courts

Tennessean leads National Opioid Task Force set up by state courts

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts

Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Director Deborah Taylor Tate and Indiana Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush were appointed co-chairs of the newly created Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) National Opioid Task Force. The Task Force will find solutions, examine current efforts, and make recommendations to address the opioid epidemic’s ongoing impact on the justice system.

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Lawsuit challenges suspension of driving licenses for unpaid fines

A group of civil rights advocates has filed a federal class-action lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s suspension of more than 250,000 driver’s licenses affecting people too poor to pay traffic tickets, reports the Nashville Ledger.

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TN sheriff gets prison time for having sex with women jail inmates, beating male inmate

Former Fentress County Sheriff Charles S. “Chucky” Cravens was sentenced to two years, nine months in prison Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger of Nashville, reports The Tennessean.

I do take responsibility for my actions,” he told the judge, hands folded behind his Wranglers. “What I done, I done it myself.”

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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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Long-running lawsuit over TN phone bills and 911 fees set for trial in 2019

A lawsuit contending that telephone companies shortchanged Hamilton County 911 and nine other Tennessee communities of millions of dollars in fees they collected from consumers is now scheduled for trial in 2019, reports the Times Free Press.

Apart from the date, attorneys had little else to agree on during a status hearing Thursday in Chattanooga’s U.S. District Court.

“I’m not suggesting bad faith, your honor, but the strategy is to delay,” said attorney Rick Hitchcock, who has represented Hamilton County 911 since 2011. Hitchcock wants AT&T, BellSouth and other companies to turn over decades of billing information so he can prove the telecom giants knew they were pocketing fees in violation of a 911 law.

“The simple calculation is, how many lines were in service and how many 911 charges did they collect to distribute?” Hitchcock asked. “It’s A minus B. And if it equals zero, then they have nothing to worry about. But it doesn’t.”

But company attorneys rejected that equation, pointing to the enormous amount of data.

“We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of bills in more than a dozen counties going back to 1984,” said attorney Misty Kelly. “We would have to identify what historical records exist for several companies.”

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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.

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.

Clarence Darrow statue joins William Jennings Brian statue at ‘monkey trial’ courthouse

Start of an Associated Press story:

DAYTON, Tenn. — The Tennessee town known for the famed 1925 “Scopes monkey trial” saw no protesters Friday as it unveiled a statue of the lawyer who argued for evolution near a sculpture of his creationism-advocating legal rival.

About 75 people were on hand at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton as officials revealed the statue of skeptic Clarence Darrow, who argued for evolution. His likeness stands on the opposite side of the courthouse from a 2005 statue of William Jennings Bryan, the Christian defender of biblical creationism.

Though pockets of opposition to the statue exist due to religious objections, no protesters showed at Friday’s ceremony for the sculpture championed by atheists. Some attendees donned 1920s-era garb for the festivities.

The new statue hasn’t drawn teeming crowds like the ones that forced some 1925 trial proceedings to be moved outdoors. Historians say the trial started as a publicity stunt for the small town, and it succeeded in grabbing plenty of national headlines.

The one small hitch Friday had nothing to do with public backlash — the group had trouble peeling off the black cloth that covered the statue. Former Star Trek actor John de Lancie used an umbrella to help pry it off the Darrow sculpture’s head.

Philadelphia-based sculptor Zenos Frudakis crafted the Darrow statue, funded largely by $150,000 from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The group said the project would remedy the imbalance of Bryan standing alone.

Note: Full story HERE.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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