News

Supreme Court: Suspension Too Lenient for Sex-Addicted Lawyer

The Tennessee Supreme Court has rejected as too lenient a 30-day suspension of the law license of Knoxville attorney Robert Vogal, who admitted to a sexual relationship with an indigent addict — an ethical lapse that Vogel blamed on sex addiction, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. In a rare move, the court is stepping in to hold its own hearing on what Vogel’s fate should be. Records from the U.S. District Court in Knoxville and the state Board of Professional Responsibility reveal Vogal continued to practice law in Knoxville and several East Tennessee counties while the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General carried out a secret probe of his actions. The result in both probes kept Vogal’s law license intact, albeit temporarily suspended, and netted him no ban on practicing in U.S. District Court, although he can no longer serve as a court-appointed attorney for the poor.

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Federal Court Speeds up 'Pro Se' Cases

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis sees one of the highest numbers of pro se filings – nearly 41 percent of all cases – and is one of the slowest in the country to close cases. To address these delays, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Diane K. Vescovo has implemented recommendations from a federal team that reviewed the matter, adding a fourth full-time employee and a new part-time person to screen filings for merit among other changes. Read more in the Commercial Appeal.

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Lynch Vote Delayed in Senate Impasse

A vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch has again been delayed as U.S. senators battle over an abortion-related provision in an anti-human trafficking bill, Fox News reports. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Democrats must help pass the bill before he will schedule a vote on Lynch.

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AG to Call for Lower Proof Standard in Civil Rights Cases

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says that he will soon call on Congress to lower the standard of proof in federal civil rights cases, to allow federal prosecution where local authorities are unable or unwilling to get a conviction. The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it found insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager in Florida. In a written statement, government lawyers said their decision in the case was "limited strictly to the department's inability to meet the high legal standard" in the civil rights statutes. WRCB has more from NBC News.

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Senate Judiciary Postpones AG Confirmation Vote

U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote has been postponed two weeks, the National Law Journal reports. Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said yesterday that he was dissatisfied with Lynch’s written answers this week in response to committee members’ posthearing questions and planned to send follow up questions to get additional clarification. The chairman’s decision sent the committee into a round of bickering, with Democrats accusing Republicans of unnecessary delay and Republicans defending the wait as business as usual.

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Senators Seek Majority Vote for Nominations

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mike Lee of Utah have introduced a resolution to change U.S. Senate rules governing the approval of presidential nominations, Chattanoogan.com reports. According to a joint statement, the resolution “would establish by rule the Senate tradition of approving presidential nominations of Cabinet members and judges by a simple majority vote, which existed from the time Thomas Jefferson wrote the rules in 1789 until 2003, when Democrats began filibustering federal circuit court of appeals nominees.”

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Waller Partner Nominated for Federal Judgeship

President Barack Obama has nominated Waller partner Waverly Crenshaw to replace retiring District Court Judge William Joseph Haynes Jr. on the federal bench in Nashville, the Nashville Post reports. After graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1981, Crenshaw worked as an assistant attorney general. He became Waller's first African-American attorney and partner in 1990. Crenshaw focuses his practice on employment law and, according to the firm, has grown that practice from two to more than 15 attorneys. His was one of four judicial appointments announced by the Obama administration yesterday.

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Justices Once Open to Cameras in Court Reconsider

Two Supreme Court justices who once seemed open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom said Monday they have reconsidered those views, the Associated Press reports. The move dashes whatever hope there was that April’s historic arguments over gay marriage might be televised. In separate appearances, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said allowing cameras might lead to grandstanding that could fundamentally change the nature of the high court. WRCB-TV has the AP story.

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Obama Budget Has $182M for New Nashville Courthouse

President Barack Obama today released a federal budget that includes $181.5 million to build a new courthouse in downtown Nashville. That provision means Nashville is as close as it has ever been to receiving a new home for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Though Congress must approve the funding, Sen. Lamar Alexander holds a key position on the Senate’s Appropriations Committee and has pledged to “work to make sure [the courthouse] is finally funded this year.” Other members of the state's congressional delegation, as well as the Tennessee Bar Association, also support funding for the new courthouse.

