News

Vandy Law Grad First African American to Lead Arkansas House

Vanderbilt Law grad Darrin Williams will make history in January when he becomes the first African American speaker of the Arkansas General Assembly. He will also be the first black person to hold a statewide elected office in Arkansas since the early 1870s. Vanderbilt Law School has more about the accomplishments of this 1993 graduate.

Candidates Reportedly Pre-Positioning Lawyers

With one week to go in the presidential campaign, Inside Counsel Magazine is reporting that President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney are lining up several high-powered lawyers to handle any post-election disputes. Obama has reached out to his former White House Counsel Robert Bauer, a former partner at Perkins Coie. Romney has tapped Benjamin Ginsberg, a partner at Patton Boggs, who served as chief legal counsel for George W. Bush's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. According to the article, the two lawyers already have been “quiet players” in the respective campaigns. Among other tasks, they negotiated deals for all four of the election debates. Read more

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Democratic Party Chair to Step Down

After four years of controversial leadership, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester will not seek re-election to the party's top post, he told The Tennessean today. The move opens the door to new leadership for the party, which has suffered deep losses in both the statehouse and among the state's congressional delegation in recent years. Democrats will elect a new party chair in January. Forrester said he believes the chair should serve a four-year term, not two years, and is proposing a bylaws change to that effect.

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Voter ID Laws to Remain Intact for Now

Attorneys representing two Memphis residents whose votes were not counted because they lacked proper photo identification, on Thursday asked a three-judge Appeals Court panel to throw out the state’s voter ID law, claiming it is unconstitutional. A decision is expected in the coming weeks, but meanwhile, early voting is underway with the ID requirement still in place, the Tennessean reports.

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Early Voting Opens; Lawyers in Contested Races

Early voting begins across the state today and continues through Nov. 1. All counties in the state are required to maintain an early voting location at least three consecutive hours each weekday and Saturday during this time. As you consider your choices, remember that there are a number of Tennessee lawyers running for seats in the state House and Senate.

Ethics Complaint Filed Against DesJarlais

The D.C. based organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, alleging that he engaged in a sexual relationship with a female patient he was treating for a medical condition. The group filed the complaint after a news story suggested that DesJarlais pressured a patient with whom he was involved to seek an abortion. According to the Nashville City Paper, the congressman says he knew the woman was not pregnant and was using "strong language" in hopes she would admit the truth.

In related news, the Chattanooga Times Free Press is reporting that the Tennessee Conservative Union (TCU) is debating whether to ask DesJarlais to resign his seat. It also indicates that TCU Chairman Lloyd Daugherty is talking with other Republican-leaning groups to see if a coalition can be built to demand the doctor’s resignation from Congress.

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Supreme Court to Hear Arizona Voting Law

The Supreme Court today agreed to take up an appeal from Arizona over its requirement that people prove they are American citizens before registering to vote. The justices will review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked the law, arguing that federal law – which allows voters to fill out a mail-in voter registration card and swear they are citizens under penalty of perjury – trumps state law. Tennessee is among four states that have a similar law. Arguments will take place in February, with a decision likely by late June. News Channel 5 has this AP story

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Lawyer Challenges Williams for House Seat

Republican Thom Gray, who is seeking to represent the Fourth District House seat in the Tennessee General Assembly, will square off against incumbent Kent Williams of Elizabethton in the Nov. 6 general election. Though Williams claims Republican affiliation, he was barred from officially running as a Republican after joining with Democrats in 2008 to defeat Republican nominee Jason Mumpower as speaker of the House. Gray, a solo practioner in Bristol, is a newcomer to politics. The Elizabethton Star has more about his first bid for public office.

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Law Grad Among Blackburn Challengers

Rep. Marsha Blackburn has five challengers who want to represent the district that now will cover much of west Middle Tennessee, including Brentwood, Fort Campbell and all of Montgomery County. Blackburn has held the 7th Congressional District seat for 10 years. Among the challengers is Army veteran and independent candidate Jack Arnold of Kingston Springs, who just graduated from Vanderbilt Law School. The Leaf-Chronicle looks at the race.

