Stockard on the Stump: Criminal Court judge balks at state’s supervision plan

January 27, 2023 6:02 am
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A Sumner County Criminal Court judge is refusing to follow the Department of Correction’s new supervision levels for felons, arguing they’re too weak to help people stay out of trouble.

Judge Dee David Gay issued an order in early January requiring the Sumner County Community Corrections Office to maintain the same standards of supervision that have been followed for years in Criminal Court.

Gay’s order notes that the day of the order the court received a copy of the state’s latest supervision levels and standards policy to be used in Community Corrections sentencing.

“This Court was not contacted about the implementation of these standards. The Court finds that some of the standards do not meet the expectations of this Court for the supervision of felons serving alternative sentences with Community Corrections in Sumner County,” the order states.

Thus, Judge Gay opted for the old standards for intensive supervision in which Community Corrections case workers usually saw drug offenders, for instance, once or twice a week compared to two times a month under the new guidelines.

For “medium” supervision under the new rules, felons are to be seen once every three months. And unless a judge orders otherwise, drug screenings would be required for drug use felons only twice a year, raising concerns that addicts could start using again and wind up overdosing.

Since 1985, Community Corrections has been reserved for convicted felons who are ineligible for probation and on the brink of going to prison. It’s a last-ditch effort to turn them around instead of turning them into inmates.

Judges, district attorneys and some public defenders like the program because it gives them another option and provides for intensive supervision than the state’s parole or probation division, which some officials say is hit or miss.

Yet even after the state Legislature told Correction Department officials to keep the program intact, they opted to undermine it through a contracting process that put several Community Corrections programs out of business last year and watered down others.

A November letter from Department of Correction officials to Community Corrections grant recipients details some of the transfer of felons to what is being called Community Supervision and points out that state law gives courts the power to switch an offender to a new supervision program as long as they abided by conditions in their original sentence. 

“Based upon this statutory language, TDOC legal advises that any case currently on supervision with Community Corrections that meets the criteria outlined in the statute is eligible for transfer to Community Supervision regardless of sentence length or conviction,” the letter states.

The letter urges Community Corrections cases with at least a year of supervision to be expedited to court and shifted to Community Supervision.

Republican senators irritated by the Lee Administration pulling a flanking maneuver on the Legislature plan to keep pushing the matter with new Commissioner Frank Strada. If he balks the same way interim Commissioner Lisa Helton did at a meeting with senators last September, legislation is likely to follow.

It wouldn’t be surprising, either, to see other judges follow Judge Gay’s lead.

What, me study?

New U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles appears to be playing loose with his resume the same way fellow Rep. George Santos of New York did with his biography.

Reports show Santos misled people about where he attended high school and college, claiming he attended prestigious Horace Mann School in the Bronx before earning degrees at Baruch College, where he was a star on the volleyball team, and New York University. He also said he worked on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. All of those have been debunked.

Questions have been raised about almost every facet of his resume, including how he made money and raised campaign funds and whether is “Jew-ish” or Catholic. The New York Intelligencer reports he was even a Brazilian drag queen. He is the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress, which he doesn’t dispute.

U.S. Rep.Andy Ogles, pictured on Nov. 8, 2022, did not graduate with an MBA from the Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University, as has been stated in several of his bios. (Photo: John Partipilo)
U.S. Rep.Andy Ogles, pictured on Nov. 8, 2022, did not graduate with an MBA from the Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University, as has been stated in several of his bios. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Ogles’ resume details aren’t quite as weird. But the first-termer from Maury County does claim to be a graduate of Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. It’s listed in an Ogles bio for the Columbia Daily Herald, with the Club for Growth Foundation and Marathon Strategies Meet the Freshmen, which details the resumes of first-term congressional lawmakers and says he has a graduate degree from Vanderbilt’s Owen School.

Unfortunately, Ogles doesn’t appear to have that Vandy degree.

Publicly available information about Ogles’ educational experience indicates he participated in an executive education program through Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Participants in the short-term, non-degree programs typically receive a certificate, according to a Vanderbilt spokesman.

In other words, he probably attended a few hours of lectures and got a piece of paper. Graduate work, in contrast, requires at least two years of class and extensive coursework.

His congressional web page mentions only a degree from MTSU, work as chief operating officer of Abolition International, the first state director of Americans for Prosperity and executive director of the Laffer Center where he allegedly became a nationally recognized expert on tax policy.

State Sen. Heidi Campbell, who lost to Ogles in the gerrymandered 5th Congressional District races, is a bit incensed that he got away with misleading the public about his education. She also questions whether he was a police officer who investigated international sex crimes.

