federal court

Kelsey gets yearlong delay for federal campaign finance trial

State Sen. Brian Kelsey denies wrongdoing in a video conference call following his indictment on Oct. 25, 2021. (Image: screengrab from call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has been granted a yearlong delay before the start of his federal campaign finance trial.

Originally scheduled to begin next month, U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw ordered the proceedings to be re-set for Jan. 23, 2023. The motion to delay the case was made by Kelsey’s legal team and unopposed by the U.S. attorney’s office or codefendant Josh Smith.

The attorneys for all parties met with Crenshaw behind closed doors for 45 minutes on Monday morning while Kelsey and Smith urgently whispered to each other in the courtroom that was devoid of spectators other than two reporters. Upon ending the in camera meeting, the public portion of the hearing lasted about 10 minutes to formalize the new trial date, which Crenshaw described as a “firm.”

As previously reported in this week’s Tennessee Journal Kelsey attorney Paul Bruno said in a legal filing he faced a conflict with the original Jan. 18 court date because he is scheduled to go to trial in a quadruple homicide case in Nashville the following week. Bruno added the government has already provided “a significant amount of discovery” in the case and indicated more would be forthcoming. Given the volume of materials in the case, Kelsey and his legal team did not believe they had enough time to prepare for a trial next month.

Prosecutors say Kelsey funneled campaign funds from his state account through other political action committees to the American Conservative Union, the Washington-based organizer of CPAC conferences. The bulk of the money was then allegedly spent on radio ads supporting Kelsey’s unsuccessful bid for the 8th Congressional District in 2016. Kelsey has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and has claimed to be the subject of a political witch hunt.

Differing court rulings affect mask mandates in East and West Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on Jan. 23, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A federal judge in Memphis late last week granted a temporary restraining order against the state enforcing Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allow parents to opt their children out of mask requirements in school.

But the Knoxville Compass reports another federal judge in East Tennessee declined to take the same step in a case filed by parents there. U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer found the families of three students with disabilities hadn’t presented sufficient evidence of “immediate or irreparable injury or loss” by Knox County School’s refusal to enact a mask mandate.

In the Memphis case, mothers of two children with serious illnesses persuaded U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman to issue a restraining order against the opt-out provision after the Shelby County Health Department issued a universal mask requirement.

Feds charge Democratic state Sen. Robinson with embezzlement

Freshman state Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) is facing federal theft and embezzlement charges.

Prosecutors allege Robinson stole stole more than $600,000 from her business, the Healthcare Institute, by paying herself more than what was allowed under the terms the grant she received, the Daily Mempian reports.

Robinson defeated the late Sen. Reginald Tate in the primary in 2018 and went on to win the heavily Democratic district.

The Senate Democratic Caucus issued the following statement:

It’s clear that Sen. Robinson’s work in the state legislature on behalf of her constituents is not in question here today. Just like every other American, Sen. Robinson deserves the presumption of innocence and due process under the law. Her case should be resolved by a court of law, not by the court of public opinion.”

Investigators this week searched Robinson’s home and business again after conducting earlier raids in February. The complaint alleges Robinson used the money to buy a vehicle for her daughter, clothing, and beauty products. She is also charged with spending grant money on her wedding and honeymoon, followed by legal fees for her divorce.

Robinson’s company, the Healthcare Institute, in 2015 received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2015 to educate people  “looking for a jumpstart to their education and also to provide patient education to the elderly community.”

An anonymous complaint filed in 2016 alleged Robinson had spent $550 in grant funds to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag. The agency’s inspector general opened an investigation, which the FBI later joined.

Tennessee abortion law to be challenged before Trump-appointed judge

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

When Tennessee Republican lawmakers passed a sweeping abortion ban last week, it was the the expressed hope the measure could be used to challenge precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. A legal challenge filed in federal court in Nashville this week provides an early test as the case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Chip Campbell, whom President Donald Trump appointed to the bench in 2017.

Campbell was a business litigator with Frost Brown Todd before becoming a judge. He is the son of Republican National Committee member Beth Campbell and husband of Anastasia Campbell, the co-director of the General Assembly’s office of legal services.

Unlike some of Trump’s more controversial nominees, Campbell received a “Well Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. The Senate voted 97-0 to confirm Campbell in January 2018.