News

What Trump Could Mean for Federal Courts in Tennessee

President-elect Donald Trump could dramatically change the makeup of the federal court system in Tennessee with nominations over the next four years, the Tennessean reports. There is one current vacancy in the Western District, with a second one expected to open up when Jackson-based Judge J. Daniel Breen moves to senior status. In the Middle District, U.S. District Court Judge Todd J. Campbell announced today that he would retire from the bench effective Dec. 1. Trump also has the right to replace the state’s three sitting U.S. attorneys. “Here in Nashville … zero of the active judges are Republican appointees,” says Vanderbilt Law School Professor Brian Fitzpatrick. “There has not been a Republican appointed to our federal trial bench here since George H.W. Bush.”

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Duncan Law Finishes 4th at National Mock Trial Tournament

Lincoln Memorial University’s John J. Duncan Jr. School of Law took fourth place at the 28th Annual National Criminal Procedure Tournament at the University of San Diego School of Law this past weekend. The Knoxville-based team competed against 35 other teams from across the country. Team members Emily Persinger and Erin Wallin advanced to the semi-finals and were recognized for Best Petitioner’s Brief. Persinger also was honored as the 10th place oralist in the competition, which featured 72 individual competitors. 

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Nashville Expungement Clinic Scheduled for Saturday

The Music City Community Court Expungement Clinic and Indigency Docket has seen a tremendous community response in Nashville as hundreds of people have obtained non-conviction expungements and important information regarding conviction expungements. The next clinic is scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club, 916 16th Ave. S. Those interested in volunteering should contact Amber Floyd, 901-537-1054.

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Bystander Intervention Summit Planned

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence and the State Department of Health are joining forces to host a Bystander Intervention Summit Nov. 29 and 30 at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro. The event will feature national speakers leading discussions centered on issues related to bystander intervention, which is defined as the psychological phenomenon in which someone is more likely to intervene in an emergency situation when alone than when others are present. Participants will leave with a toolkit to enhance bystander intervention messaging in their own communities. Register online.

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OK to Limit Marijuana Ordinance to Part of County

Armed with an opinion from the Shelby County attorney that an ordinance can be written to only apply to unincorporated areas of the county, Commissioner Van Turner is moving forward with a proposal to lower the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The legislation would give sheriff’s deputies the option of issuing a civil citation instead of a state misdemeanor charge for possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana, the Commercial Appeal reports. A similar measure passed the Memphis City Council several weeks ago.

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Opinion: Homeless Vets Lack Access to Justice

Gary Housepian with the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands writes in today’s Tennessean that there are nearly 40,000 homeless veterans in America and another 1.4 million at risk of homelessness. This fact, he suggests, complicates efforts to provide legal services to veterans, who often need help with eviction and foreclosure, outstanding warrants and fines and child support issues. Housepian calls on his fellow lawyers to provide critical civil legal services and urges veterans to reach out for help.

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States Pass Marijuana, Minimum Wage, Gun Measures

Proponents for legalized marijuana, increased minimum wage and stricter gun control provisions saw gains on Election Night, the ABA Journal reports. Voters in seven states approved marijuana-related ballot initiatives ranging from recreational use to medicinal marijuana. Only in Arizona did a marijuana-related initiative fail. Voters in four states approved minimum wage hikes, while three supported various gun control measures. Washington voters supported a measure giving family members or law enforcement the right to petition a court to strip someone of their gun rights. Nevada voters approved tighter background checks on gun purchases and Californians passed an initiative to limit high-capacity ammunition magazines. Only in Maine did voters reject a proposal to expand gun-purchase background checks.

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Voters in 3 States Back Capital Punishment

Voters in three states on Tuesday passed ballot initiatives supporting capital punishment. In California, voters rejected a measure to repeal the death penalty and passed a measure that seeks to speed up the appeal process. In Nebraska, voters restored the death penalty after lawmakers repealed it last year. And in Oklahoma, voters passed a constitutional amendment stating that the death penalty does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Link to news stories about each of these measures from the ABA Journal.

