News

Services This Weekend for Former U.S. Attorney

Ernest Wilson “Ernie” Williams died Nov. 30 at the age of 69. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, with a tour of duty in Vietnam, Williams earned his law degree from the Nashville School of Law. He practiced law in Franklin until being appointed U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee by President George H.W. Bush. He held that post from 1991 to 1993. He later served as a Williamson County commissioner and general sessions judge. Visitation will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home and from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday at Bethlehem United Methodist Church. Funeral services will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at the church. Burial will follow in Williamson Memorial Gardens.

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Future Unclear for Dodd-Frank’s Many Banking Changes

Throughout the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised to rescind the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The 2010 law placed new regulations on banks and restricted the ways they can trade or speculate. It also created the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, amended legal protections for corporate whistleblowers and established new guidelines for corporate governance. Trump has argued the law has allowed big banks to get bigger, while putting community banks out of business. Some legal observers question whether the act can be repealed in its entirety given its scope. Several share their observations and predictions about the act’s future with the ABA Journal.

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New Rule Expands Judges’ Authority for Digital Device Warrants

Congress had a full seven months to block a rule change for federal courts that lets judges authorize the hacking of digital devices beyond their districts. But after an attempt in the Senate to vote on the measure failed, opponents waited until the day before the rule change was to take effect to introduce three motions aimed at delaying its implementation. They were not successful, so as of today, the change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, goes into effect. Opponents of the change question its impact on privacy rights while supporters say digital devices make jurisdiction-specific search warrants impractical. Nashville Public Radio looks at the issue.

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Memphians Share Policing Concerns with DOJ

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) were in Memphis yesterday to meet with residents and discuss their concerns about the Memphis Police Department. Comments at the forum were plentiful and included complaints such as not being able to reach 911 operators, police not identifying themselves before taking action, and a general sense of disconnect between officers and the community. The meeting, one of two that will be held, is the first step in a three-part review by DOJ. The second step will be a published report of recommendations for improvement. The third and final step will entail the DOJ helping the police department make needed changes. News Channel 5 has more from the meeting.

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Tennessee Attorneys Admitted to Practice Before Supreme Court at TBA Academy

A group of attorneys from across Tennessee were sworn in to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court today as part of the 33rd Annual TBA Academy. Along with the admissions ceremony, the attorneys took part in other networking and educational activities at the Supreme Court and on Capitol Hill. One highlight of this year's event was when TBA President Jason Long made the motion for admission of his wife, Carol Anne Long.

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Justices Appear Sympathetic to Intellectual Disability Issues

A majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared ready to side with a man sentenced to death for a 1980 Houston murder who is challenging how Texas gauges whether a defendant has intellectual disabilities that would preclude execution, Reuters reports. The court ruled in 2002 that execution of the intellectually disabled violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. At issue in this case is whether Texas is using an obsolete standard to assess whether the defendant is intellectually disabled.

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Justices Rule against Politician in Bribery Case

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued its first ruling of the October term, deciding unanimously against a Puerto Rican politician who had sought to avoid a second trial on corruption charges after his original conviction was tossed out. The decision was a setback to Hector Martinez Maldonado, who served in Puerto Rico’s Senate from 2005 until his 2011 conviction, as well as businessman Juan Bravo Fernandez, the former president of a private security company. Prosecutors have argued that Fernandez sought to bribe Maldonado to win passage of legislation that would benefit his business. Reuters has more on the case.

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Judge Garland Heading Back to Old Job

Judge Merrick Garland will soon put on his black judicial robe for the first time in months as he goes back to his old job as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Garland now joins a small group of people nominated but not confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Associated Press reports. Garland stopped hearing cases after being nominated by President Obama in March to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. The Paris Post-Intelligencer has the story.

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Trump Names Jones Day Partner as White House Counsel

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Jones Day partner and election lawyer Donald McGahn as his White House counsel, the ABA Journal reported today. Trump said in an announcement that McGahn has a “brilliant legal mind, excellent character and a deep understanding of constitutional law.” McGahn previously served as general counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee. At Jones Day, he handles government regulation matters.

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Is Harold Ford Jr. Being Considered for Trump Cabinet?

Former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford Jr. may be under consideration for a post in the Trump administration, according to the website Politico. Transportation secretary has been mentioned though “other Cabinet posts have not been ruled out.” Ford, a Democrat, supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential campaign, but he is friends with some of Donald Trump’s children. Two sources confirmed that preliminary feelers have been put out about potential posts via “emissaries.” Ford represented Tennessee’s Ninth Congressional District from 1997 through 2007. He left that post to run for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost to current Sen. Bob Corker. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Obama Hits 1,000 Mark for Commutations

President Barack Obama surpassed the 1,000 mark for commutations granted during his presidency after shortening sentences for another 79 people yesterday. Obama has been granting commutations at rapid-fire pace in his final months in office. All told, he has commuted more sentences than the past 11 presidents combined, according to the White House. Most of those who have received clemency are nonviolent drug offenders, though many were also convicted of firearms violations related to drug crimes, the Associated Press reports. Though Obama is expected to grant more commutations in his final weeks, officials acknowledge a large number of applications will be pending after the president leaves office. WRCB-TV has the story.