“As somebody who has a Vanderbilt MBA and knows how hard you have to work … I think it’s entirely inappropriate to tell people that you have a degree when you don’t. A certificate is nothing like a degree, and this is the same thing that Santos is doing,” says Campbell, a Nashville Democrat.

Ogles’ communications person and chief of staff did not respond to email questions or a phone call about his Vanderbilt claims. That’s not surprising considering his campaign refused to answer questions throughout the 2022 race, choosing instead to speak to supportive right-wing groups and try to raise money, even though Campbell outraised him by a considerable margin.

The strategy seemed to be to say nothing, since he already had a 20-point margin after the Republican-controlled Legislature redrew the 5th Congressional District, formerly held by Democrat Jim Cooper, split Davidson County into three districts and set them all up for GOP advantage.

I think it’s entirely inappropriate to tell people that you have a degree when you don’t. A certificate is nothing like a degree, and this is the same thing that (GOP U.S. Rep. George) Santos is doing.

– Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, Ogles' opponent in the Disrict 5 congressional race

Ogles turned heads last year, too, when he claimed to have raised a sizable amount of money in March only to file a much smaller total with the Federal Election Commission. He was also late in filing, which led to an official complaint, and when asked about the matter at his election party, he dissed the reporter.

Then he famously went to Congress and in his first week was among the group that held Kevin McCarthy hostage in the House Speaker race to get plum committee seats and promises to undercut Social Security and Medicare, two programs that millions of Americans have been paying on since they were 16 years old. They call them “entitlements” because people are entitled to receive the money they’ve been paying into those funds for decades.

But getting back to this phony bio. Ogles is likely to skate on by with little fanfare about putting out false information. Some people would call it lying, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. We’ll just call it massaging the truth.

Getting into the weeds

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who enjoys working on exciting topics such as insurance and pharmacy benefits managers, told the Nashville Rotary Club this week he plans to sponsor a bill to cut costs for medical care.

Sexton says he wants patients to be able to negotiate cash prices with hospitals and doctors to lower their bills and still have that apply to their insurance deductible.

Pointing toward the way things were done in the ’50s and ’60s, Sexton says most medical payments were made by “bartering,” and he supports going retro.

For instance, he says, if a person can talk a doctor down to $2,500 from $5,000 for carpal tunnel surgery, then that expense should count toward the patient’s out-of-pocket expenses.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, speaking to a Nashville civic group on Tuesday. (Photo: Alexander Willis)
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, speaking to a Nashville civic group on Tuesday. (Photo: Alexander Willis)

His legislation would require insurance companies to put that amount toward the deductible.

“It’s a way to start bringing down the cost of health care,” Sexton says. “If you cannot have competition and you do not know what things cost, it is hard to control costs.”

He contends all sides will win, including insurance companies that will have to pay less for procedures, and calls it a first step in changing how the healthcare market works.

Overruling the governor?

Word has it legislation could be in the offing to require the Department of Health to continue using federal funds to go toward nonprofit agencies for HIV services such as testing and prevention.

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration came up with a new policy that cuts nonprofit groups out of the equation. Planned Parenthood contends the Department of Health dropped the program simply as a way to punish it. It would seem a bit vindictive to punish every organization just to go after a group that provided abortion services until the Legislature outlawed abortion following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. This is going to affect some pretty big players in the state, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and critics contend it could increase HIV cases.

But, heck, let’s be civil here and just admit that sometimes big government can be a little heavy-handed. 

From “worst” to what the heck

Mark Clayton has filed a federal lawsuit against Metro Water Services, District Attorney Glenn Funk, Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Executive Director Bill Young and Tennessee Registry of Election Finance members Tom Lawless and Paige Burcham-Dennis in one of the strangest lawsuits in memory.

Readers might remember that Clayton, a failed gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidate, was rated by the Washington Post as having the worst campaign in the nation in 2012. The Tennessee Democratic Party disavowed him as a candidate, but this has nothing to do with that, I think.

The lawsuit starts with Clayton raging against Metro for allegedly refusing to do anything to help him deal with a drainage problem he claims was caused by a neighbor’s new culvert. Eventually, Clayton claims, he was arrested and then the charges were dropped.

But then he draws Registry members into the lawsuit, claiming Metro City Councilman Jonathan Hall was to be a witness in the civil case on his drainage claim as well as his criminal case and that he (Clayton) was mistreated by the Registry at a May meeting when he was representing Hall in an effort keep to him from paying a $360,000 civil penalty for poor campaign finance reporting.

Mark Clayton, a two-time failed Democratic candidate who was rated by the Washington Post as having the worst campaign in the nation in 2012, has filed a $75 million lawsuit against a cast of officials, including Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk, two members of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, the chair of the Bureau  of Ethics and Campaign Finance and the staff of Metro Nashville Water Services — over a drainage problem.

