FROM JUDICIAL CANDIDATE CONNIE REGULI
I have tried to draft an explanation that you can understand, but it is technical and legal. The jury conviction will be appealed and when you read why, you should keep an open mind and watch this unfold.
I look forward to serving families and children in this community and protect their constitutional rights. Let’s not let anyone block the ballot.
HERE IS HOW THEY BLOCK THE BALLOT:
In July 2019, the State of Tennessee, District Attorney Kim Helper, issued an indictment of Custodial Interference on Wendy Hancock for acts that occurred in August 2018. This was well after DCS had dismissed the dependency case pending against Ms. Hancock and her children were returned to home.
Simultaneously, the State of Tennessee indicted her attorney, Connie Reguli, for three charges including Accessory After the Fact and Facilitation of a Felony.
Upon a review the indictment, it was clear, that the State had omitted essential language from the statute when the case was presented to the Grand Jury. More specifically, the language of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39 – 13 – 306 (a)(2) states, in pertinent part that it is the crime of custodial interference for a parent to:
(2) Detain the child within this state or remove the child from this state after the expiration of the noncustodial natural or adoptive parent or guardian’s lawful period of visitation, with the intent to violate the rightful custody of a mother as defined in § 36-2-303, or a temporary or permanent judgment or a court order regarding the custody or care of the child.
There is no other section of the statute that would apply.
However, the indictment reads:
The Williamson County District Attorney omitted any reference to “noncustodial”, “after the expiration”, and “lawful period of visitation”.
In fact, the State did not present and did not intend to rely on an order of “visitation”. The State intended to rely on a Dekalb County ex parte order of temporary custody obtained by the Department of Children’s Services which was suspiciously obtained by securing a signature of a judge from a neighboring county, Smith County’s Judge Collins.
Defendants Hancock and Reguli filed a motion to dismiss the indictment. Judge Joseph A Woodruff asked the DA’s office to provide their proposed jury instructions on the issue of custodial interference. The DA presented the Tenn. Pattern Jury Instructions which included the “after the expiration” and “lawful period of visitation” language.
Judge Woodruff sua sponte (meaning on his own motion) modified the jury instructions, removing any reference to “noncustodial”, “after the expiration”, and “lawful period of visitation” and ruled that those were not essential elements of the crime.
Ms. Hancock had a trial in July 2021 and the jury found her guilty on the modified jury instructions. That case is now on appeal.
Ms. Reguli’s case was set for hearing in September 2021 to be heard by Judge Woodruff. Ms. Reguli and her attorney were prepared for trial. Oddly, on Sunday preceding that jury trial scheduled to start on Monday, the DA reported that she was ill and could not be in court. The case was continued.
Ms. Reguli qualified as a candidate for Juvenile Court Judge on February 8, 2022.
Judge Woodruff sua sponte (on his own motion) recused himself in an order entered February 14, 2022. Judge Woodruff expressed that his recusal was due to Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, RJC 2.11(A). The Court did not give any details which would disqualify him, however, RJC 2.11(A) is a “for cause” disqualification, which can include “a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party’s lawyer, or personal knowledge of facts that are in dispute in the proceeding.” The other subsections of this Rule, include disqualification due to degrees of consanguinity, contributions to campaigns, the likelihood of being a witness, or acting as a lawyer in the proceeding. The only provision that appears to apply is (A)(1), “a personal bias”. Typically, upon recusal, the Administrative Office of the Courts will “designate” a new judge and the case is reset to allow the attorneys and the new judge to make sure that the judge understands the case and any pretrial rulings. That did not happen here. The State pressed the case to trial during early voting.
In State v Hancock, on March 22, 2022, Judge Woodruff entered an order denying the Motion for New Trial. An issue in the motion was the Court’s modification of the jury instructions to eliminate any language regarding “noncustodial” parent or guardian, “after the expiration”, and “lawful period of visitation”.
Judge Woodruff’s March 22, 2022, memorandum of law gives his explanation for modification of the jury instructions saying that the current statute would not include DCS orders of temporary custody and expands the class of citizens subject to arrest.
The order says verbatim:
The statute as written does NOT include enforcement of DCS ex parte temporary orders. There are other enforcement methods which might apply but NOT felony Custodial Interference. The General Assembly did NOT include that class of citizens as potential felons.
The Judge’s ruling amounts to a due process violation and an ex post facto judicial determination. Judge Woodruff’s order denying the motion for new trial is contrary to Bouie v. City of Columbia, 376 U.S. 347 (1964) in which the United States Supreme Court held that “due process prohibits retroactive application of any judicial construction of a criminal statute that is unexpected and indefensible by reference to the law which has been expressed to the conduct in issue.” The Court does not have the power to change the language of a specific statute, and if it did, a change in the law which expands the class of person subject to criminal prosecution is ex post facto and a clear due process violation.
In Rogers v. Tennessee, 532 U.S. 451 (2001), the Court stated that a criminal statute must give fair warning of the conduct that makes it a crime. Deprivation of the right to fair warning can result from vague statutory language and from an unforeseeable and retroactive judicial expansion of statutory language that appears narrow and precise on its face. For that reason, if a judicial construction of a criminal statute is unexpected and indefensible by reference to the law which had been expressed prior to the conduct in issue, the construction must not be given retroactive effect.” In this case, the legislative history would show that the Tenn. General Assembly narrowed the custodial interference statutory language in 2004, and Judge’s Woodruff order intentionally judicially expanded it.
