J. Russell Parkes, Judge

Biography

Reports of Cases Reviewed by Appellate Courts – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Text is the appellate court’s summary of the opinion.

Scroll down for important information.

 

State of Tennessee v. Dale, No. M2023-00167-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 12, 2024).  The Defendant, Jeffrey Clay Dale, was convicted by a Maury County Circuit Court jury of two counts of driving under the influence, third offense, which the trial court merged. See T.C.A. §§ 55-10-401(1) (2020) (driving under the influence of an intoxicant), -401(2) (driving with a blood- or breath-alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more), 55-10-402 (a)(3)(A) (2020) (subsequently amended) (third offense driving under the influence). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to eleven months, twenty-nine days, with 140 days to be served in jail and the balance on probation. On appeal, the Defendant contends that: (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions and (2) the trial court erred in allowing a law enforcement officer to testify about his observations during field sobriety testing of the Defendant. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Gregory v. State of Tennessee, No. M2023-00715-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 19, 2023).  The petitioner, Crystal Gregoire, appeals from the Circuit Court of Lawrence County’s dismissal of her petition for post-conviction relief. Following review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Mitchell, No. M2022-00948-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 22, 2023).  The Defendant, Cedric Konard Mitchell, appeals the trial court’s revocation of his ten-year sentence for two counts of domestic assault and one count of aggravated assault in case numbers 14908 and 15052. On appeal, he argues that the trial court erred by fully revoking his probation and ordering him to serve the remainder of his ten-year sentence in confinement. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Perry, No. M2022-00220-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 30, 2023).  Defendant, Juan Lasean Perry, appeals the denial of his motion, filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, to correct an illegal sentence. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

Nesmith v. Clemmons, No. M2021-01030-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 17, 2023).  Defendants appeal from the denial of their effort to invalidate a 2017 judgment on the basis that the trial judge harbored animosity against them at the time the judgment was rendered. Because these allegations were adjudicated in an earlier Rule 60.02 action, we conclude that res judicata bars the instant effort for relief from the judgment.

 

State of Tennessee v. Lampley, No. M2021-00636-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 24, 2023).  Defendant, Charles Bradford Lampley, was convicted by a Maury County jury of first degree premeditated murder and aggravated assault resulting in death, for which he received an effective sentence of life. On appeal, Defendant contends that: (1) the trial court erred in not granting his motion for judgment of acquittal; (2) the evidence is insufficient as it relates to his conviction for first degree premediated murder; (3) the trial court failed to exercise its mandatory function as the thirteenth juror as to his conviction for first degree premeditated murder; (4) the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on the issue of voluntary intoxication; (5) the prosecutor made numerous improper references to his decision not to testify, shifted the burden of proof, and improperly offered his opinion on the truth or falsity of evidence and on Defendant’s guilt during closing argument; and (7) he is entitled to relief under the cumulative error doctrine. After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Garner v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-01396-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 13, 2023). In this consolidated appeal, the Petitioner, Robert Garner, appeals from the Giles County Circuit Courts’ summary denial of his petition for relief pursuant to the Post-Conviction Fingerprint Analysis Act of 2021 (Fingerprint Act) and his petition for a writ of error coram nobis. We affirm the judgments of the post-conviction and coram nobis courts.

 

State of Tennessee v. Szostak, No. M2021-00443-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 29, 2022).  Defendant, Joseph Anthony Szostak, III, claims that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his request for alternative sentencing and ordering him to serve his sentence of three years and six months in confinement. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Camacho v. Camacho, No. M2021-00994-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 7, 2022). Mother appeals the trial court’s order naming Father primary residential parent. Because the trial court’s findings of fact are at times vague, inconsistent, and appear to improperly rely on the trial judge’s recollection of testimony from a prior hearing rather than appropriate proof, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and award Mother her reasonable attorney’s fees.

 

Blackburn ex rel. Briton B. v. McLean, M.D., No. M2021-00417-COA-R3-CV  (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 10, 2022). This is a wrongful death health care liability action. At issue in this appeal are claims that were asserted against a hospital and an emergency room physician. During the course of litigation, the trial court permitted the defendants to amend their pleadings to assert a comparative fault defense but placed certain limitations on any new experts the plaintiff might retain to address the defense. The trial court also denied the plaintiff’s efforts to secure a new standard of care expert when one of his retained experts withdrew from the case and refused to testify. Ultimately, through a series of summary judgment orders, the claims against the hospital and emergency room physician were dismissed. Although the plaintiff generically challenges the trial court’s summary judgment dispositions on appeal, we conclude that the plaintiff’s challenges are all waived except as they relate to the last summary judgment order that was entered as to the emergency room physician. That summary judgment order is reversed consistent with the discussion herein, namely in light of our conclusion that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to allow the plaintiff to secure a substitute standard of care expert after his retained expert refused to testify due to no fault of counsel or his client. Further, although we find no error in the trial court’s decision to allow the defendants to amend their pleadings to assert comparative fault, we are of the opinion that the court abused its discretion with respect to the limitations it placed on any potential expert retained by the plaintiff to address the issues raised in the later amendment alleging comparative fault.

Harrill v. PI Tennessee, LLC., No. M2021-00424-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 26, 2022). A guest sued a landlord for negligence after the guest was injured by a vicious animal while visiting the landlord’s tenant. The landlord filed a motion for summary judgment that the trial court granted. Because the undisputed facts establish that the landlord did not breach any duty owed to the guest, we affirm.

