News

Appeals Court: No Stay for Alabama Gay Marriage Decision

The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today denied Alabama’s request to stay a lower court’s decision striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The state attorney general’s office had asked the court to stay a decision overturning its bans on gay marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the case later this year. A stay placed on the decision by the district court expires Feb. 9. With the appeals court action, Alabama is on tap to become the 37th state where same-sex marriage is legal. The Alabama attorney general’s office said it will appeal the stay denial to the U.S. Supreme Court. ABAJournal.com has more.

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Jackson to Get New Victim Resource Center

A new facility to deal specifically with domestic and sexual abuse crimes is coming to Jackson. The Safe Hope Center, which will soon be under construction, is a partnership of several agencies designed to provide comprehensive trauma services under a single roof. Victims will be able to talk to an advocate, plan for their safety, interview with police officers, meet with prosecutors, receive medical assistance, receive shelter, receive spiritual support and get transportation at the center, explains Jackson-Madison County Family Center psychological coordinator Jennifer McCrew. The Jackson Sun has more on the story.

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Tullahoma City Attorney Stepping Down

After six years as Tullahoma city attorney, Randall Morrison has decided to step down and refocus his attention on building his private law practice. He recently added William Lockhart as a new partner to his firm and will be changing the firm’s name to Morrison & Lockhart, Tullahoma News reports. Morrison will continue to handle divorce and child custody cases but with the addition of Lockhart, the firm’s focus will expand to include criminal law, workers' compensation cases and personal injury cases.

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Court Alters Requirements for Terminating Parental Rights

The Tennessee Supreme Court held today that the state statute governing termination of parental rights does not require the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to prove as an essential element of its case that it made reasonable efforts to reunite the child with the parent(s) before parental rights can be terminated. Instead, the court found that the extent of the effort to reunify a parent and child is only one of several factors to be weighed in determining whether termination is in the best interest of the child. The ruling overturns previous holdings that DCS is required to prove reasonable efforts to reunify as a precondition to terminating the parent’s rights. Read more from the AOC.

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DOJ to File Amicus Brief in Same-Sex Marriage Case

The U.S. Department of Justice will file an amicus brief in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in every state, according to Attorney General Eric Holder. In speaking to reporters recently, Holder said the department is “committed to ensuring that the benefits of marriage are available as broadly as possible.” Therefore, he said, the department will file a “friend of the court” brief urging the high court to make same-sex marriage available nationwide. The ABA Journal has more.

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Chattanooga Family Justice Center to Open This Spring

The new Family Justice Center that plans to open in Chattanooga will be located in a city-owned building in the Eastgate Center. While that building is readied, it will open this spring nearby at 5741 Cornelison Drive. Executive Director Dr. Valerie Radu said 10 agencies thus far have agreed to be involved in a coordinated operation aiding domestic violence victims at a single site. Chattanooga will be part of a statewide alliance that includes six similar centers. The Chattanoogan has more.

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Supreme Court to Decide on Same-Sex Marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, the New York Times reports. The court’s announcement that it will hear cases out of Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio made it likely that it would resolve one of the great civil rights questions of the age before its current term ends in June. The justices ducked the issue in October, refusing to hear appeals from rulings allowing same-sex marriage in five states. The number of states allowing same-sex marriage has since grown to 36.

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Trial Set for Parents Suing State Over Child's Last Name

Two Brentwood parents who want the right to choose the last name of their newborn son will go to federal court June 9 in their lawsuit against the state of Tennessee. The parents, Carl Abramson and Kim Sarubbi, were denied a request from the Tennessee Department of Health to use a surname that combined both their last names, "Sabr," after they moved to the state in 2014. The lawsuit involves the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which claims the state violated the couple's First Amendment rights. Brentwood Homepage has the story.

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Facebook Adds Amber Alerts to Users’ Timelines

In partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Facebook yesterday launched an automatic Amber Alert system, News Channel 5 reports. The new program will geographically pinpoint the alerts to Facebook users in the search area. If a missing child is reported within the user’s location, Facebook will post detailed information and photographs on the user’s timeline. A “Learn More” button will link to the official missing child poster.

