By Peter White

FRANKLIN, TN – Judge William Acree denied four motions Wednesday by embattled former attorney Connie Reguli. She asked him to set aside her conviction for custodial interference because the original trial judge, Joseph Woodruff, didn’t instruct the jury properly.

“The court finds that issue is without merit,” Acree said.

Reguli’s attorney, Nathan Cate, presented arguments, dissecting complex points of law in clear simple language. Judge Acree wasn’t having any of it.

Cate asked Acree to grant Reguli a new trial because the prosecution’s case was based on an order by a Smith County judge who had no jurisdiction over a DeKalb  County case and was, therefore, invalid. 

“The court finds no error regarding the validity of the court order,” Acree said.

Cate asked that Reguli’s 30-day jail sentence be converted to probation because 70-year old Reguli has no criminal record. And he asked that a second conviction for accessory after the fact be dismissed because the child in question was voluntarily surrendered without incident to Brentwood police. Judge Acree disagreed.

“The court declines to modify the sentence given in this case,” he said.

And that was the end of Reguli’s attempt to get a new trial and mount an affirmative defense. She had hoped to put the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) on trial for their mishandling of the case and denying her client due process. 

“DCS and other state actors were not just negligent. They entrapped us and they were the real criminals in this case, ” Reguli said.

DCS conspired against Reguli and Hancock with Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper and Assistant DA Mary Katharine Evins. Judge Joseph Woodruff joined that conspiracy willingly, and then exited the case to let Judge Acree finish up the details. It is a textbook case of prosecutorial misconduct and judicial malpractice. Justice was not served but revenge was, and coldly. See https://tntribune.com/dcs-and-a-fearless-attorney/

Litigator Nathan Cate tries unsuccessfully to persuade Judge Acree who denied all four defense motions.

So now what is left is an appeal and those cases are decided on points of law and how the facts are applied in a case, but without a jury. Unfortunately, how the facts were applied in the criminal trial did not reveal what actually happened. The events leading up to the indictments, the timing of legal maneuvering by DCS and the various courts, were never clearly established at trial.

“What happened today shows how far they will go to twist the law to fit their  narrative that is so far from the actual events it makes me cringe,” Reguli told the Tribune.

“Part of the statute (custodial interference) did not apply to the facts regarding Ms. Reguli,” said ADA Evins. Acree agreed that it was okay to leave out part of the law from the jury instructions. It’s like leaving out the yeast when you bake bread. You can knead it all day but the dough won’t rise and you end up with a big mess.

The custodial interference statute was written to prosecute one parent who does not return the children to the other parent after their scheduled visitation. The statute is not about anything else. Applying it in some other context, any other context, actually, is highly suspect.

Woodruff left out some of the language so the jury would think what happened was a crime when it probably wasn’t a crime under the custodial interference law. Reguli maintains neither she nor her client committed any crime, period. 

The jury would likely not have voted to convict if ADA Evins had to explain how someone could violate a visitation order—the essence of the statute—when there was no visitation order in effect at the time of the alleged crime. Reguli’s client, Wendy Hancock, had full custody because the father was out of the picture.

The state argued that any court order about a child is the same as any other, and custodial interference can occur whether or not there is a parenting plan or visitation schedule in effect. 

That reading is absurd on its face but the state’s case seemed strong to the jurors because Judge Woodruff changed the statute during the early stage of the trial to fit the facts that supported the prosecutor’s case while striking the actual language of the custodial interference law. As a result, Reguli could not mount a proper defense, including the state’s machinations to entrap her. Then Woodruff recused himself and Acree was brought in to finish hearing the case. Acree will retire September 1. 

After listening to the ADA’s argument Wednesday Reguli said, “A pivotal question on appeal is whether the state can dissect the statute and apply only the parts that support their prosecution.” 

Wendy Hancock (L) and Connie Reguli successfully got back Hancock’s children from DCS custody. One month later, the two were charged with felonies for custodial interference and later convicted.

Elected legislators make the laws. Judges interpret the law but they can’t make it or change it, or, as in this case, not tell the jury part of it, to benefit one side over the other. A judge’s fundamental duty on the bench is to be impartial. The judges involved in this case, and there were five of them, were all in the bag for DCS and in league with the prosecution before the trial even began.

DCS, the prosecutor, and judges conspired to railroad a single mother and her attorney for successfully beating DCS in court and winning the return of Hancock’s children from state custody. That was their real crime and DCS retaliated.

Reguli plans to appeal and Judge Acree stayed her incarceration until after the appeal is heard. That could take several months. In the meantime, Reguli can’t practice law because her license has been suspended. She has lost her career of 28 years and her livelihood.

“From the public’s eye, the legal somersaults are difficult to sort out, but it is actually quite simple. They could not make a case without cooking the statute to mean something that it simply does not,” Reguli said. 

This article is the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of The Tennessee Tribune management.

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