught at Meharry Medical College, Fisk University and Tennessee State A&I University, now Tennessee State University. He volunteered to represent activists who were arrested at sit-ins in Nashville during the civil rights movement.

Judge rules on public records promptness

Beginning of a Deborah Fisher article written for the the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government:

In what may be the first legal challenge to government delays on public records requests in Tennessee under a 2008 law, a judge has ruled that Metro Nashville violated the “prompt” provision in the statute by holding up traffic accident reports.

Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies ordered the city to provide access to the reports within 72 hours of their creation.

He also found that Metro Nashville Police Department’s request form did not comply with the Public Records Act because it stated that the city had “seven business days to process” a records request, which is contrary to law.

Many requesters, including journalists across the state, often complain that government entities slow-walk their public records requests even when the record they seek is readily available. In late 2014, for example, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency in Nashville initially refused to release a document that had been voted upon a few days earlier by a subcommittee of the public agency’s board of directors. The public information officer told the news reporter she had seven business days to release it, which would been after the full board voted on the document.

But the law says differently, which Judge Davies recognized in his order signed last week.

TN judge rejects courtroom monkey motion

A Putnam County judge has rejected a woman’s request to have her pet monkey — named Carlose and deemed an “emotional support animal” — on hand in the courtroom for her pending trial on drug charges, reports the Cookeville Herald-Citizen.

Gordon Byars, attorney for Barbara Sue Myers of Celina, had filed a motion asking that Carlose be permitted to attend the court proceedings with his owner. Criminal Court Judge Gary McKenzie denied the motion.

“In all my time studying law in school and in my 17 years of practice, I never thought I would have to decide whether a monkey can come in a courtroom,” he said.

Byars argued in the motion that the presence of the monkey — a black-handed species named Carlose — would be critical for Myers during trial.

“Emotional support animals are … necessary for the normal, day-to-day functioning of their emotionally or psychologically impaired handler, facilitating a normalizing effect by their presence,” Byars said.

He cited several federal laws protecting and allowing the use of emotional support animals. They can be present in aircraft cabins, for example, and landlords must accommodate them even when leases prohibit it, he said.

Byars showed proof that Carlose is a certified emotional support animal by the National Service Animal Registry. His motion also references a statement by Myers’ doctor claiming that Carlose’s presence helps her manage the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

“He is well trained, friendly and accompanies the defendant everywhere she goes,” Byars said.

Judge McKenzie denied the motion because Carlose is an emotional support animal and not a service dog.

“The American Disability Act specifically excludes all other animals except dogs,” he said.

The judge is particularly familiar with that law because, when he was an assistant prosecutor, he was involved in writing directions allowing a service dog into a DeKalb County courtroom for a child rape trial. That was a precedent-setting case in the state. It involved the 13th Judicial District’s Child Advocacy Center’s service dog, Murch, who is trained to be in court.

Jury awards $560K back pay to police officers

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A jury in Hamilton County has ruled that the city of Chattanooga failed to give police officers promised raises and to maintain fair conditions of employment.

The Chattanooga Times Free-Press reports that on Thursday the jury awarded 25 officers more than $560,000 in back pay for the time that they worked without receiving the raises.

The case stemmed from a pay policy that allowed recently hired officers to earn higher salaries than their supervisors.

The officers said that the city had sent a document to police in 2010 that laid out changes to police salaries. They said the document promised future pay raises that they never got.

The jury also rejected the officers’ claim that the city discriminated against them because of their age

Apparent Armstrong successor owes child support

Rodney “Rick” Staples, who has been chosen to replace Rep. Joe Armstrong as the Democratic party nominee in House District 15, is involved in a legal dispute over child support payments, according to Nashville Post Politics (crediting much of the Post post to a Knoxville Mercury story).

Armstrong is barred from running for public office because of his conviction earlier this month on a felony charge of filing false income tax return. Staples defeated former Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown to become successor nominee in the executive committee vote and he now needs only defeat perennial candidate Pete Drew, running as an independent with no Republican on the ballot, in the November election.

An arrest warrant was issued for Roderick “Rick” Staples in March after he failed to show for court in a case involving more than $8,200 in past-due child support, court records show. The warrant was rescinded in June, when Staples’ court-appointed attorney issued a $3,000 check on his behalf. A new court date was set for Oct. 5.

“I know I missed a court date. I just had the wrong date,” Staples says. “I look forward to serving the 15th District as their state Representative, and one great aside to that is, I’ll have an assistant to help manage my schedule.”

… Knox County Democratic Party Chairman Cameron Brooks says he was aware of Staples’ ongoing child-support case. He says he thinks everyone on the 15-person committee considering the House nomination was also aware, though it wasn’t discussed openly during a meeting and vote on his appointment on Thursday, Aug. 18. Staples beat out two other top contenders for the nomination, including Knoxville City Councilman Daniel Brown and LeTonia Armstrong, who is Joe Armstrong’s wife.

“We’re standing behind him as a party and we’re looking forward to the November election and to seeing him elected to the Legislature,” Brooks says.

Staples expects the court case to be resolved next year when his estranged son — whom we’re not naming because he’s a minor — turns 18 and graduates from high school.

CCA faces lawsuit over menstruation strip searches

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America is trying to seal from public view documents in a lawsuit that claim female visitors to a Tennessee prison were forced to undergo strip searches to prove they were menstruating.

Three women have accused the company of violating their rights by forcing them to expose their genitals to guards after they tried to bring sanitary pads or tampons into South Central Correctional Facility, about 85 miles southwest of Nashville. One woman said her three children had to witness the search.

Protective orders in the case allow documents that could pose a security risk to the prison to be filed under seal. Each side is accusing the other of violating those orders. Continue reading

October date set for Todd sign theft trial

An October 11 trial date has been set in the case of suburban state Rep. Curry Todd, charged earlier this month with stealing opponent Mark Lovell’s yard signs, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Lawyers discussed the case Monday before General Sessions Court Judge Louis J. Montesi Jr. in hushed tones impossible to hear. Afterward, both Todd, R-Collierville, and his attorney Ted Hansom declined to comment. Prosecutor Byron Winsett confirmed the October 11 trial date.

Winsett is the top-level local prosecutor for public corruption and economic crimes. He said he’s handling the case because it involves a public official.

Todd — charged with theft of property under $500, a misdemeanor — was arrested two days before the August 4 primary election, which he went on to lose to Lovell. The arrest came after two instances where a Lovell backer photographed the state legislator removing the challenger’s signs. Lovell told Sheriff’s deputies hundreds of his sign were missing.

…Todd acknowledged taking the signs, but contended the landowner gave him exclusive rights to place signs at the property. He identified the owners as the Porters. An arrest affidavit written by Detective Sgt. B. Clark says he interviewed Joel Porter, who said Todd did not contact him, and no one had specific authorization to put signs on the property.

Armstrong attorney: Split verdict invalid

From Jamie Satterfield:
If former state Rep. Joe Armstrong did not try to evade taxes, he cannot be guilty of filing a false tax return.

So argues Armstrong’s defense attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, in a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court asking a judge to either judicially acquit Armstrong of the felony filing a false tax return conviction he suffered this month or grant the now ex-lawmaker a new trial. Continue reading