 

McAllister v. Lawrence Cty. School System Bd. of Educ., No. M2021-00082-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 15, 2022).  This case involves a challenge to a decision to non-renew the employment of a non-tenured teacher. The plaintiff sued the defendants for breach of her one-year contract of employment. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. The plaintiff appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

 

Understanding the Limitations and Use of the Information Found in This Book

Tennessee’s trial judges resolve hundreds of thousands of legal and factual issues in tens of thousands of cases every single year.  No appeal is filed in the vast percentage of those cases, indicating that while the “losing” party may not like a ruling on a particular issue, that party understands there was an appropriate reason for the judge’s decision or, at a minimum, the judge was acting within his or her discretion.

 

Of course, a small number of decisions of trial judges do result in an appeal. Experienced trial lawyers know that the number of cases appealed out of a particular trial judge’s court does not, in and of itself, reveal much about the trial judge. For example, some judges hear more complex cases than others, and those cases are more likely to be appealed. Convictions in child sex abuse cases are frequently appealed, as are many criminal cases resulting in long sentences. There are a large number of parental rights termination cases that find their way to the appellate courts.  Judges who routinely try those types of cases will, other things being equal, see more of their cases reviewed by appellate courts than judges who do not see such cases.

 

Second, certain litigants (and certain lawyers) are more likely to appeal a case than others.  Thus, judges who have those litigants or lawyers regularly appear in their courtrooms will find more cases reviewed by the appellate courts.

 

For these and other reasons, the reader is cautioned not to read too much into the number of cases appealed from a court.  Stated differently, there is no reason to believe that a judge who has ten cases reviewed by an appellate court in a single year is a “worse” judge than one who has one case appealed, or that a judge who has three cases appealed is a “better” judge than one who has nine cases appealed.

 

Next, the number of times a judge’s ruling is reversed by an appellate court is not necessarily indicative of the quality of his or her work. For example, experienced lawyers know that there are “holes in the law,” i.e., cases where there is no law directly on point and the judge is forced to predict what an appellate court would rule on the issue. The fact that a judge decided an open legal issue one way and an appellate court decided it another way does not mean that the trial judge was “wrong” or does not understand the law. It simply means that the trial judge had a different view of what the law should be than the appellate court that decided the issue. A trial judge is not blessed with a crystal ball that can with 100 percent accuracy forecast how an appellate court will rule on an undecided legal issue.

 

In addition, the trial court is sometimes not provided with the same in-depth legal arguments and law that is supplied to the appellate court by the parties, or which is provided by law clerks at the appellate level (many trial courts do not have law clerks). The trial judge may have reached the same conclusion as the appellate court if he or she had been supplied with additional law or argument.

 

Finally, the law changes constantly, and the trial judge may rule on a case based on today’s law, which may evolve between the time of that ruling and the issuance of an opinion of the appellate court. In such cases, the reversal of the case by the appellate court is a question of timing of the original court decision as compared to changes in the law, not one of error by the trial court.

 

So, what is the value of this book?  How can the trial lawyer use it to help his or her clients given the limitations expressed above? Permit me to digress slightly.

 

You have seen the coffee cups or t-shirts that proclaim, “A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge.”

 

Some read this phrase as suggesting that the “great lawyer” is one who has an improper relationship with the judge – that he or she can use a personal relationship to improperly influence the judge.  But most lawyers know better.  Most lawyers understand that “knowing the judge” means knowing the judge’s background, preferences concerning the presentation of evidence (including exhibits), arguments of motions, drafting of proposed orders, and given that experience, how he or she is likely to rule on a particular issue.  “Knowing the judge” also means knowing the local rules, local forms, local customs, and what things irritate the judge (and every judge is irritated by at least one thing that lawyers or litigants may do).

 

Many lawyers, particularly those in more rural areas of the state or who limit their practice to one area of law, understand the personality and preferences of the judges they see on a regular basis. Many of these lawyers may have a fair advantage appearing before that judge. (The advantage is “fair” because it results from experience and knowledge.)  That advantage – knowing how the judge thinks and his or her preferences – is not outcome-determinative, but it still may be an advantage, similar to a sports team playing on their home field.

 

Why did I say it “may” be an advantage, given what I said earlier about the benefits of “knowing the judge?”  Because simply knowing the judge’s thought processes and preferences is not enough. You still need to have the law and the facts on your client’s side.  And you need to be prepared to be able to give the judge what he or she needs to know to make a ruling.

 

So, the purpose of “The Book” is to give Tennessee lawyers case-related information to help them understand the trial judge who will rule on their client’s case or preside over a jury trial. By looking at past appellate court rulings arising from cases decided by the trial judge, anyone unfamiliar with a judge can get a “feel” for the judge. The case data contained herein does not compare with daily or weekly appearances in front of the judge on issues like a given case, but it is readily available information that give you an idea of how the judge has ruled in the past on a variety of matters.

 

The cases included are those originally decided by the trial judge that were in appellate court opinions released on or after January 1, 2022.  Note that there are a substantial number of judges who first took office in 2022 and thus it is reasonable to assume that there will be no appellate decisions for such judges until late 2023 or 2024.

 

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