courts

Lawsuit filed over White County jail inmate birth control program

From an Associated Press report:

A Tennessee sheriff and judge violated the constitutional rights of jail inmates by promising to reduce their sentences if they underwent birth control procedures, an ex-inmate says in a federal lawsuit.

Christel Ward was among the misdemeanor-level White County Jail inmates who took the deal, according to the lawsuit. She said Thursday that she still has the unwanted birth control device in her arm that authorities injected in her.

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Judge orders TVA to move mountain of coal ash waste at Gallatin Steam Plant

U.S. District Court Judge Waverly Crenshaw of Nashville has ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority to excavate and relocate a mountain of coal ash accumulated over decades at its Gallatin Steam plant, reports WPLN.

Crenshaw said in his order, issued Friday and resolving a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, that TVA’s construction of an unlined ash waste pond in porous terrain, as the case in Gallatin, risks leakage into the neighboring Cumberland River. Because the cost of moving the waste will be so high, he did not order TVA to pay any penalties.

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Court of Appeals rules public records requests may be sent via email

From the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government website:

The Court of Appeals has affirmed a Sumner County trial court’s ruling that the denial of a public records request because it was sent by email violated the Tennessee Public Records Act.

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Judge ends offer of reduced jail time for vasectomies, blames state Dept. of Health

White County General Sessions Court Judge Sam Benningfield has rescinded his controversial offer to reduce the jail sentences of male prisoners who get vasectomies and female prisoners who get contraceptive implants, reports WTVF-TV. He blames the state health officials for the decision.

The contraceptive procedures were offered free by the state Department of Health when the judge in May issued an order authorizing 30-days off jail times for inmates who undergo the procedures. He issued a new order rescinding the offer for new inmates, saying officials have advised him the department “will no longer offer free vasectomies… and will not provide the free Nexplanon implant” to White County inmates who get a sentence reduction.

The judge said in his order that those who had already signed up – at least 32 women and 38 men, according to an earlier report — will still get the 30-day sentence reduction without going through the procedures. The order says these inmates have “demonstrated to the court their desire to improve their situations and take serious and considered steps toward their rehabilitation.”

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Legislators seek AG opinion on judge reducing jail time for vasectomies or birth control implants

News release from Senate Majority Leader Lee Harris

 MEMPHIS – Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. G.A. Hardaway have asked state Attorney General Slatery to give his opinion on whether Tennessee judges have the power to impose, reduce, or vary a defendant’s criminal sentence based on whether the defendant undergoes a medical procedure that would permanently or temporarily limit the defendant’s ability to have children.  They released the following statements in response to Judge Sam Benningfield’s efforts to reduce sentencing for inmates who choose to receive a vasectomy or implant in the White County jail.

Sen. Lee Harris said, “We depend on our judges to administer justice fairly, not to use their position of power to coerce vulnerable populations to give up their God-given rights to have children or not have children. Reproductive health care options should be available to all, in prison and out. However, those options should always be offered on a voluntary basis. These options should not come with strings attached or through coercion.”

 Rep. G.A. Hardaway said, “Offering incentives in exchange for someone’s reproductive freedom is not only unethical, I’m pretty sure it’s unconstitutional. It appears the inmates in White County are being targeted and they are not in a position to reject this coerced offer. Senator Harris and I have asked state Attorney General Slatery to opine on this matter and we look forward to his prompt response.”

Also signing the letter are Rep. Harold Love, Rep. Larry Miller, Rep. Antonio Parkinson, Rep. Johnny Shaw, and Rep. Joe Towns.

Note: Previous post on the subject HERE.  All those signing the request are Democrats. Shaw is from Bolivar, Love from Nashville with the others from Memphis.

Four enter guilty pleas in Pilot Flying J scam

The man dubbed by the FBI as the architect of the diesel fuel rebate scam by executives of the nation’s largest truck stop chain has struck a deal to confess, reports the News Sentinel.

The former Pilot Flying J vice president of sales, John “Stick” Freeman, and three other Pilot Flying J ex-employees have agreed to plead guilty in the multi-million-dollar fraud and, according to language in the documents filed Monday, cooperate with federal authorities in the ongoing probe.

Freeman has been repeatedly described in an FBI affidavit and an indictment filed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Lewen and Trey Hamilton as the architect of the scam in which less sophisticated trucking companies across the country were promised certain rebates but paid much less.

Freeman is providing information to the FBI about Pilot Flying J and the diesel fuel rebate scam the corporation’s own board of directors has conceded ripped trucking firms off to the tune of millions in five years, pleadings filed Monday in U.S. District Court show.