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South Dakota Judge Rules Against Marriage Ban

A federal judge in South Dakota ruled yesterday that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, but the decision does not mean gay couples can immediately wed. U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier stated in her decision that plaintiffs “have a fundamental right to marry,” but she put her ruling on hold pending a potential appeal from the state. The state has said it would appeal the case to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2006 affirmed Nebraska’s right to ban same-sex marriages. Read more from the Associated Press.

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No Decision Yet on Same-Sex Marriage Case from Tennessee

The U.S. Supreme Court -- in the midst of deciding whether to take up the issue of same-sex marriage -- declined today to take an early look at a challenge to Louisiana’s state ban, Reuters News Service reports. The court also took no action on pending cases concerning same-sex marriage bans in Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky. It could decide whether to hear those cases at its next conference, scheduled for Friday.

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High Court May Address Same-Sex Marriages Monday

In its first official business of the new year, the U.S. Supreme Court met today but, according to SCOTUSblog, did not not grant review in any new cases. This includes the issue of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry no matter which state they live in or whether states can individually decide if marriage should only be allowed between a man and a woman. The court’s next chance to issue an order on those cases will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, with the release of a lengthy list of actions on new cases. If no action on the five marriage cases comes then, the cases are likely to be rescheduled for the conference next Friday, the blog reports.

In related news, a federal judge in Georgia has declined to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage, NewsChannel 9 reports. And in New Orleans today, two of three federal judges who will decide whether to overturn laws against same-sex marriage in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana appeared critical of Texas's ban at a hearing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, questioning the state's argument that marriage primarily is an institution meant to encourage procreation, the Houston Chronicle reports.

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350 Issues Later, 'Journal' Looks Back Over 50 Years

The Tennessee Bar Journal celebrates the Big Five-Oh this year, publishing its 350th issue this month. Each issue of 2015 will feature a stroll down memory lane -- in January, in conjunction with the magazine's Access to Justice emphasis, it looks at how the bar's view of pro bono has changed over the years. Also, columnist Marlene Eskind Moses looks at criminal contempt in family law asking "Can criminal contempt create compliance?"

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Justices Could Decide Friday Whether to Take Up Same-Sex Marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court justices will meet in private on Friday and could decide whether to take up cases involving state bans on marriage for same-sex couples, GavelGrab reports. The session comes in the wake of the first marriages occurring for same-sex couples in Florida. In addition, a federal appeals court will consider on Friday existing bans in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. 

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Florida Becomes 36th State to Allow Same Sex Marriage

Florida today became the 36th state to allow same-sex marriages, as two state court judges in Dade and Monroe counties ordered clerks to start issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Licenses are expected to be issued across the state tomorrow morning, under an order by a federal trial judge. In the wave of court rulings following the Supreme Court’s July 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, this is the first time that same-sex marriages will be allowed for an entire state even though there is as yet no ruling that is binding statewide — by any federal or state court. SCOTUSBlog has more.

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TBA Divorce Filings Initiative Gets Media Coverage

The TBA's legislative initiative to revise the timeline for when divorce filings become public is explored in today's Tennessean. The newspaper interviewed TBA President Jonathan Steen and Executive Director Allan Ramsaur, quoting Ramsaur as saying that sometimes court filings become public before a responding spouse has been notified and served with a protective order. That can raise safety issues for the filing spouse who may not have time to put plans in place to protect against retribution. “We think a targeted solution to this problem is that information about the filing of divorce should be delayed until the respondent is served,” Steen told the paper.

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Same-Sex Marriage Cases Added to Jan. 9 Conference

The U.S. Supreme Court’s electronic docket confirms that four same-sex marriage cases from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals – including one from Tennessee – have been distributed to the justices for consideration at their Jan. 9 conference, SCOTUSblog reports. While the court will not necessarily decide whether to hear the cases at that time, it is widely expected it ultimately will grant review of one or more of them, the blog indicates. Another case from Louisiana, which seeks to bypass consideration by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, also is ready for the justices’ consideration.

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Florida Same-Sex Marriages May Be Delayed

Same-sex marriages were set to start in Florida on Jan. 6, 2015, however, that is now uncertain after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas agreed to hear arguments over a federal judge’s decision to overturn the state’s ban. The Associated Press reports in The Columbia Daily Herald that Thomas can either act alone to continue the hold that is set to expire on Jan. 5, 2015, allow it to be lifted or bring the matter to his colleagues on the full court.