Based on what this reporter could piece together at last May’s meeting, Clayton got sideways with Registry staff the previous day, so they had state troopers present for the meeting at the Tennessee Tower.

As Clayton started making his presentation, which was hard to understand because he apparently forgot to turn on the mic, he got into a heated exchange with Registry member Tom Lawless, who asked Clayton if he was threatening the board.

Clayton responded, “You just made a criminal accusation.”

After another back-and-forth, staff had a state trooper escort him from the room, and he shouted, “I’ll see you in court,” before telling the trooper not to touch him.

In his filing, Clayton also claims this reporter wrote in his blog (the Stump) that the Registry discussed his ejection for a “significant period of time afterwards.” 

When the Stump author (it’s always fun to speak in third person) looked back at the report from May 20, it says nothing about the Registry having “significant” discussion about Clayton after he left. It probably wasn’t reported because it didn’t happen.

Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk, looking contemplative -- perhaps over a $75 million frivolous lawsuit filed against him and a host of other officials.. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk, looking contemplative — perhaps over a $75 million frivolous lawsuit filed against him and a host of other officials.. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Anyway, he’s suing for malicious prosecution, libel, slander, defamation, false imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress, outrageous conduct shown by official oppression through malicious prosecution, outrageous conduct shown by official oppression through denial of equal protection and due process, outrageous conduct shown by perjury and conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.

Represented by attorney John Drake of Sterret, Alabama, he’s only seeking $75 million in punitive damages? 

It’s not every day Glenn Funk, Metro Water Services staff, Metro Nashville, Ethics leader Bill Young and Registry members get sued simultaneously. But it does make for good reading if you suffer from insomnia. Good luck in court.

Pearson wins House seat

Memphis environmental activist Justin Pearson won the special election to replace the late state Rep. Barbara Cooper in House District 86.

He issued a statement afterward saying, “I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and the great Representative Barbara Cooper who served our community with integrity and strength for more than 24 years. I hope to continue her legacy of servant leadership and bring transformative change to our community. This election was not about a position. It was about power, bringing power to the people and showing what people power can do!”

Pearson will be among the youngest members of the General Assembly. Cooper was 93 when she died and the oldest in the Legislature. 

Toward the end, she struggled to walk from the Cordell Hull Building up the tunnel to the Capitol. She did much better when she got a scooter her last couple of years. The problem was that she’d run over those who didn’t see her coming, including me. She really kept people on their toes or they’d have no toes.

Fight brewing over cocks

State Sen. Jon Lundberg is sponsoring legislation to make cockfighting a felony in Tennessee. 

It’s not the first time he’s carried the bill, and it might not be the last because it’s been known to leave scars on lawmakers.

He is carrying on nevertheless.

“What I’m trying to do, candidly, is not make Tennessee a magnet for cockfighting,” the Bristol Republican says. “And I’ve heard from folks in rural districts (say) ‘This is part of our culture and it’s great.’”

(Photo: Getty Images)
Fighting cocks, not necessarily in Cocke County. (Photo: Getty Images)

But Lundberg contends that cockfighting by its nature, aside from strapping knives to roosters, inherently involves illegal gambling, liquor, drugs and organized crime.

He disagrees with the notion that it boosts economic development for counties and says if that’s the case, then some counties might need new economic development recruiters.

Not only does the state have cockfights, which are barely worth busting up because it’s only a misdemeanor with a $50 fine, Tennessee is also a distribution hub for shipping birds to the Philippines and other places. Supporters of the legislation also argue that cockfighting causes the spread of Avian flu, in addition to being inhumane.

State Sen. Frank Niceley is almost certain to object.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff on our plate, I don’t know why they’re worried about that,” says Niceley, a Strawberry Plains Republican.

In fact, some might argue that the Romans fought vicariously through gladiators – and gambled too. 

What I’m trying to do, candidly, is not make Tennessee a magnet for cockfighting.

– Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol

In another gladiator-style sport, NFL players wind up with head injuries and mangled bodies, some of which are so severe they commit suicide. Yet Americans spend billions on stadiums, ball games and gambling.

Other folks fight vicariously through gamecocks and, no doubt, big money goes into it. Others make money raising roosters.

What’s the big deal?

Well, not to make light of the situation, but we don’t need to do anything to celebrate Gamecocks. It was bad enough when South Carolina ruined Tennessee’s shot at the College Football Playoffs last fall. 

Outlaw it all and that silly crowing too.

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial and Best Single Feature from the Tennessee Press Association.