Brentwood attorney and Williamson County juvenile judge candidate Connie Reguli was found guilty on all counts in a Williamson County courtroom on Wednesday for her role in a 2018 endangered child alert that resulted in a missing child being located in her Brentwood home.
Reguli was charged and convicted of facilitating custodial interference and two counts of accessory after the fact — one for harboring and one for aiding the wanted mother and daughter.
She will be sentenced on June 24 for the misdemeanor and two Class E felonies which could result in one-to-two years in prison or a suspended probationary sentence.
Reguli was serving as the attorney for that mother, Wendy Hancock. The Smithville woman was found guilty of custodial interference after a jury trial last year and was later sentenced to two years of supervised probation.
She could also be disbarred (losing the ability to professionally practice law) and potentially disqualified from serving as a judge. At the time of the publishing of this story, it’s unclear if either of those will occur as Reguli and her lawyer Paul Walwyn intend to both appeal the ruling and file a motion for a new trial.
Her sentencing hearing will take place after the May 3 primary but before the general election this fall.
The jury began deliberations at 3:14 p.m. and reached a verdict after a little over one hour of deliberation following the three-day trial that was presided over by Tennessee Senior Judge William Acree.
Reguli's involvement with the Hancock family
As previously reported, the case stems from a 2018 incident where the Department of Children’s Services opened an investigation into Hancock and her then-teenage son in relation to concerns over drugs and abuse. That investigation led to a court order to have both Hancock’s son and 12-year-old daughter placed in the custody of DCS and then into foster care.
Reguli testified to making several attempts to work out a solution with DCS and Smithville police, providing several phone recordings of her attempts to speak with representatives of each agency prior to the order being issued, but those efforts were unsuccessful.
Reguli and Walwyn argued that phone calls were not returned, which resulted in the two parties not being able to meet. Following a DCS visit to Hancock’s home, Hancock left her home with her daughter while her son went to his father’s house.
DCS and police began to search for Hancock and her daughter following the court order, and a warrant was issued for Hancock, unbeknownst to her and Reguli, which was unrelated to her daughter.
Reguli had previously represented Hancock in other matters with DCS, but the state argued that Reguli had not filed as attorney of record to show that she was representing Hancock at the time, something that Reguli said should have been understood by the Dekalb County Court Clerk's Office as she was well known to the court from her prior representation of Hancock.
Reguli was given copies of that court filing, which included the court order that handed over custody of the children to DCS, but she said that she wasn’t given the entire contents of the file.
That order was issued and became effective on Aug. 13, 2018 at 2:04 p.m., but the referral for the investigation and subsequent order began on Aug. 8, the same day that a DCS worker came to Hancock’s home and was turned away by Hancock.
Hancock testified that after a DCS worker who she has a history with came to her home, she was concerned that her children were going to be taken away from her so she left home with her daughter and first went to her father’s house in Watertown before going to a Lebanon hotel on Aug. 11.
On Aug. 15, Reguli met with Hancock, Hancock’s father and Hancock’s daughter at the hotel where they were recorded on an interior security camera reviewing and discussing the DCS file, which stated that the children were to be transferred to the custody of DCS two days before.
At one point in the video, Hancock’s daughter appears in the frame and shows the group an image on her cell phone of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation endangered child alert with the faces and names of Hancock and her daughter along with phone number for the public to call if they are seen, an alert which was distributed to the media.
It’s at this point where the state argued, and a jury ultimately agreed, that Reguli went from simply representing her client to becoming an accessory, when she took Hancock and her daughter in her personal vehicle from the hotel to her Brentwood home, leaving Hancock’s vehicle in the parking lot.
Reguli defends her actions
Reguli took the stand in her own defense on Wednesday as the defense’s only witness. She testified to her numerous attempts of setting up meetings with both law enforcement and DCS representatives prior to the order to place the child in the custody of DCS.
She also admitted that she spoke with Hancock after knowing that the DCS order had been filed with the Aug. 13 transfer of custody.
“I knew that the order was signed when I met with her [Hancock at the hotel,]” Reguli testified, adding that she was worried about the mental state of Hancock and her daughter, which led her to bring them to her Brentwood home.
