Five years after University of Tennessee student David Kernell made national headlines when he was charged with perusing through the personal email account of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, then a 2008 vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket, in search of politically damage material he never found, Kernell is a free man — truly free.
So reports the News Sentinel. More: Although Kernell wrapped up a year in federal prison in November 2011, he remained under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office through November 2014. But earlier this month, in one of his last acts before retiring in August, U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips freed Kernell from that final requirement.
Phillips’ ruling came after Kernell’s defense attorney, Wade Davies, filed a motion in which he stated Kernell had paid an adequate price for what Davies’ has long termed a youthful prank, has now completed his degree at UT and qualifies for the extraordinary move to release him from supervision.
The U.S. attorney’s office did not resist the move.
And Phillips did not tarry long in making his decision.
Although Phillips is a Republican appointee and Kernell is the son of a longtime Democrat (state representative from Memphis), Phillips did not want Kernell to go to prison in the first place. When a federal jury rejected all but one felony charge filed against Kernell in the case, Phillips ordered Kernell to spend a year and a day in a Knoxville halfway house. But the U.S. Bureau of Prisons refused and instead sent Kernell, by then 22, to prison. Judges can recommend at which facility a defendant should go, the bureau makes the final call.
Although the case has been dubbed the “Palin hacker case” in the media, this was no sophisticated computer hack, testimony showed.
After reading reports that Palin may have used her personal account for official business in her role as Alaska governor, Kernell, the son of longtime Memphis Democratic state lawmaker Mike Kernell, decided to go surfing the Web in search of the answer to her password security question.
After successfully guessing the password, he changed it and posted it online along with screenshots of some Palin family photographs and a few email messages.
He declared on the 4 Chan discussion board that he had found nothing politically damaging in the account.
A Bradley County man’s quest to have the Cleveland city manager and a councilman charged for ripping up his protests signs came to naught Tuesday, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Dan Rawls said Bradley County General Sessions Judge Sheridan Randolph refused to issue criminal summonses for City Manager Janice Casteel or Councilman George Poe on charges of vandalism, criminal trespass and official oppression.
After meeting with the judge to make his request, Rawls said Randolph told him that even if he signed the papers, the prosecutor’s office was likely to dismiss the charges.
The two city officials ripped up protest signs Rawls posted in front of his business, Cleveland Performance Center, when Gov. Bill Haslam was appearing across the street on July 11. Rawls said the hand-painted sign saying, “Haslam, shame on u,” was to protest the governor’s support for Common Core educational standards.
Poe said afterward that the signs were an embarrassment to the city and that they were on city right of way.
Photos showed them near a stop sign and a utility pole, but it’s hard to determine whether they are within the 6-foot right of way
A federal judge has granted preliminary approval to a proposed settlement agreement between Pilot Flying J and several trucking companies that had sued over allegations of fuel rebate fraud, reports the News Sentinel. U.S. District Judge James M. Moody signed the order on Tuesday. Several plaintiffs had previously filed a memo in U.S. District Court in Arkansas highlighting a proposed deal that was also supported by the Knoxville-based truck stop chain.
Tom Ingram, a spokesman for Pilot, said Tuesday the company was aware that the deal was being considered by a judge, “but we can’t comment until and if he rules.”
In addition, Nashville attorney Aubrey Harwell, who is representing Pilot, on Tuesday guessed that the total rebates owed by Pilot to all of its customers — not just the plaintiffs involved in the latest settlement — could be as much as $35 million.
A memo filed on Tuesday by attorneys for the plaintiffs in the settlement deal said it was “an extraordinarily good result for the class.”
It said the deal involves full repayment by Pilot of any amount owed, plus 6 percent interest. In addition, Pilot would pay all attorneys fees plus an “incentive award” to each plaintiff.
“All accounts will be audited, and the auditors will be audited, all at the expense of Defendants,” the memo said. “Moreover, Defendants will submit to an injunction to prohibit these underpayments from occurring in the future.”
According to the judge’s order, Horne LLP will review the work performed by Pilot’s auditor in calculating the compensation to be paid to eligible class members in the deal.
Parties to the agreement include National Trucking Financial Reclamation Services, Edis Trucking, Townes Trucking and R&R Transportation….Pilot said that as of Tuesday, it is aware of at least 13 other lawsuits pending in other courts based on substantially similar allegations.
ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — A judge has dropped six official misconduct charges against former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris.
The Johnson City Press reports that Judge John Kerry Blackwood ruled there was insufficient evidence to proceed with Harris’ trial, which started Monday.
It would have been Harris’ third trial. Two previous trials ended in hung juries.
During opening statements Monday, District Attorney General Tony Clark told jurors that county inmates were taken to property owned by Harris to bush hog it, mow it, cut wood and raze structures there.
Harris’ attorney said in court that Harris did not know the inmates were working on the property.
A grand jury in October 2011 indicted Harris on felony charges, including official misconduct, theft, criminal simulation, attempted aggravated assault and tampering with evidence.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Mike Faulk as circuit court judge for the Third Judicial District, replacing Judge Kindall T. Lawson, who retired effective June 1.
“Mike will bring vast experience to the bench,” Haslam said. “He has served his state well in the past, and I know he will serve the citizens of the Third Judicial District well in this new role.”
Faulk, 59, has worked in The Faulk Law Office in Church Hill since 1982. He served as a Tennessee state senator representing Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union counties in the 106th and 107th Tennessee General Assemblies. While serving as a state senator, he was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, among other duties.
“I am deeply humbled by the Governor’s confidence in me, grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of East Tennessee and privileged to work with the other judges and court personnel of Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins and Hancock counties,” Faulk said.
