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The content of this blog is unabashedly lesbian feminist in perspective. If that offends you, leave now.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Schmutzer-style justice once again in Grainger County

THP officer receives probation for hospitalizing girlfriend

It seems that some things never change. I've had a real jolt of that reality lately coming from the 4th District, the perview of District Attorney General Al Schmutzer for the last 30 years. Coming on the heels of the dismissal of charges against Chris Willingham, accused of first degree murder in the death of his business partner, Shane Bacon. The two previously co-owned Monster Audio in Sevierville.

The charges were dismissed by Judge Jon Blackwood after the prosecution's case rested and in response to the usually ho-hum defense motion to dismiss. The victim's family and many locals were stunned by this.

The judge and the prosecutor, Jerry Harris, were from Memphis. How does a judge from Memphis wind up hearing a Sevierville murder case? The judge who would normally hear such a case, Henry Rex Ogle, recused himself citing his mother's death as cause for removing himself from the case.

There were more lawyers running from this case than you can shake a stick at - as my Concord-born grandmother would say.

In addition to Ogle, District Attorney General Al Schmutzer also recused himself. He said that the victim's family had ill feelings toward him.

Then they put the burden of trying this case on District Attorney Pro Tempore Joseph Baugh who became so ill late last June that they had to find someone else to try the case. That's when Harris was drafted to the team.

Of course, the presence of James A. H. Bell as the primary criminal defense attorney had nothing whatsoever to do with all these good fellows hightailing it for the hills.

Sevier County is one of four counties in the 4th District. Jefferson, Cocke, and Grainger round out this lovely quartet.

So yesterday we got the wonderful news that a former Tennessee Highway Patrol officer, Mike Cameron, who beat his girlfriend so badly that she was hospitalized is getting probation for this serious crime. Yes, his girlfriend subsequently married him (and he was summarily fired for marrying her,) but that should not be a factor in the decision regarding the appropriate punishment for this crime.

This is hardly the first time Cameron beat this woman. In fact, he beat her six officially recorded times and Goddess-only-knows how many others that were not officially recorded. That the woman is at his side is no indication whatsoever that he deserves any sort of treatment one way or another, yet the presiding judge cites that as one of the factors considered in rendering his judgment in this case. Has Judge Ben Hooper been in a cave for the last 30 years? Is he really unaware that appeasement of the perpetrator is textbook battered women's syndrome?

So why, you ask, was this sentence given to this beast who beat his own "loved one" with his official THP-issued stick? Why did he only get a year's probation?

That's not all. If he is a good boy, he is eligible to have his record expunged completely at the end of his probationary period..

I think I'm going to be sick.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Knox Dems, others challenging Repubs on August 2006 ballot

Swann, Jenkins, Collins face opposition

Georgiana Vines of the Knoxville News-Sentinel offered up a juicy column recently detailing the Election Commission filings for possible political races for the coming year.

Three of those races leap out at me as deserving of immediate comment.

It appears that the judge who believes that women seek orders of protection “for entertainment” will be facing some opposition come August 2006.

First elected to his post on the Fourth Circuit bench in 1982, Judge Bill Swann has faced no opposition since then. This Ivy League-educated judge will be facing opposition from a couple of opponents including one that he ordered permanently out of his court after learning of his plans to run against him. That move earned him some well-deserved censure from the State Court of Appeals who reversed his order, allowing the opponent to return to Swann’s court to practice.

That opponent, David C. Lee, of the Lee, Lee & Lee law firm, will take on the current judge next August. This Vanderbilt educated attorney took his J.D. in Florida at Stetson University.

Swann has been known to offer orders of protection along with hollow reassurance regarding the actual threat of physical violence and his opinion that the ruling was not reality based, but rather was offered to “help.” He has been demeaning and dismissive of many women who have appeared before him, and it would serve the 4th District well to dust off his seat to make way for new blood.

Perhaps he would like to move his office to UT-K and teach German as he did at both Yale and Brown Universities before deigning to come to Knoxville to “go slumming” as the 4th Circuit Court judge.

Instead of speaking German, Lee apparently prefers Russian. I don’t care what other languages he speaks as long as he can bring a sense of fairness and genuine concern to our family court.

The other opponent, Jeff McKenzie may be a fellow who has spent time in Washington working in the offices of Representative Jimmy Duncan (R-TN.) We certainly will need to know more about him and how he would see his role as jurist if he were to ascend to the 4th Circuit bench.

The women and children of Knox County deserve much better than the melee that currently passes as “order of protection day” at the City-County Building. For those who have not witnessed this grand event, I would invite you to go see for yourself the circumstances domestic violence victims endure in their quest for protection against those who would assault, stalk, and murder them. You can go to the City-County Building on any Thursday that is not a holiday. The lines are outrageously long, and the atmosphere is less than supportive.

The statistics show that the women who are courageous enough to seek an order of protection or exhibit other distancing behaviors risk their lives to do so. Over and over statistics indicate that the most dangerous thing a battered woman can do is leave the batterer. She should not have to be treated like some sort of bovine equivalent, left to stand in long lines to fill out forms, then have her concerns minimized or outright dismissed by a judge who may have been a good judge at one time, but is no longer a credit to the good people of Knox County. There has to be a better way to address the important problems these women and their children face.

Vines also points out that Criminal Court Judge Ray Lee Jenkins is up for reelection. His Republican cohorts are not challenging the long-time judge, however she does point out that a Democrat, Ken Irvine is tossing his hat into the ring. This defense attorney has been, according to Vines, an assistant public defender since 2004. His previous association (current?) is with Eldridge, Irvine, and Gaines. He also heads up the Tennessee Innocence Project.

From their Web site:
The Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, founded by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in 1992, is a non-profit legal clinic and
criminal justice resource center. We work to exonerate the wrongfully convicted through postconviction DNA testing; and develop and implement reforms to prevent wrongful convictions. This Project only handles cases where postconviction DNA testing can yield conclusive proof of innocence

Whatever your political bent may be, it seems to me that this is a genuinely good cause. Kudos to Mr. Irvine for his involvement in this worthy endeavor.

I also note with interest that Mark Harmon, UT-K Associate Professor of Journalism and Electronic Media and local liberal talk show host, will oppose David Collins for his District 2A seat on the Knox County Commission. Harmon's show, Left Turn, airs weekly on NewsTalk 100 WNOX FM 100.3 from 3:00 to 4:00 pm on Saturdays. Dr. Harmon is active in the local Democratic Party and deserves the support of the moderate and left-leaning folks interested in this race. The Knox County Commission is heavily weighted to the right. More balance and diversity should definitely be on the agenda for this governing body.