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Profile: Federal Prosecutor Readies for Change

Nancy Harr, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, is maintaining a good attitude about her job in the wake of a Republican presidential win Tuesday night, according to a profile of the lawyer in Knoxnews. “We are the U.S. Attorney’s Office for everyone,” the Democratic appointee says. While she likely will not stay in her current role, she is happy to return to prosecuting cases and said she will help with the transition once a new Republican appointee is confirmed. “I’ve served now under Clinton, under Bush and Obama and now I’m getting ready to serve under President Trump,” she said.

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Prison Medical Provider Faces 2 More Suits

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that prison health care provider Centurion failed to provide proper care to a man who fell ill after eating undercooked chicken at a state prison in Hickman County. Though he was experiencing severe symptoms, the suit claims he was not taken to the hospital for two days and later died there. A separate suit has been brought by the family of a man who died after falling ill in a West Tennessee prison. These two suits come just weeks after a female prisoner filed suit against the company after she gave birth in a medical wing cell without a doctor present. That suit alleges nurses accused her of faking labor and that the unsanitary conditions led to a serious infection for her newborn son. The Tennessean looks at the cases.

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Court Issues Order Amending TCCA Rule 7

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals issued an order today amending Rule 7 of its rules. The order deletes Rule 7 in its entirety and substitutes the following language: “Motions in this Court shall be in conformity with Rule 22, Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The proponent of a motion is not required to submit a proposed order.” Get the order here.

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Lawsuit Challenges State Sex Offender Registry

Retroactive enforcement of Tennessee’s sex offender registry law is being challenged in a federal lawsuit that mimics a successful suit that struck down similar laws in Michigan, the Tennessean reports. The case, filed Tuesday in federal court in Nashville, argues that the state’s registration laws, which have been added piecemeal over the years, are illegally applied retroactively. The suit alleges the increasingly burdensome requirements are onerous, vague and arbitrary, and cites 10 cases from around the country that have found retroactive enforcement of registries unconstitutional.

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Trial Set for June 19 for 3rd Football Player

Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins has set June 19 as the trial date for Brandon E. Banks, the third former Vanderbilt student and football player charged in the rape of an unconscious woman in 2013. Banks has pleaded not guilty to five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, the Tennessean reports. His case has been on hold while two other defendants went to trial. They were both found guilty and sentenced to prison. Banks' lawyer said plea negotiations will continue as the case moves toward trial.

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Stanton, Weirich Announce Special Heroin Prosecutor

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton and Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich are joining forces to support a special prosecutor to go after those responsible for heroin overdoses and deaths, the Commercial Appeal reports. At the request of Stanton, the board of the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas approved a grant to hire a full-time prosecutor in Shelby County. The yet-to-be-named individual will come from Weirich’s office, but will be named a special assistant U.S. attorney and will work with federal, state and local officials on heroin cases. The pair hope to have a prosecutor on the job by January.

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State to Seek Trial for 3rd Vanderbilt Rape Defendant

Prosecutors on Thursday will ask to set a trial date for a third ex-football player charged in the rape of an unconscious woman at Vanderbilt University, the Tennessean reports. Felony charges against Brandon E. Banks have been pending while two other former football players went to trial and were sentenced to prison. Banks’ lawyer has been working with the state to try and reach a deal to avoid a trial. The move to set a trial date may signal that those negotiations have stalled, the paper suggests.

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Youth Courts Expand, Maintain Low Recidivism Rate

Tennessee has seen growth in its youth court program recently with new pilot programs at Antioch Middle Prep and Dupont Hadley Middle Prep in Nashville, a new program at Stratford High School in Nashville and a new program in Union County. Tennessee Youth Courts Executive Director Denise D. Bentley also recently reported that a review of the statewide program showed a recidivism rate around three percent for the third year in a row with 2,000 youth served this past year. The program celebrated October as National Youth Justice Awareness Month. In a proclamation designating the month, President Barack Obama praised the work of youth courts and called on Congress to “increase protections for youth and limit the number of minors held in adult jails and prisons.”

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AG's Office Clarifies Testimony to 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III released a statement about a letter his office sent to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the matter of Andrew Thomas v. Bruce Westbrooks, a death penalty case. The letter from Assistant Attorney General Michael M. Stall seeks to clarify his testimony before the court this month about a $750 payment made to a witness in a federal case involving Andrew Thomas, which occured three years prior to the state case. The letter and today's statement emphasizes that “the payment … was made by the federal government without the knowledge of or involvement by District Attorney General Amy Weirich” and “there has been no finding whatsoever that state prosecutors in this case had actual knowledge of the payment at the time of the state trial.” Read the letter or this explanation from the AG's office.

