In a quiet move, Crossville city attorney Will Ridley has signed off on an agreed order on behalf of the city of Crossville that vacates all charges against J. R. Blankenship over the distribution of “unsigned fliers” and removes the $1500 in fines assessed in city court by city judge Ivy Gardner.
The charges arose when some fliers (and no one seems to be able to determine exactly how many) were found posted on downtown Crossville businesses the morning following the March city council meeting offering “a reward” of up to $500 for photos of any city elected or appointed official doing something wrong. The flier promised anonymity for the informant and that the evidence would be published. The flier was signed “Sam at the Daily Bull” with a phone number.
Following an investigation establishing Blankenship as a suspect, a single citation issued by the Crossville police on the charge of distribution of unsigned fliers was heard in city court by Judge Ivy Gardener. The number of charges was increased to 30 counts by Judge Gardner resulting in a total fine of $1500. The highest fine a municipal court can asses is $50 and the only way the fine could be higher is if the number of charges was increased.
Blankenship filed several actions through city court and eventually appealed the fine and charges to Chancery court. The initial filing was on his own and Blankenship eventually secured the services of Nashville attorney Joe Johnston.
Agreed order page 1
Agreed order page 2
The agreed order does away with all charges against Blankenship who garnered the attention of city councilman Jesse Kerley and members of his family including his father Jerry Kerley, director of water resources for the city who, along with another man, was charged with stealing signs posted by Blankenship in a yard on Mockingbird Drive. Both men charged in the sign theft, Jerry Kerley and William Harwell took pre-trial diversion in the sign theft case last month.
Blankenship is also known for signs displayed in his truck while parked outside Crossville city hall during council meetings. Blankenship's signs were targeting Jesse Kerley and his actions and garnered a request from Kerley to former interim police chief Rod Shoap to charge Blankenship for vehicle registration and insurance violations that turned out to be false.
J. R. Blankenship with political sign in front of city hall
The ordinance against distribution of unsigned fliers was originally approved by the city council sometime in the 1960's and Blankenship appears to be the first person ever cited under the ordinance. Crossville city council will consider abolishing that ordinance at their upcoming meeting as it appears to interfere with a citizen's free speech rights.
The agreed order on the flier charges states that “the judgment of the city court be vacated along with any fines or fees ordered by the city court.” The order further states that “the case is dismissed with prejudice.” That means that charges can not be refiled at anytime in the future. The order was entered in the record on November 17 and filed with the court clerks office that same day.
The agreed order also says that the city agrees to pay the costs on the case, if any.
In the course of the reaction to the case, Crossville city judge Ivy Gardner filed a request as an individual for a restraining order against Blankenship earlier this year in General Sessions court saying she felt threatened by him. A permanent restraining order was signed by General Sessions Judge Larry Warner on July 7 2016 after Blankenship did not appear for a hearing because his mother was hospitalized just before she passed away.
The restraining order action was also appealed by Blankenship to Chancery Court and Blankenship initially represented himself pro se. A list of interrogatory questions was submitted by Blankenship to be answered by Gardener that specifically asked, among other things, to “describe in detail each and every verbal and/or written threat, which you allege has been made against you by defendant James R. Blankenship.” Blankenship's interrogatories were submitted on July 25, 2016.
Interrogatory questions from Gardener to Blankenship were submitted on August 17, 2016. The questions included questions on any arrest and/or convictions as well as any involvement in any lawsuit. The following day, Nashville attorney Joe Johnston filed a notice of appearance in the Gardener case to represent Blankenship.
Blankenship's new attorney also filed a motion for continuance from the initially set court date of August 28. An answer to Gardener's complaint was filed with the court August 26 and the answer states that the defendant Blankenship denied ever having “said or done anything that would constitute a pattern to harass and unnecessarily alarm the plaintiff Ivy Gardener ans her complaint had stated.
The appeal hearing, scheduled to be heard November 29 by Judge Jonathan Young for November 29 was not held because the request for a restraining order was “non-suited” or withdrawn by Gardener according to documents filed in the court clerks office.
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