Tennessee Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments For May In Knoxville

May 6, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on May 7, 2019.  The details of the cases are as follows:  

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

  • Board of Professional Responsibility v. James S. MacDonald- In this attorney-discipline matter, Mr. MacDonald challenges the trial court’s determination of violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and imposition of a public censure.  Mr. MacDonald, as the attorney representing a client in a civil suit, added the conformed signature of the opposing party to a draft letter that Mr. MacDonald believed was signed and sent by the opposing party.  The hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that the Board failed to establish a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  On appeal by the Board, the trial court reversed the holding of the hearing panel, determining multiple violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and imposing a sanction of public censure.  Mr. MacDonald, on appeal to the Supreme Court, argues that the trial court erred in its determination of ethical violations and asserts that the sanction imposed is unduly harsh.
  • Lewis Alvin Minyard v. Laura Nicole Lucas and Bradley James Cox v. Laura Nicole Lucas – These twocases have been consolidated for oral argument purposes only.  Both cases involve custody disputes between the Mother and her two ex-husbands.  The Fathers each filed petitions seeking ex parte emergency relief in the circuit court for modifications of the parenting plans, and the circuit court granted both petitions.  Mother challenged the rulings in both cases as being void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  The Supreme Court granted the applications in the two cases to decide whether the juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction over the parenting plan modification cases, given that the cases allege facts which may fit the statutory definition for an unruly child proceeding, as in the Minyard case, or a dependency and neglect proceeding, as in the Cox case. 
  • State of Tennessee v.Ashley MenkeThe next three cases involve statutory amendments to the classifications for theft, the Criminal Savings Statute, and the State’s right to appeal.  The defendant in this case entered an open guilty plea to multiple offenses, including one count of theft of $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, which was a D felony at the time of the plea hearing.   The theft for which she pleaded guilty was theft of exactly $1,000.  After the sentencing hearing, but before the trial court entered judgments in the defendant’s case, the Public Safety Act of 2016 became effective, which now classified theft of $1,000 or less as a Class A misdemeanor.  The trial court then entered an order sentencing the defendant to eleven months and twenty-nine days’ incarceration, noting that the offense had been reclassified as a Class A misdemeanor.  The judgment order, however, still classified the offense as a Class D felony.  The trial court later filed a corrected order noting that it was required to publish the offense as a Class A misdemeanor under the Criminal Savings Statute.  On appeal by the State, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Criminal Savings Statute did not apply and that trial court improperly sentenced the theft offense as a Class A misdemeanor.  Upon application by the defendant, the Supreme Court granted review and directed the parties to address whether the State may seek an appeal as of right from the trial court’s application of the Criminal Savings Statute in sentencing the defendant for theft offenses committed before the effective date of the amendments of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105.  Additionally, the parties are to address whether the Criminal Savings Statute should apply to the amendments of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105. 
  • State of Tennessee v. Charles Keese – In this case, the defendant was convicted of several counts of theft of property, but the trial court merged the convictions into conviction for theft of property of $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, which was classified as a Class D felony at the time the offense was committed.  On September 29, 2016, the trial court imposed a sentence of six years, treating the offense as a Class E felony, given the passage of the Public Safety Act on April 27, 2016, with an effective date of January 1, 2017.  The State appealed the sentencing classification, and the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the trial court erred in sentencing the defendant based on the amended classification of theft.  The defendant then filed an application for permission to appeal, which the Supreme Court granted.
  • State of Tennessee v.Michael Eugene TolleThe defendant in this case pleaded guilty in 2012 to theft of property valued at more than $500 but less than $1,000, a Class E felony at the time, and theft of $500 or less, a Class A misdemeanor at the time.   Following the defendant’s release on probation, a probation violation warrant was issued.  At the probation revocation hearing held in February 2017, the defendant argued that, for resentencing purposes, the Class E felony should be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor under the Public Safety Act of 2016, which became effective January 1, 2017.  The trial court revoked the defendant’s probation and imposed a Class A misdemeanor sentence of eleven months, twenty-nine days’ incarceration.  On appeal by the State, the Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that the trial court had exceeded its authority by applying the Public Safety Act of 2016 in resentencing.  The Supreme Court then granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal.

Media members planning to attend oral arguments should review Supreme Court Rule 30 and file any required request.