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Candidate Says He Was Not Threatening the President

Brad Staats, the Republican nominee challenging U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper in the 5th Congressional District election, is on the U.S. Secret Service's radar after making a Facebook post that some construed to be a threat to President Obama. Under a photo of a semi-automatic pistol on his Facebook page, the candidate explained his views on Second Amendment rights in part by saying, "Here is something that I usually have with me. Welcome to Tennessee Mr. Obama.” Staats says he was not threatening the president. The Tennessean has more

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Rep. Cobb Indicted, Arrested for Assault

State Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, was arrested today after a Rhea County grand jury indicted him on Monday, the Times Free Press reports. He is charged with assault in connection with an election-day incident on Aug. 2. Cobb is scheduled to appear for a Friday hearing in Circuit Court.

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High Court Will Not Hear Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in a lawsuit over the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission's makeup. The plaintiffs filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in 2010, challenging sections of the Iowa Constitution and state code. They argued that the system excludes Iowa voters from participation in the election of the elected attorney members of the state Judicial Nominating Commission; that it denies voters the right to equal participation in the selection of state Supreme Court justices; and that it denies voters the right to vote for the elected attorney members of the commission. The judicial commission is given the power to select the nominees for vacant positions on both the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The governor then chooses one of the commission's three nominees. Learn more from LegalNewsLine.com

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Judge: No Photo ID Needed to Vote in Pennsylvania

Voters won’t have to show photo ID in Pennsylvania before casting a ballot in November, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled today. He issued a narrow injunction on the deadline day he was given by the state Supreme Court, which will surely hear a second appeal in the nationally watched case before November, the Legal Intelligencer says. Poll workers are allowed to ask for photo ID from voters, but they must allow all qualified electors to cast a ballot regardless of whether or not the voters can show ID, Simpson ruled.

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Attorneys Take Issue With Candidate Criticism

Two Nashville attorneys have written a letter to the editor critical of a Tennessean article on Tennessee senatorial candidate Phillip North and his law practice. Greg Ramos and Mike Jameson take issue with a statement from Tennessee GOP Executive Director Adam Nickas, who referred to North as “a trial lawyer who is in the business of killing business with frivolous lawsuits.” Ramos and Jameson note that North’s legal practice is involved in the “defense” of lawsuits against individuals and businesses, the opposite of Nickas’ statement. “Phillip protects the reputations of individuals and businesses, including hundreds of physicians and health care providers across Middle Tennessee,” the pair write.

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Judge Upholds Constitutionality of Voter ID Law

Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled Wednesday that Tennessee’s voter ID law does not violate citizens’ constitutional rights, the Tennessean reports. The judge’s ruling dealt a blow to challengers of the legality of such laws. The state’s constitution gives legislators rights to enact laws to “secure the freedom of elections,” McCoy noted during the hearing. Although opposing attorneys cited the constitution's requirement for citizens only to be of legal age and have proof of residency and voter registration in order to vote, McCoy stated "voting procedures have evolved over the years."  George Barrett, who represented the city of Memphis and two other women from the Memphis area, was seeking an injunction to let residents vote in November without proof of ID, a requirement he contends is burdensome.

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Nashville Senate Candidates Talk About Per Diem, Other Issues

The two candidates for Senate District 20 -- Republican Steve Dickerson, a doctor, and Democrat Phillip North, a lawyer -- both say they would refuse per diem money if elected, but each has a different idea about what to do with it. The Tennessean interviewed them both about this and many other subjects in their quest to fill the seat of Sen. Joe Haynes, who is retiring after 28 years.