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Memphis Law Hosts Implicit Bias Conference

The University of Memphis School of Law is hosting a conference on implicit bias next Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event “A New Look at an Old Problem” will explore what implicit bias is, how it operates, how to recognize it and how to manage its influence. Speakers include U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bernice B. Donald, District Court Judge Jon P. McCalla, Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan H. Michael, immediate past ABA President Paulette Brown and a host of law professors from across the country. See the full program or register online.

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Software Causing Major Problems at Shelby Courthouse, Jail

A $10-million upgrade to the computer system at the Shelby County Criminal Justice System is causing big problems at the courthouse and the jail, Local Memphis reports. Issues have included court dockets being wrong and inmates not being located in the jail so they can be brought to scheduled court appearances. One lawyer told reporters that one of his clients has been there seven days. “We can’t locate him. We don’t know what he has been charged with. No bond has been set,” said attorney Claiborne Ferguson. The software company has 20 employees in town to help resolve issues and county technology staff are working on the problem 24/7, court officials say.

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Comments Sought on Reappointment of Federal PD

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is seeking comments from those who are in a position to evaluate the performance of Henry Martin, federal public defender for the Middle District of Tennessee. Martin’s current term will expire on July 23, 2017, and he is eligible for reappointment. Comments should be submitted by Nov. 15. Get details about how to submit comments.

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TBJ Columns Cover History, the BPR and What Not to Tweet

The Tennessee Bar Journal this month includes regular columns by Russell Fowler, Wade Davies and Bill Haltom. In "History’s Verdict," Fowler writes about Will Thomas, a lawyer who was embraced by and relentlessly defended the Cherokees in the 1800s. Davies, who is wrapping up his term on the Board of Professional Responsibility, details in his column "Crime & Punishment" some of the ways lawyers get into hot water -- and the relatively easy steps to take to stay out of trouble. In "But Seriously, Folks!" Haltom looks at the series of events that unfolded after University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds tweeted just three words: “Run them down.” Nick McCall reviews the book Almighty: Courage, Resistance and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age. Read the November issue.

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Court: Videos Do Not Meet Statutory Standard for Exploitation Conviction

The Tennessee Supreme Court today reversed and dismissed the conviction of a Knoxville-area man for “especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor” saying the videos he took of his 12-year-old daughter showed nudity but not sexual activity, both of which are needed to meet the requirements of the statute. The decision sends the exploitation convictions back to the lower court for a new trial on different charges with the justices suggesting the state might want to consider a charge of "attempt to commit especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor." The justices let other convictions related to the case stand. Read the decision

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Janet Reno, 1st Woman AG, Dies at 78

Janet Reno, the first woman to hold the post of U.S. attorney, died today at her home in Miami-Dade County, Florida. She was 78 and had suffered from Parkinson’s disease since 1995. Reno served as the nation’s top law enforcement officer for eight years, which included some of the most divisive times of the Bill Clinton presidency and two events that garnered national attention: a deadly federal raid on the compound of a religious cult in Waco and the return of refugee Elián González to his father in Cuba. Key cases included the prosecution of the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City federal building bombers, and the filing of an antitrust suit against Microsoft and a suit against the tobacco industry. The New York Times has more on her life.

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Obama Commutes Another 72 Sentences

President Barack Obama on Friday commuted the sentences of 72 additional federal inmates. That  move brings Obama's total number of commutations to 944 people, the ABA Journal reports. Just eight days ago, the president commuted 98 sentences. In a post on the White House Blog, White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote, “What President Obama has done for commutations is unprecedented in the modern era.” He is “demonstrating that our nation is a nation of second chances.”

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U.S. Attorney Stanton Promotes Lawyers, Staff

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton has promoted three attorneys and two staff members in his West Tennessee offices. In the Memphis office, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carroll Andre was named criminal division chief, Assistant U.S. Attorney Keenan Carter was named deputy civil chief, staff member Marian Peete was promoted to legal supervisory assistant and LaRita Bearden was named a victim witness specialist. In the Jackson office, Assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Boswell was named chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. The Jackson Sun has more on each of these promotions.

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