Reguli testified that she did not call a DCS attorney until after Hancock and Briella Bowling (Hancock's daughter) were found by Brentwood Police at her home on the afternoon of Aug. 16. This came to be even though she had the name and phone number of a DCS attorney, which was printed on the DCS order that she was in possession of.
Walwyn argued that Reguli was just trying to best advise her client and protect Hancock and her daughter.
"They weren't on the run,” Walwyn told the jury in his closing argument. "They were just trying to figure out how to do things."
Assistant District Attorney Mary Katherine Evins argued that Reguli’s actions became criminal when she transported the mother and daughter to her home after learning about the court order and the TBI alert, in addition to giving Hancock a “safe phone” that was only tied to Reguli while Hancock put her personal devices in airplane mode.
"She did not stop what she was doing at that time and say, 'I need to call Smithville Police and get this straightened out,’ she did not do that. She admitted to you that she did not do that," Evins told the jury during the state's closing argument, "And that's when it became a criminal act."
Bowling, Hancock testify against Reguli
The most damning testimony took place on Tuesday when Bowling, now 16, took the stand and placed the blame for the incident on Reguli, noting that her mother was advised by Reguli to take the actions that led to Hancock’s 2021 criminal conviction.
"At the time whenever I was 12, when it first went out, I was completely clueless on what was going on, and I didn't think much about it, but now that I look back at it, it's kind of crazy to think about,” Bowling testified.
"I feel like smarter choices should have been made...by Connie mainly, and my mom.
"I would have expected her to make smarter choices because she was my mom's lawyer at the time...Clearly, the smarter choice would have been going to the law."
Hancock also took the stand to testify on behalf of the prosecution, a condition of her 2021 criminal sentence. She testified that her primary reason for fleeing Smithville was out of fear that DCS was going to take custody of her daughter and that she “needed more time with her daughter."
Hancock also testified that Reguli advised her that they would eventually turn themselves into law enforcement, but not before contacting “the news” in order to turn themselves in on camera to show that Bowling was not in fact in any danger and to give their side of the story.
Bowling was unharmed during the incident that was classified by the TBI as an endangered child alert versus the more commonly known Amber Alert.
Reguli critical of county's handling of trial, with appeal planed
Reguli, who has proclaimed herself as “a warrior for families” in social media posts, shook her head in disagreement throughout the trial at statements made by both the prosecution and witnesses, arguing at one point that an endangered child alert was “not a high-risk safety issue.”
Reguli has a strong social media following and runs the The Family Forward Project, which described itself on the now “unavailable” Facebook page as “an organization to help families grow stronger and sometime[s] recover in the face of government intrusion."
According to the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, Reguli has practiced law since 1994 and has faced numerous professional challenges and disciplinary actions, including censures and suspensions. Those include several 2012 misconduct complaints involving restitution payments to clients and false claims about Reguli's professional certifications.
Prior to taking on private practice in 1997, she worked as a prosecutor for the Davidson County District Attorney Office.
Prior to her trial, Reguli issued a statement to the Home Page where she defended her actions in representing Hancock, and said that she is confident that the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals will reverse the jury's decision in Hancock's case.
Reguli also said that the District Attorney's Office essentially rewrote the criminal statute when the case was presented to the grand jury, an action that she said was done in conjunction with the Department of Children's Services as "retaliation" for her efforts to reform what she said are corrupt entities.
She also alleged that her trial has been pushed back to "directly interfere" with her campaign, something that District Attorney General for the 21st Judicial District Kim Helper refuted in a phone call. Helper noted that the case was set long before Reguli’s campaign announcement and added that the defense did not object to the April trial date, which was reset by the court.
“What it really comes down to is the law applies to everyone,” Helper said in a phone call following the trial. “No matter who the parties were, the evidence supported us going forward with that criminal prosecution, and that’s the approach we took."
Reguli spoke to reporters following the trial where she said that she was “disappointed” in the outcome. She said that she has numerous issues with how DCS handles cases, something that she wants to reform as an activist and candidate for judge.
“I have done everything that I have done to protect other people,” Reguli said. “There is not one self-serving motive here."