Sunday, May 14, 2023

Connie Reguli's client Wendy Handcock has her conviction overturned.

by Rod Williams, May 14, 2023- Attorney Connie Reguli's conviction for facilitating custodial interference and two counts of accessory after the fact will almost certainly be invalidated because the conviction of the person who allegedly committed the crime had their conviction overturned by the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals on Friday. The court ruled that the prosecution failed to allege all of the elements of custodial interference and the trial court gave improper instructions to the jury. 

Connie Reguli's conviction steams from her role in a 2018 endangered child alert that resulted in a missing child being located in Ms Reguli's home. To me it is clear that Reguli was not trying to keep her client from turning over the child to DCS. She was working on appealing DCS's custody of the child. Neither Hancock nor Reguli were aware that there was a warrant issued for Handcock to surrender the child. This story in The News provides details of how Reguli was trying to communicate and work with DCS. 

Wendy Handcock 
and Connie Reguli
I sat through the trail of the mother, Wendy Handcock. I reported on it at the time, and you can read my post at this and this link. At stake in the trail of Wendy Handcock was also the fate of charges against Connie Reguli. Should Wendy of won her case then the charges against Connie would have been dropped. If Wendy would have been found not guilty, then charges would have been dropped against Connie because that would mean there was no custodial interference and thus no crime to which Connie would have been an accessory. Unfortunately, Wendy Hancock was found guilty. The State then proceeded with the charges against Connie Reguli. In April 2022 Connie Reguli was convicted. If not for this action overturning Hancock's conviction, Connie Reguli could have lost her law license and could have faced one-to-two years in prison. or a suspended probationary sentence.

Connie Reguli is a long-time critic of the Department of Children's Services and is an outspoken advocate for parental rights. My observation is that Connie Reguli is a thorn in the side of DCS and the prosecution of her was revenge for her relentless defense of victims of DCS abuse and her activism for parental rights. She has testified before state lawmakers, calling for DCS reform. She also is a national spokesman for children and parental rights and often speaks at conferences across the country. Connie Reguli heads a national group called Family Forward Foundation. The mission statement of the organization says: "The Family Forward Foundation is a national organization dedicated to the rights of familial integrity, and the rights of parents and children to be free from unreasonable intrusion of the government, as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution."  

 I had met Connie Reguli through political activity but became aware of her fight for parental rights through a friend who had a long involvement with the courts is trying to regain the right to mother her child. 

I have long had an interest in the issue of parental rights, stemming from my own experience as a divorced father who had to fight for his right to have regular visitation with his young daughter. While I never got entangled with DCS or had my parental rights or visitation rights revoked, I had to fight to have regular visitation enforced. During this time, I got involved with a couple of parents' rights groups, one called DAD (Dads Against Discrimination) and another called PARENT (I can't recall the acronym). While in these groups, which were as much self-support groups as political activist groups, I heard many stories of the system abusing parental rights and acting in what certainly did not seem to be the best interest of the child. Many of these stores were heartbreaking.  Thankfully, since that time, there has been meaningful reform that levels the playing field for fathers who want to remain active in their child's life. While that is a good thing, there are still horror stories of DCS abuse and parents cavalierly losing their parenting rights. 

I am delighted to see this development. Our justice system often fails to provide justice and I am glad there are people like Connie Reguli fighting to for the rights of parents and children and a more just society. I am happy for Wendy Hancock and Connie Reguli and an outcome that tilts toward justice. It is good to see an injustice reversed. It needs to happen more often. 

Below is the Court order overturning the conviction of Wendy Hancock:

 State Of Tennessee V. Wendy D. Hancock

Case Number:M2022-00483-CCA-R3-CD

In August of 2018, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) secured an ex parte order placing B.B.,1 the minor daughter of Wendy Dawn Hancock, Defendant, in the custody of DCS after a referral prompted an investigation. During the span of severaldays, Defendant and B.B. stayed at both a hotel in Lebanon and Defendant’s attorney’s, Connie Reguli’s (“Ms. Reguli’s”) home in Brentwood without ever being formally served with the ex parte order. Police eventually located B.B. and Defendant in Brentwood.

Defendant was indicted for one count of custodial interference, in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-306. Ms. Reguli was also charged with several offenses for her actions. Defendant sought a dismissal of the indictment before trial. The trial court denied the motion. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of custodial interference. She was sentenced to two years on supervised probation. The trial court denied the motion for new trial; Defendant appealed. On appeal, Defendant argues that: (1) the indictment should be dismissed because it fails to allege all of the elements of custodial interference; (2) the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the elements of custodial interference; (3) the trial court improperly instructed the jury that the ex parte custody order was “valid and enforceable”; (4) the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction; and (5) Tennessee should adopt an advice of counsel defense for specific intent crimes. Because the trial court improperly instructed the jury essentially removing one of the elements of the offense and lowering the burden of proof, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and vacate Defendant’s conviction. We remand the case to the trial court for any further proceedings that may be necessary.

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