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Supreme Court Blocks Limit to Abortion Drug’s Use

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of an Arizona law aimed at limiting use of the increasingly popular abortion pill, National Public Radio reports. The pill was approved by the FDA in 2000 for the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Since then, scientists have developed safer and smaller doses that allow the drug to be used through the ninth week. Arizona's law would force doctors to use the pill only for the original, FDA-approved seven weeks. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked enforcement of the state statute, pending further litigation. The lower court said the law imposed "an undue burden" on a woman's right to have an abortion. The Supreme Court on Monday refused to intervene, meaning that at least for now, the Arizona law will not be enforced, and the "undue burden" test stands.

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New Years Polar Bear Plunge and 5K to Benefit Children’s Advocacy Center

The Children's Advocacy Center of the First Judicial District will host the Polar Bear Plunge and 5K on New Year’s Day, WJHL reports. You can start your New Year's resolution with an icy cold dip in the pool at the Wellness Center in Johnson City. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the race starts at 9 a.m. All proceeds benefits the center.

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State Opposes Review of Marriage Law

Tennessee today filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court urging it not to take up a recent decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the state’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. State officials argue in the petition that the Sixth Circuit’s decision is not in conflict with other Supreme Court decisions and that a split of opinion among the nation’s circuit courts does not compel the court to act. So far, Tennessee is the only state to oppose review. Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana and Michigan officials all support review of marriage laws from their states, which also were upheld by the Sixth Circuit. Metro Weekly News has more on the story and links to the filing.

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Haslam Addresses Public Safety Summit

While there has been progress in making Tennessee a safer state, much remains to be done, particularly on domestic violence, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday while kicking off a meeting of his public safety subcabinet in Nashville. The group, which Haslam formed four years ago, will focus on Tennessee’s sentencing laws, homeland security concerns, drug abuse and trafficking, the Associated Press reports. Haslam touted progress in reducing the number of domestic violence offenses in the state since 2010 (down nearly 14 percent) but said the state is 10th in the nation for domestic violence deaths and that rate is “still too high.” The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Humor: Haltom Warns About Christmas Tree Discord

If you are going to get your Christmas tree this weekend, read Bill Haltom's column in the December Tennessee Bar Journal first. In it he reveals why divorce lawyers love Christmas trees. "Remember folks, it took a crew of 17 big men at the Christmas tree lot to hoist the tree on top of the van. But once I get home, it’s Daddy’s job to personally lift this giant Sequoia off the minivan and carry it (the tree, not the minivan) into the house," Haltom writes. "My wife and I snipe at each other for hours while I clutch the Christmas tree and experience Yuletide acupuncture, as thousands of pine needles pierce my aching body. After several crash landings, we somehow manage to balance the tree. Of course, by this time, my wife and I are in no mood whatsoever to trim the tree, since we’ve stopped speaking to each other. Talk about Silent Night." Consider yourself warned, everyone, and happy tree decorating.

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Louisiana Asks Supreme Court to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Case

Lawyers for the state of Louisiana have joined with Michigan officials in asking the Supreme Court to resolve the question of whether states can ban same-sex couples from marrying. In the state’s response filed at the Supreme Court yesterday, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell argues that the justices should take the case because the state’s “case squarely implicates a spiraling national controversy that has already nullified the marriage laws of over 20 states and spawned a four-to-one circuit split.” The response from Louisiana came before the responses to other petitions filed earlier by same-sex couples in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, Buzzfeed News reports.

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Johnson City Awarded Family Justice Center Grant

Johnson City was awarded a three-year, $240,000 grant to establish a Family Justice Center for Johnson City/Washington County by the state's Office of Criminal Justice Programs, WJHL reports. The grant will be used to help reach the goals of Gov. Bill Haslam's Public Safety Action Plan to reduce the number of domestic violence incidents locally by establishing a Family Justice Center, a model that brings together a multi-disciplinary team of professionals under one roof to work together to provide coordinated services to family violence victims. According to the press release, Tennessee currently has two established Family Justice Centers, one in Knoxville and one in Memphis.

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