Larry Bart Stanley, Jr., 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.

 

In Re Raylon S., No. M2023-00573-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 4, 2023).  A mother and stepfather sued to terminate a father’s parental rights based on the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit and abandonment by failure to support as well as the best interest of the children. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that both grounds for termination existed and that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate the father’s parental rights. The father appealed. We affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Hoffman, No. M2022-00357-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 18, 2023). The Appellant, Eleanor Grace Hoffman, filed a motion to suppress challenging the search of her purse during a traffic stop. The trial court denied the motion, and the Appellant was convicted as charged by a Warren County jury of simple possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia. The Appellant’s application for judicial diversion was granted, and she was sentenced to two concurrent terms of eleven months and twentynine days suspended to supervised probation after service of ten days’ imprisonment. A probation violation order was entered, and the Appellant conceded to violating the terms of probation before the trial court. The trial court revoked her probationary judicial diversion sentence, entered judgments of conviction for simple possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia, and ordered the Appellant to serve eleven months and twenty-nine days’ imprisonment, with the possibility of furlough to an inpatient drug treatment facility after service of ninety days’ imprisonment. On appeal, the Appellant challenges the trial court’s denial of her motion to suppress. Alternatively, the Appellant argues that the trial court erred in revoking her diversionary probation and ordering service of her original sentence. After review, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress and revocation of the Appellant’s probation but remand for the trial court to make findings concerning the consequence imposed for the revocation.

 

Mabe v. State of Tennessee, No. M2022-01242-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 28, 2023). Petitioner, James William Mabe, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing that the post-conviction court erred in denying his petition alleging ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

In Re Khloe B., No. M2022-01013-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2023).  This is the second appeal involving the termination of a mother’s parental rights to this child. Following a bench trial, the court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support termination but failed to identify any specific statutory section in support of its decision. We vacated the trial court’s decision and remanded for sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law. Upon remand, the court offered additional findings of fact and conclusions of law before ultimately holding that the evidence presented established the following statutory grounds of termination: (1) abandonment and (2) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to care for the child. The court also found that termination of the mother’s rights was in the best interest of the child. We now affirm the court’s ultimate termination decision.

 

Weir v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-01254-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 15, 2022).  he petitioner, Donta Lamar Weir, appeals the summary dismissal of his petition for postconviction relief, which petition challenged his 2021 guilty-pleaded convictions of delivery of cocaine in a drug-free school zone, delivery of cocaine, and delivery of a counterfeit controlled substance. He argues that the post-conviction court erred by concluding that he failed to state a colorable claim for relief. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Locke, No. M2021-01437-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 29, 2022).  The Defendant, Jeffrey Lloyd Locke, was convicted in the Warren County Circuit Court of felony evading arrest in a motor vehicle and received a three-year sentence to be served as one hundred days in jail followed by supervised probation. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction because the proof does not show that his attempted arrest was lawful and that he is entitled to a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct during the State’s rebuttal closing argument. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

In Re Khloe O.,  No. M2021-01125-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. June 16, 2022).  This appeal involves a petition to terminate parental rights and for adoption. The chancery court found by clear and convincing evidence that a ground for termination was proven and that termination was in the best interests of the child. The mother appeals. We vacate and remand.

 

In Re Diamond F., No. M2020-01637-COA-R3-PT, p. 4-5 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2022). The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Brenda F.1 (“Mother”) and David F. (“Father”) to their three children who were then minors. As grounds, DCS alleged: (1) abandonment by failure to visit one of the children, Orian F.; (2) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home for the children; (3) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans; (4) persistence of the conditions that led to the children’s removal; (5) incompetency of the parents to provide care and supervision of the children; and (6) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of the children. The trial court found that DCS established all six grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence, and that termination of parental rights was in the children’s best interest. Although the parents have appealed only the ground of abandonment by failure to visit and the trial court’s best interest findings, we have reviewed all of the alleged grounds, and we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Joel Ernest Blanton, No. M2020-00155-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 29, 2022). A Van Buren County Grand Jury indicted the Defendant, Joel Ernest Blanton, for seven counts of rape of his eleven-year-old daughter and one count of aggravated sexual battery of his ten-year-old daughter.  At the conclusion of trial, the jury convicted the Defendant of six counts of rape of a child and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and the trial court imposed an effective sentence of 212 years.  On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions for rape of a child in Counts 1, 2, and 4 and that his sentence is excessive. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

In Re Kenneth D., No. M2021-00214-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 24, 2022). A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child.  Because the trial court’s order lacks sufficient factual findings and legal conclusions, we vacate and remand.

 

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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