Dozens of state employees who faced being fired this week by Gov. Bill Haslam will hold on to their jobs until at least next week after a Nashville judge on Monday granted a one-week extension of her temporary restraining order, reports Andy Sher. Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said she was not ready to render a decision in the challenge brought by the Tennessee State Employees Association but expects to rule on the case this coming Monday.
The move came after 90 minutes of spirited arguments and a flurry of court filings by attorneys for the state employees group and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office over whether the Haslam administration did or didn’t violate state law in the layoff process.
State employees’ attorney Larry Woods argued administration officials didn’t follow state law in plans to lay off more than 200 workers because they froze hiring for other positions during the 60-day notice period and on May 9 shut down the state’s NeoGov website, which lists available state job openings.
That was 20 days into the layoff notice for dozens of employees and about a week into it for more than 100 others. It will be back online Wednesday.
That’s too late for some workers whose jobs end today or Wednesday, according to the state employees’ group.
Woods said the 2012 Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act requires job counseling and opportunities to find other jobs within state government during the entire 60-day period.
But Leslie Bridges, senior counsel in the state attorney general’s office, countered the issue “really boils down” to whether the state even has to have job openings and said “the answer is no.”
The NeoGov website, Bridges said, had to be taken down and hiring frozen while new salary schedules were implemented in the state’s Edison payroll system for 37,000 employees.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled in favor of members of the Occupy Nashville movement who claimed their free speech rights were violated when they were arrested while protesting in 2011 on War Memorial Plaza.
U.S. District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote in an order issued on Wednesday that the seven plaintiffs’ rights to engage in constitutionally protected free speech activity was violated when they were arrested based on a hastily written rule that banned camping on the plaza.
The plaintiffs sued Gov. Bill Haslam, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Commissioner of General Services Steven Cates. Trauger’s order denied some of the plaintiffs’ claims but also said that they had prevailed in proving that the state officials could be held liable on claims of violations of free speech rights, violation of due process and unlawful arrest.
Following the national Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters began a 24-hour-a-day presence on the plaza outside of the state Capitol in early October 2011. But the state started getting complaints about trash and public urination and other problems. The state then issued a new policy banning overnight camping on the state property.
In the early morning of Oct. 28, 2011, several protesters were arrested, but a local judicial commissioner refused to sign the arrest warrants because there had not been enough notice of the policy change. The following night, more protesters were arrested, but they were released with misdemeanor citations.
Trauger wrote in her order that even though the state had concerns about public safety on the plaza, officials still had to follow the law to address those concerns.
“Instead, without providing adequate notice to the public at large, they informally attempted to change the law overnight, made no record of the proceedings, and failed to consult with the Attorney General, who otherwise must pass on the constitutional validity of any rule (whether adopted through traditional or emergency procedures) before it becomes law,” Trauger wrote.
David Briley, an attorney representing the Occupy Nashville group, called the ruling a resounding victory for the principles of free speech and protest.
A Nashville judge issued a restraining order Monday against Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lay off more than 200 state workers this month, acting on a lawsuit filed by state employees.
From Andy Sher’s report: The suit charges top state officials violated provisions in law surrounding a 60-day notice for affected employees.
Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon granted employees’ request for a restraining order and has scheduled a hearing for this coming Monday in the case, said attorney Larry Woods, who is representing the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of individual state workers, including several from Hamilton County.
TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the suit was filed with “great reluctance” after last-minute meetings with state officials, including Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, failed to produce results.
Contacted Monday night, Haslam Communications Director Alexia Poe said by email “it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on potential/pending litigation.”
While the state provided the notices throughout April, officials did not comply with a section that says soon-to-be-fired employees be given “career counseling, job testing, and placement efforts,” the suit says.
That’s because the state’s Department of Human Resources on May 9 took down the agency’s Neogov online service that employees must use to find job openings and apply for them, according to state employees.
Hiring is now frozen and the site doesn’t come back up until June 19 — a day after 72 state Labor and Workforce Development workers are slated to lose their jobs following notices provided April 19.
Another 126 employees in the Department of General Services were given notice on April 25 that they were losing their jobs on June 28. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of state office buildings to Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm.
Woods said the suit seeks to enjoin the Haslam administration from dismissing or terminating any state employees in the current reduction-in-force actions “unless they receive 60 days of career counseling, job testing and placement” services.
The suit says Haslam, Hunter, who is a former Hamilton County personnel director, and other state officials are running afoul of protections lawmakers inserted in Haslam’s own 2012 civil service overhaul.
The state employees’ group initially opposed the legislation, saying it would wreck protections and open the way to political patronage. But TSEA’s O’Connell said the group accepted the bill after lawmakers inserted protections including the 60-day notice and the chance to move elsewhere within state government.
— Note: News release from TSEA is below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Metro Nashville Board of Education brought by a charter school that was ordered to be closed because of poor student performance.
The Metro School Board voted in November to shut down Smithson Craighead Middle School because the charter school ranked among the worst academic performers in the state and was losing enrollment.
Afterward, the school and parents filed a class action lawsuit against the board of education arguing that the board violated their due process and equal protection rights.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting the parents’ claim that they would be forced to send their children to inferior schools and denying that the charter’s rights were violated.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A longtime Knoxville lawyer and the first female president of the Tennessee Bar Association has been nominated by President Barack Obama to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
The White House announced Thursday that Obama had nominated Pamela L. Reeves for the post. The Knoxville News Sentinel said if confirmed by the Senate, Reeves would replace U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips, who retires this summer.
Reeves graduated from the University of Tennessee’s George C. Taylor College of Law in 1979 and received her bachelor’s with highest honors from UT in 1976.
She has been with the law firm of Reeves, Herbert & Anderson in Knoxville since 2002.
Reeves was bar association president from 1998 to 1999.