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Opinion: Find Compromise for Judicial Confirmation Process

Almost a month into the 114th Senate and the new Republican majority still doesn’t know what to do about filibusters of judicial nominations, according to Bloomberg News columnist Jonathan Bernstein. In an opinion piece republished in the Columbia Daily Herald, Berstein explains his idea of a compromise that would prevent blockades of nominations by the minority party, but would also give some check against easy confirmations.

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AG Nominee Picks Up GOP Support

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch picked up her first Republican endorsement Thursday en route to likely confirmation as the first black woman in the nation's top law enforcement job. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated that Lynch was an “exceptionally well-qualified candidate and a very good person, to boot.” Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona also said they were likely to support her. Lynch needs only two Republican votes on the panel if all Democrats back her. From there, her nomination would move to the full Senate, where she also is likely to win approval. WRCB has more from the Associated Press.

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Stay Issued In Alabama Same Sex Marriage Case

Two days after a federal judge overturned Alabama's ban on same-sex marriages, a 14-day stay was granted on behalf of the suit's sole defendant, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, WMSV reports. Strange moved for a stay of the order, pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on similar cases in other states. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore also commented on the ruling, stating in a letter to Gov. Robert Bently that a federal court ruling doesn't bind Alabama judges. Moore’s letter said he stood with the governor “to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority,” and that that the institution of marriage is being destroyed by federal courts using “specious pretexts” such as the equal protection, due process and full faith and credit clauses. The ABA Journal has more.

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U.S Attorney’s Office Celebrates 225 Year

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee recently celebrated the 225th birthday of the U.S. Attorney’s Office by holding a reception in Knoxville. The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the office, directing the President to appoint “a meet person learned in the law to act as an attorney for the United States” in each federal district. The Eastern District of Tennessee is the largest office in the state, encompassing 41 of the 95 counties, spanning 420 miles, and serving over 2.6 million people. The Hamilton County Herald has more.

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DOJ’s Public Integrity Chief May Be Heading to Nashville

According to Nashville Post sources, the head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section is coming to Nashville. Jack Smith, who has led the section since 2010, reportedly will become the second in charge in the U.S. Attorney’s office here. An official announcement is expected later this week. During Smith’s tenure in office, the section prosecuted former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New York Congressman Michael Grimm. But it came under fire for its handling of cases against John Edwards and Ted Stevens.

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Process Set for Selecting New Magistrate Judge

The Judicial Conference of the United States has authorized the appointment of a full-time magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville. The new magistrate will replace Judge Juliet Griffin, who is retiring. Applications must be submitted only by applicants personally and must be received no later than 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 17.

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Mayor Serving on Merit Selection Panel

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland has been named to the merit selection panel for choosing a new U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the Cleveland Banner reports. Chattanooga attorney Sam Elliott is serving as chairman of the nine-member panel tasked with filling retiring Magistrate William Carter’s position. Rowland said the initial group of applications had been narrowed and five nominations would be selected from this smaller pool.

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Lawmakers Urge SCOTUS to Allow Cameras in the Courtroom

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to implement video recording of oral arguments, the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill reports. The congressmen’s remarks came after Chief Justice John Roberts’ year-end report made no direct mention of introducing cameras in the courtroom, but did say that the court is “understandably circumspect in introducing change to a court system that works well.” Connolly told the paper that the court “is a human institution...a branch of government… [that] needs to come into the 21st century.” In an editorial supporting cameras in the court, columnist Marsha Mercer looks at the issues involved. Tri-Cities.com carried the piece.