The Tennessee General Assembly legislatively defined custodial interference. The original act of 1989 provided for an inclusive definition which stated that any person knowing they have “no legal right to do so…entices or keeps from lawful custody…..(2) any child under age sixteen” has committed custodial interference.
This statute was rewritten in 2004 to provide specific language for the crime of custodial interference. TCA 39-13-306(a)(2) states that it is unlawful to:
(2) Detain the child within this state or remove the child from this state after the expiration of the noncustodial natural or adoptive parent or guardian’s lawful period of visitation, with the intent to violate the rightful custody of a mother as defined in § 36-2-303, or a temporary or permanent judgment or a court order regarding the custody or care of the child
The State of Tennessee had no visitation order and proceeded on an ex parte order of temporary custody, an event not considered by the Tennessee code. It is unconstitutional to retroactively change the definition of criminal conduct to “fit the facts” three years after the alleged crime.
REQUEST FOR JURY INSTRUCTIONS
The State was required to show that the conduct of Defendant Reguli was “unlawful” and “knowing”, Defendant Reguli sought to explain to the jury the ex post facto change in the law by the Court through jury instructions.
Reguli proposed the following jury instructions:
EX POST FACTO JUDICIAL MODIFICATION OF THE LAW
In this case, the State of Tennessee has charged Defendant Connie Reguli with facilitation of the felony of Custodial Interference and Accessory after the Fact of Custodial Interference.
The language of this law, that is, Custodial Interference, as it appeared in the Tennessee Code in August 2018 reads verbatim as follows:
It is the offense of custodial interference for a natural or adoptive parent, step-parent, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew of a child younger than eighteen (18) years of age to detain the child within this state or remove the child from this state after the expiration of the noncustodial natural or adoptive parent or guardian’s lawful period of visitation, with the intent to violate the rightful custody of a mother as defined in § 36-2-303, or a temporary or permanent judgment or a court order regarding the custody or care of the child.
This Court has modified the law to delete the terms “noncustodial” parent or guardian and “after the expiration of the noncustodial natural or adoptive parent or guardian’s lawful period of visitation” from the criminal charge against Ms. Hancock and subsequently from the charges brought against Ms. Reguli.
To find unlawful and knowing conduct on the part of Ms. Reguli, you must find beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Reguli could have “expected” and “defended” the Court’s change in the language of the statute after the alleged conduct.
THE REQUEST WAS DENIED. Therefore the jury went into deliberations with jury instructions that did not track the language of the statute.
ACCESSORY AFTER THE FACT
Another charge brought by DA Kim Helper against Reguli was Accessory after the Fact.
T.C.A. § 39-11-411 reads:
(a) A person is an accessory after the fact who, after the commission of a felony, with knowledge or reasonable ground to believe that the offender has committed the felony, and with the intent to hinder the arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment of the offender:
(1) Harbors or conceals the offender;
(2) Provides or aids in providing the offender with any means of avoiding arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment; or
(3) Warns the offender of impending apprehension or discovery.
(b) This section shall have no application to an attorney providing legal services as required or authorized by law.
In other words, “the accessory” must know or believe that THE felony was committed, and then act to: HINDER THE ARREST, TRIAL, CONVICTION, OR PUNISHMENT of the offender.
Let’s put this in context. The charge is that Connie Reguli, the alleged accessory, (1) knew that Ms. Hancock committed a felony, (2) Reguli hindered her arrest, and (3) that Reguli was not acting as her attorney.
So, Reguli would have to know in August 2018 that Ms. Hancock committed the felony of Custodial Interference. However, how could Reguli know that Judge Woodruff would change the language of the law three years after the alleged events?
DA Kim Helper prepared the indictment and presented it to the Grand Jury in July 2019. The alleged events occurred in August 2018. In August 2018 Reguli (1) was the attorney for Hancock; (2) she could not have known that a felony was committed because she could not have known that the judge could remove language from the jury instructions; and (3) there is no evidence that in August 2018 that Reguli hindered the arrest of Ms. Hancock in July 2019 for custodial interference. The jury was not allowed to know that “this section shall have no application to an attorney providing legal services as required or authorized by law” even though the indictment included language acknowledging this defense.
THE RESULT is that the jury was charged with incomplete elements of the crime of custodial interference and they were not allowed to consider Ms. Reguli’s status as the attorney for Ms. Hancock. These will be issues on appeal.
THE GOAL is to remove Reguli from the ballot by rendering her ineligible for the position. Ms. Reguli remains on the ballot and remains eligible for this position.
THIS demonstrates how important judicial responsibilities are in protecting the constitutional and the liberty rights of citizens. I have said many times that a judge can take your money, your kids, your home, and your freedom with the swipe of a pen.
AS A JUDGE, I will never do this to you and I WILL protect the constitutional liberty rights of citizens.
It is time for Williamson County citizens to go to the polls and elect a judge that will protect your constitutional rights.