FRANKLIN, TN – Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper has escalated the prosecution of family law attorney Connie Reguli. Helper issued an arrest warrant against Reguli last Thursday for aggravated perjury. Reguli surrendered herself at the Williamson County Sheriff’s office Friday morning. She was booked and released on her own recognizance. She did not get a copy of the indictment when she was booked.
The Tribune has had trouble getting a copy of the charges. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office said they did not have a copy of the indictment; the Williamson County Criminal Court Clerk had no record of it and suggested calling the Sheriff’s Department. Neither District Attorney Kim Helper nor ADA Mary Katharine Evins were in their offices Friday afternoon; they did not return messages.
The criminal court clerk’s office still had no record of the arrest or indictment Monday morning, August 15.
Doubling-down on Reguli’s conviction with an aggravated perjury charge certainly adds to her legal problems but it also brings more attention to a case that has brought sharp criticism of Williamson County judges and the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) from dozens of Tribune readers. (see https://tntribune.com/whispering-judge-sentences-reguli-for-custodial-interference/)
On July 22, Governor Bill Lee Governor announced the departure of DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichol’s and the appointment of Margie Quin who will take over September 1.
Former Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercy resigned May 31 amid widespread complaints of her handling of the pandemic and the firing of the state’s leading infectious disease expert last year.
“Recently, he’s begun using the election as an excuse to get rid of certain department heads, rather than to lead effectively,” Dr. Jason Martin told the Tribune. Martin is the Democratic Party candidate running for Governor against Lee.
He said that the Governor’s job is to lead an administration that best serves the lives and livelihoods of Tennesseans and that includes appointing cabinet members and department heads.
“My administration will choose people over politics and my appointments will reflect that,” Martin said.
Politics in the Courtroom
Secret communications between judges and prosecutors, called ex parte, are illegal. Reguli has accused DCS of wrongfully taking children from their families via ex parte removal orders when parents and their attorneys are not properly notified. Reguli said that is what happened in her case.
During the sentencing hearing DCS attorney Tracy Hetzel told Judge Bill Acree that DCS frequently uses ex parte orders to take children into state custody. Family advocates like Reguli say that common practice violates due process guarantees of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Reguli was convicted of custodial interference in April. Her 30-day jail sentence and two years’ probation was stayed by Judge Acree while she appeals that case.
The new charge of aggravated perjury is a Class D felony. It carries possible sentences of 2 to 12 years in prison and fines up to $5,000. Examples of Class D felonies are extortion, reckless homicide, and unlawful surveillance.
According to the clerk’s office, indictments are filed on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays and that did not happen with Reguli’s indictment last Friday. The criminal court clerk’s office released a copy of the two-page indictment just before noon Monday, August 15.
DA Helper could have intentionally kept the indictment under wraps or it may have been a clerical error. However, the sheriff’s office wasted no time releasing Reguli’s mug shot last Friday.
The indictment accused Reguli of lying about a payment she said she made to CASA for $3,145.50. CASA is a non-profit organization that trains volunteers and advocates for children in courtrooms.
Reguli said that the payment was a fine imposed by Judge Joseph Woodruff in 2014. She said that Woodruff instigated the new charge.
“This CASA is a pet project of Judge Woodruff. He is a neighbor to Marianne Schroer who was the executive director of CASA for years.
A CASA worker emailed confidential Juvenile Court records to a teacher which is criminal contempt and I brought criminal contempt against her. I subpoenaed her records and she redacted a bunch of them. This was right when Judge Woodard got on the bench. And then as soon as he got on the bench, he sanctioned me for doing those things,” Reguli said.
Williamson County Casa Executive Director Emily Layton declined to comment.