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Corker Supports McDonough Nomination

Sen. Bob Corker yesterday announced his support for Travis McDonough, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Judge Curtis Collier on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, the Times Free Press reports. “Travis McDonough is well-respected in Chattanooga, and I look forward to supporting his nomination,” Corker said in an email. Tennessee’s senior senator Lamar Alexander said he was looking “forward to learning more about…McDonough and his interest in serving.” The White House says that McDonough’s fate now lies with the Senate as his name has officially been submitted.

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Apply for Western District Court Vacancy by Jan. 16

Lawyers interested in filling the U.S. District Court seat now held by Judge Samuel H. Mays Jr.  should send their resumes to U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis. An announcement from the congressman says that Mays has requested to take senior status in the Western District of Tennessee in July. Those interested in filling the vacancy should provide a resume, college and law school transcripts, and a letter describing the applicant’s history, experience in the federal courts and reasons for seeking the nomination. All materials should be sent to Cohen’s assistant Beanie Self no later than Jan. 16.

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Supreme Court Moving to Electronic Filing

The Supreme Court is moving toward a full and free-access system for all documents filed in cases before the Justices — a system expected to be working “as soon as 2016,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., revealed in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary. The Court already receives some of its filings electronically, but the present arrangements do not include all filings. The Chief Justice’s annual report was dominated by a theme of technological advances and their impact on the operation of the courts, SCOTUSBlog reports.

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Tennessee Joins Immigration Lawsuit

Tennessee will join a lawsuit challenging recent immigration actions by President Barack Obama, the Tennessean reports. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said the suit is not really about immigration. “It is really more about the rule of law and the limitations that prevent the executive branch from taking over a role constitutionally reserved for Congress," he said. "The executive directives issued by the White House and Homeland Security conflict with existing federal law." Tennessee is the 25th state to join the suit, originally brought by the state of Texas.

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Senate to Consider Additional Judicial Nominees

Lawmakers negotiated Tuesday over a final batch of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees with Democrats hoping to win Senate confirmation for up to a dozen of them, the Associated Press reports. The Senate has approved 76 federal court of appeals and district court judges so far this year. Confirmation of 12 more would bring the total to 88 – the highest annual figure in 20 years. Senate leaders are hoping to end this year’s session as soon as tonight. WRCB-TV has the AP story.

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Circuits Split on Definition of ‘Applicant’

In her Journal column this month, Kathryn Reed Edge makes a prediction: "As the financial crisis wanes and fewer banks are plagued by their borrowers’ credit problems, we in the business are seeing the federal banking agencies gear up for an energetic assault on consumer compliance violations." And adding to the confusion that many bank compliance officers have in interpreting the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, she writes that two judicial circuits, the 6th and the 8th, "have split on a seemingly simple issue of the definition of 'applicant' under the ECOA." She explains the important differences and advises readers of her column "Bank On It" to watch the U.S. Supreme Court for an answer.

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Confirmations Up, Judicial Openings Down

The number of empty federal judgeships is now at its lowest level since President Obama’s first year in office, the Brennan Center reports from The Bulletin. As of Nov. 28, there were 56 federal court vacancies, of which 19 were considered judicial emergencies. The Senate is poised to conclude its most productive two-year period of judicial confirmations since the Clinton administration when it confirmed 128 judges during 1993-1994. The current Senate has confirmed 122 since January 2013, with more confirmations likely upcoming.

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The Obama Brief

CNN legal analyst and New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin analyzes the judicial legacy President Barack Obama is leaving on the D.C circuit and federal courts around the country. Obama has had 280 judges confirmed, which represents about a third of the federal judiciary. Two of his choices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, were nominated to the Supreme Court; 53 were named to the circuit courts of appeals, 223 to the district courts, and two to the Court of International Trade. Obama’s judicial nominees look different from their predecessors, as well. Forty-two per cent of his judgeships have gone to women, compared to 22 per cent of George W. Bush’s judges and 29 per cent of Bill Clinton’s. Thirty-six per cent of President Obama’s judges have been minorities, compared with 18 cent for Bush and 24 percent for Clinton. Additionally, Obama has increased the number of openly gay judges to 10.

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