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CLE Explores New Rules for Wellness Programs

New rules from the EEOC impacting what incentive employers may offer to employees who provide medical information as part of a wellness program under the Americans with Disabilities Act take effect Jan. 1. Nashville lawyer Fredrick Bissinger, with Wimberly Lawson Wright Daves & Jones, will cover the do’s and don’ts of the new rules at a webcast CLE on Dec. 6. Get more information or register online.

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Federal Suit Filed Against Shelby County Jail

A class action lawsuit was filed yesterday against Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham seeking damages of $10 million for those kept in the jail for “unreasonable periods of time,” Memphis Flyer reports. The federal suit was filed by Just City after reports that the jail was plagued by administrative issues for two weeks while a computer system was updated. “Inmates are being lost in the Shelby County Jail system, those who have gotten bonds aren’t being released, inmates are sleeping on the floors” and the entire system is in “disarray,” according to the group’s executive director.

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Senate Judiciary to be Led by 2 Non-Lawyers

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will be led by two non-lawyers in the next Congress. Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa -- the committee's first ever non-lawyer chair -- will continue in the position he has held since 2014. This week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, became the ranking member of the committee. She replaces Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who was a practicing attorney before he joined Congress. Responding to concerns that Feinstein is not a lawyer, her former chief counsel said the move “illustrates how legal issues are increasingly seen as societal and political issues” and that having “good, hard-working, smart people running these committees” is more important than whether they have a law degree. Today’s General Counsel has an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal story.

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Judge Blocks Union ‘Persuader Rule’

A Texas-based federal judge yesterday blocked the Obama administration’s “persuader rule,” which would have required third-party lawyers and other labor consultants to publicly disclose work they do for companies related to union organization efforts, even if they do not contact employees directly. U.S. Judge Sam Cummings finalized a temporary injunction he issued against the rule in June. Cummings said the rule oversteps the Labor Department’s authority under federal law. The Nashville Business Journal has more on the decision.

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Federal Judge Campbell to Retire Dec. 1

U.S. District Court Judge Todd J. Campbell announced today that he would retire from the bench effective Dec. 1. Campbell, who has served the Middle District of Tennessee for more than 20 years, including seven as chief judge, led the court through a number of significant accomplishments including implementation of an electronic filing and online jury reporting system, securing the new federal courthouse, revising local rules to conform with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, creating an accessible courtroom for individuals with disabilities, supporting law school scholarships for disadvantaged students, and providing free educational programs for attorneys around major cases decided by the court. In a statement released today, Chief Judge Kevin H. Sharp said, “Words cannot capture all that Judge Campbell has meant to his colleagues, this district and the Sixth Circuit … his sage advice and counsel to his fellow judges will be sorely missed.” The Tennessean has more on the news.

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Nashville Moves to Dismiss AT&T Lawsuit

Metro Nashville government filed a motion on Monday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by AT&T seeking to strike down the city’s controversial One Touch Make Ready law, which is being pushed by Google Fiber. The city refutes AT&T’s key complaint that regulation of privately owned utility poles falls under the jurisdiction of the FCC and not local governments. But it asked the court to seek FCC review if it believes the ordinance conflicts with federal law. Though the judge overseeing the case consolidated suits from AT&T and Comcast, the city says it must file separate motions responding to each. The Tennessean has more on the story.

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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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Is Justice Kennedy About to Retire?

Those who suggest that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy may be getting ready to retire point to several recent developments: Kennedy has scheduled his next clerkship reunion for 2017, one year shy of the five-year cycle he typically has followed; he did not teach abroad this summer, suggesting he may be winding down his schedule; and he has hired just one law clerk for the 2017 term. But the court’s spokeswoman says Kennedy is in the process of hiring more clerks and has plans to return to Salzburg in 2017. As for the timing of the reunion, he wanted to hold it the year he turned 80, she says. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Trump’s Supreme Court List Reflects ‘Revolt against Elites’

When Donald J. Trump issued his list of 21 potential nominees to the Supreme Court in September, he made a vow. “This list is definitive,” he said, “and I will choose only from it in picking future justices of the Supreme Court.” According to the New York Times, the list manages “to reassure the conservative legal establishment and to represent a rebellion against it.” But the major theme, the paper argues, is that Trump’s picks primarily went to law schools other than Harvard or Yale and reside in the country’s heartland rather than the coasts. The list, like his campaign, is a “revolt against the elites,” the paper concludes.

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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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Stanton Unlikely to Get Confirmation Vote

USA Today is reporting that Donald Trump’s presidential election victory most likely means the end of U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III’s prospects of becoming a federal judge. Stanton was nominated by President Barack Obama and has been waiting more than a year and a half for Senate confirmation. He is one of 52 Obama judicial nominees in limbo. “I can’t imagine that, with the change in government, any additional district judges will be confirmed,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Chattanooga. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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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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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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Courts Decline to Pre-emptively Act on Intimidation Claims

The U.S. Supreme Court and federal judges in three states turned down requests yesterday by Democrats trying to head off what they say were plans by Donald Trump’s supporters and a group known as Stop the Steal to harass and intimidate voters on Election Day. The Supreme Court issued a one-page denial in a case out of Ohio, while federal courts in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Nevada also refused to act. Most of the judges said voter intimidation is already illegal and that the group did not present evidence of actual intimidation. They however pledged to monitor the day's activities closely. WRCB-TV has more from the Associated Press.

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