Also striking deals to confess are: John Spiewak, a regional sales manager for Pilot Flying J; Vicki Borden, director of direct sales; and Katy Bibee, an account representative who worked directly with Freeman.

… Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lewen and Hamilton make clear in the plea agreements Freeman is a key player in their effort to show the rebate scam was pervasive as was the culture of greed that spurred it – and that former Pilot Flying J President Mark Hazelwood was looking to expand it.

…Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam has not been charged, though the FBI, indicated in testimony and court records he was a suspect. Haslam denies any knowledge of the scheme.

TN judge reducing sentences of jail inmates who get vasectomies or anti-pregnancy implants

General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield of Sparta has authorized 30-day sentence reductions for male inmates at the White County Jail who agree to free vasectomies in White County and women who agree to receive free Nexplanon implants, which prevent pregnancies for up to four years.

WTVF TV in Nashville, which first reported on the judge’s order, signed in May, says 32 women and 38 men have since signed up for the procedures and the accompanying sentence reduction.

“I understand it won’t be entirely successful but if you reach two or three people, maybe that’s two or three kids not being born under the influence of drugs. I see it as a win, win,” (Benningfield) added.

Inmates in the White County jail were also given two days credit toward their jail sentence if they complete a State of Tennessee, Department of Health Neonatal Syndrome Education Program. The class aimed to educate those who are incarcerated about the dangers of having children while under the influence of drugs.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee, says the “coerced contraception” program is unconstitutional.

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Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging ‘natural and ordinary’ law; rules it had no impact on same-sex marriage rights

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the “natural and ordinary” bill enacted by the legislature earlier this year, but a lawyer for the lesbian couples who filed the legal challenge tells The Tennessean that the ruling is nonetheless a victory.

Basically, the judge ruled the new law didn’t accomplish anything to change rights of same-sex couples, who have the same rights as heterosexual couples when they are parents. Thus, since the law doesn’t discriminate, she dismissed the lawsuit attacking it.

The four same-sex couples are expectant parents of children conceived through artificial insemination. The legislation, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in early May, says that courts should give words their “natural and ordinary” meaning in legal interpretations.

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Fed court oversight of DCS ends after 16 years

News release from the governor’s communications office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich today announced that after more than 16 years of system-wide reform and a massive turnaround, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is now free of federal court oversight.

U.S. District Court Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw has approved the historic agreement between the state and Children’s Rights, the New York-based advocacy group that in 2000 filed litigation known as the Brian A. lawsuit that charged that Tennessee youth in foster care suffered in an overburdened system, describing children in crowded congregate care shelters and social workers with overwhelming caseloads.

Tennessee now has a thoroughly reformed foster care system. The reform comes after years of collaboration with Children’s Rights and the Technical Assistance Committee, a panel of nationally recognized child welfare experts that served as the federal court monitor for the Brian A. consent decree.

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Reversing chancellor’s ruling, Court of Appeals clears way for challenge to TDEC pipeline permit

In a major victory for landowners along the Nolichucky River, a Tennessee Appeals Court ruled that they have standing to challenge a highly controversial permit issued by the Tennessee Department of Transportation for a pipeline to a US Nitrogen plant in Greene County, reports the News Sentinel.

In an 18-page decision, Appeals Court Judge Brandon O. Gibson reversed virtually every finding by Chancery Court Judge Claudia Bonnyman.

“We conclude that these six petitioners have alleged distinct and palpable injuries fairly traceable to the allegedly unlawful permit and are likely to be redressed by the requested relief,” Gibson wrote in a decision that was joined by two of his appeals court colleagues.

The two 10-mile pipelines are already in place and are being utilized by US Nitrogen in the production of ammonium nitrate. The pipelines run along two state highways from the company plant in Midway Greene County to the Nolichucky River.

As the ruling notes the company intends to pump as much as 2 million gallons of water per day from the Nolichucky River.

Gibson found that landowners Don Bible and Jack Renner have standing to challenge the permit based on their contention that the pipelines actually intrude on their property and are not in the right of way granted by TDOT… As for the four landowners along the river, the court dismissed Bonnyman’s conclusion that since other landowners could make the same claim, their claim was invalid.

Noting that the landowners claimed that pumping 2 million gallons from the river a day would severely affect their use of the river, Gibson wrote, “These are distinct and palpable injuries not shared with the public at large.”

Note: The full opinion is HERE.