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Campaign Against Florida Judges' Retention Heats Up

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is set to run TV ads across Florida critical of three state Supreme Court justices up for retention election. The ads take aim at the justices’ joining a court ruling that removed from the ballot in 2010 a legislatively introduced measure intended to derail federal health care legislation. The Americans for Prosperity involvement follows the recent announcement of opposition from the Republican Party of Florida. Justice R. Fred Lewis, who is one of the justices targeted, told a bar group, “We cannot sacrifice fairness and impartiality and the court system to political whims." Gavel Grab has details

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Court Scrutinizes South Carolina Voter ID Law

A special panel of three federal judges in Washington heard arguments today on whether South Carolina’s measure requiring residents to show federal- or state-issued photo ID at polling stations significantly burdens minority voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The judges, who must sign off on the measure, appeared skeptical that the state would have enough time to get the law in place for use on Nov. 6, noting that many state-imposed deadlines for implementation expired last year. Bloomberg News reports

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Senate Candidate Stevens Involved in Estate Dispute

John Stevens, a state senate candidate and lawyer, acknowledged in an affidavit that he tore up an unconscious widow's last will and testament in a hospital room three years ago, and that he knew she was unconscious at the time, the Commercial Appeal reports. Ruth Keras died the next day. St. Jude and Jackson-based Youth Town of Tennessee were each to have received major portions of the 82-year-old woman's estate before the papers were destroyed. But four days before he visited Keras, Stevens had been contacted by Joe Wilkes to draw up a power of attorney on behalf of Keras, naming Wilkes' wife Peggy as attorney-in-fact. Stevens also established a revocable trust, court records indicate, that provided that upon Keras' death, all trust assets were to be divided equally between Peggy Wilkes and Keras's brother. Stevens is running for state Sen. Roy Herron's open District 24 seat against Democrat Brad Thompson.

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Rep. Todd: Not Guilty Plea

State Rep. Curry Todd’s attorney Worrick Robinson pleaded not guilty on his behalf today to DUI and weapons charges, the Tennessean reports. Todd was arrested Oct.11, 2011, after police say he failed a roadside sobriety test and was carrying a handgun in his vehicle.

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Shelby Commissioner Named to State Election Spot

Shelby County Election Commissioner Norma Lester was appointed Thursday by Gov. Bill Haslam to fill a vacancy on the state Registry of Election Finance, which enforces campaign finance laws in Tennessee. Lester, 70, a retired nursing administrator who was named to the county election commission last year, will fill a seat on the six-member state board that has been vacant since April 2011. The News Sentinel reports

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Hooker May Challenge Blumstein's Impartiality

John Jay Hooker on Friday told The TNReport that he expects to file a motion challenging Special Court Justice Andrée Sophia Blumstein's impartiality to hear his case on the constitutionality of the state’s judicial selection method. Gov. Haslam appointed Blumstein and four others to sit on a Special Supreme Court to hear the matter. Three of them recused themselves last week. Hooker says Blumstein's role on the editorial board of the Tennessee Bar Journal, a publication of the Tennessee Bar Association, poses a conflict because the association is in favor of the Tennessee Plan.

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Executive Order Clarifies Ethics Policy; Gov's Meetings Stay Secret

Gov. Bill Haslam issued Executive Order No. 20 last week on "ethics policy and disclosures" in the executive branch of state government. While spokesman David Smith said the new order brings "clarity by combining everything from the two (previous orders) into a single executive order," it does not open up information on private meetings held by the governor as had been requested by the online news service TNReport. "There's just a lot of discussions that we have, that any governor needs to have, as part of the decision-making process that we go through on so many different issues," the governor told TNReport, though adding he might "revisit" his stance at some point. The News Sentinel reports

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Rep. Todd Arraignment Moved to Next Week

State Rep. Curry Todd's arraignment on drunken driving and weapons charges, set for today, has been delayed until Sept. 14, the Associated Press reports. The Collierville Republican was arrested in October after failing a roadside sobriety test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found stuffed in a holster between the driver's seat and center console.

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2 Republican Race Results Will Stand

The Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee, acting in its role as the state primary board, today voted to uphold the primary election results in State House District 71 and Congressional District 9. Shirley Curry lost to Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, by four votes, according to unofficial returns. Charlotte Bergmann lost to George Flinn by about 7,000 votes. The subcommittee unanimously recommended to the full committee that both election contests be dismissed based on their review of the election contests. The News Sentinel reports

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