Tag Archives: judges

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.

Bivens succeds Lee as chief justice of TN Supreme Court

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts
Nashville, Tenn. – The Supreme Court has elected Justice Jeff Bivins to be the next chief justice of the Court. Justice Bivins was unanimously elected by the Court to a term that begins September 1.

Justice Bivins was appointed to the Court in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam. Prior to assuming that position, he was a judge on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals from August 2011 until July 2014. Continue reading

Campbell County judge indicted on misconduct charges

JACKSBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A Campbell County judge has been indicted on four felony counts of official misconduct and temporarily suspended from performing judicial functions.

The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/2aNo1G0 ) reports that a county grand jury indicted General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons on Wednesday in connection with two cases in which she was accused of lying and misusing her authority. The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct issued a temporary suspension order Wednesday evening.

Sammons’ lawyer, Wade Davies, said in a statement that Sammons is innocent and can show she hasn’t committed any offense. He said Sammons will plead not guilty.

Sammons is expected to be booked Thursday and arraigned next week.

UPDATE/NOTE: Related Tennessee Supreme Court news release below. Continue reading

Haslam appoints top AG staffer as judge

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Bill Young of Nashville as chancellor in the 20th Judicial District, which serves Davidson County. Young replaces retiring Chancellor Carol McCoy, effective September 1.

Young, 59, has been in the Tennessee Attorney General’s office in Nashville, where he has been associate attorney general and part of the management team, since 2014. In that role, he was responsible for handling work related to the Tennessee General Assembly, the executive branch of state government and other state offices and responsible for special litigation and other projects assigned by the attorney general. Continue reading

Supremes, appeals court judges win retention elections

All three state Supreme Court justices, appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to fill vacancies, won full terms in Thursday’s retention elections by better than 2-to-1 margins.

Results in the Supreme Court elections:

Supreme Court Retain Jeffrey Bivins
1,980 of 1,980 precincts – 100 percent

x-Yes 302,562 – 71 percent
No 125,113 – 29 percent

Supreme Court Retain Holly Kirby
1,980 of 1,980 precincts – 100 percent

x-Yes 302,069 – 71 percent
No 123,448 – 29 percent

Supreme Court Retain Roger Page
1,980 of 1,980 precincts – 100 percent

x-Yes 300,944 – 71 percent
No 123,796 – 29 percent
Continue reading

Former TN Chief Justice Robert E. Cooper dies, aged 95

Former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Elbert Cooper, 95, died Sunday at his Signal Mountain home after a short illness, according to his son, Robert E. Cooper Jr., former Tennessee attorney general.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

“He was extremely courteous, and asked good questions, but he was always very practical,” said former state Supreme Court Chief Justice William “Mickey” Barker.

“His questions would be about what would be the implications if he ruled a certain way, what is the public policy involved, why is this a good ruling,” said Barker, now of counsel with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel in Chattanooga. “He made you dig deep into things besides the law. But he knew the law better than anybody I’ve ever known.”

…He was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals by Gov. Buford Ellington and twice won re-election to that position before winning a statewide election for the state Supreme Court in 1974. He was re-elected in 1982 and served for 19 months as chief justice.

The court elected in 1974 is credited with adopting a stricter Code of Judicial Conduct, creating a Board of Professional Responsibility to oversee attorneys, adopting new rules of evidence and of criminal and appellate procedure.

Cooper was chairman of the Tennessee Judicial Council from 1967 until 1990. He also was chairman of the Tennessee Code Commission on two occasions and was a member of the Tennessee Judicial Standards Committee, 1971-77.

“We all count ourselves fortunate to have had the benefit for so many years of his great wisdom, ready advice and vast knowledge of Chattanooga, the city he loved,” said Justice Cooper’s son, Robert Jr. “But we were even more blessed by his fierce love for his family. We will miss him greatly.”

The funeral service will be Saturday at Second Presbyterian Church.

Note: The Supreme Court has an obituary on its website, HERE.

Report faults TN lack of diversity in judges

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A new report faults Tennessee’s court system for not adequately representing the diversity of the state’s population.

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy ranks Tennessee 45th out of 51 state court jurisdictions for gender and racial diversity. The report says that the state’s judiciaries are 60 percent less diverse on average than the state population.

According to the report, white males make up 36 percent of the state population but account for 74 percent of judges.

While women make up 51 percent of the population, only 20 percent of judges in Tennessee are female. And the report says that minorities make up 26 percent of Tennessee’s population, but just 9 percent of judges are people of color.

Note: The full report is HERE.

Lawsuits on toilet paper leads judge to block prisoner’s filings

East Tennessee’s chief federal judge has banned an imprisoned crack dealer from filing any court action without his approval, reports the News Sentinel.

The unusual move came after Eric Houston has filed more than 100 civil petitions in federal courts across the U.S. — all handwritten, filled with profanities, and some drafted on toilet paper.

Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan this week issued a permanent injunction that bars Houston “from filing any motion, letter or civil action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee without first obtaining approval from the chief district judge.”

The injunction also bars court clerks from accepting any filings by Houston without Varlan’s approval and threatens to hold Houston in contempt if he violates the order.