News

Paper: AG Confirmation Fractious Even Before It Begins

President Barack Obama has yet to reveal his choice to succeed Attorney General Eric Holder, but the Senate confirmation process already has become contentiousness, the Washington Post reports. With the midterm elections potentially shifting the balance of power in the chamber, some Republicans are arguing that hearings and votes on a new attorney general should be delayed until January. Democrats counter that Republicans should allow Obama to select his own cabinet. Holder’s decision to leave on the eve of a midterm election has no precedent in recent history, the paper reports – a fact that further complicates a confirmation process that has been a partisan flashpoint in recent years.

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Register by Oct. 27 for 2014 TBA Academy

If admission to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court is one of your career goals, don’t miss the opportunity to make it a reality during the 31st Annual TBA Academy, Dec. 2-3, in Washington, D.C. A select group of Tennessee attorneys will be able to take part in a private ceremony before the court and enjoy other events in the nation's capital. A reception and celebration dinner kick off the Academy, which also includes the opportunity to earn three hours of CLE credit. The group will stay at the Hay Adams Hotel, located across from the White House. Interested candidates should complete the required forms by Oct. 27. For information and a step-by-step guide on how to sign up, visit the TBA website.

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AG Eric Holder to Leave Post

Eric H. Holder Jr., who made history as the nation’s first African American attorney general, plans to leave his post as soon as a successor is confirmed, the Washington Post reports today. His departure was not unexpected. Holder drew tributes from Democrats and others, who called him an influential proponent of civil rights and criminal justice reform, but also criticism from Republicans, who have blasted him as a liberal activist focused more on pursuing his own agenda than enforcing the law.

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Roberts Warns Against Partisanship in Confirmations

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern Friday about growing partisanship in the judicial confirmation process and a public perception that politics factor into the court’s rulings, the Associated Press reports. Roberts told an audience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law that the partisan atmosphere in Washington would make it unlikely for justices such as Antonin Scalia or Ruth Bader Ginsburg to win confirmation today. He also suggested that politics displayed through the confirmation process feeds the public’s belief that the court is a political body akin to Congress and the White House. “That's not the way we do business," he said. "We’re not Republicans or Democrats.”

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Lawmakers Call on Federal Judge to Resign

Four members of the U.S. Congress are calling for the resignation of U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller, who was arrested on domestic violence charges last month. Republican Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and Democrat Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri say the Alabama judge should step down after allegedly throwing his wife to the floor, pulling her hair and kicking her at an Atlanta hotel. Fuller has accepted a plea deal to have the arrest removed if he undergoes domestic violence counseling. Politico has more on the story.

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Ohio Judge Named Chief of 6th Circuit Appeals Court

Ohio-based Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. has been tapped as the new chief judge of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his new position Cole will oversee the administrative responsibilities of the Cincinnati-based court. Prior to his nomination to the court, Cole worked as a litigator at the U.S. Department of Justice, as a law firm partner and as a bankruptcy judge. For years, he also taught courses on habeas and the 14th amendment at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. WDEF News 12 has the story.

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East Tennessee AUSAs Recognized by DOJ

Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) A. William Mackie, Perry H. Piper, Gregg L. Sullivan and Jeffrey E. Theodore of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Tennessee were four of the 243 Department of Justice employees recognized by Attorney General Eric Holder at the 30th annual Director’s Awards Ceremony in Washington D.C. U.S. Attorney Bill Killian, who oversees the four, praised them saying, “The awards given to these particular AUSAs highlight their accomplishments and achievements in cases involving national security concerns, the highest priority for the Department of Justice. It is gratifying that these AUSAs are recognized nationally for their exceptional work.” The Chattanoogan has more.

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Kagan Provides Peek into Court’s Everyday Workings

In an entertaining talk at Harvard Law School last week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan “pulled back the curtain a little on the nation’s highest court,” Harvard Law Today reports. Among the secrets she revealed is that it is her job, as the most junior justice, to answer the conference room door when clerks drop off items for another justice. “They will knock on the outer door, and then I have to hop up and open the inner door,” Kagan said. “If I don’t do it, nobody will.” Kagan also delved into topics that ranged from her most difficult court decision, to which justice gets the most laughs during oral arguments, to how she prepares for a case. She credits her previous job as solicitor general as a great training ground for the court and says she tries to remember what it was like on the firing line and “to at least be polite” when asking questions.

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Did Obama Drop Supreme Court Hint?

President Barack Obama thinks he will have the chance to nominate at least one more Supreme Court justice before his term is up, according to comments made to Democratic supporters at a fundraiser Monday in Martha's Vineyard, CNN reports. Obama used the potential appointment to elicit support for Democratic candidates, who he said are needed to maintain control of the U.S. Senate so his picks would be confirmed. “That's why I need a Democratic Senate,” Obama said. “Not to mention the fact that we’re going to have Supreme Court appointments …” A White House official later said Obama “meant to convey the important role the Senate would play in the event of a Supreme Court vacancy” not about “a specific vacancy.”

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Praise, Criticism for Federal Court Hopeful

Longtime legal colleagues as well as rivals for an appointment to the federal court say Travis McDonough, current chief of staff to the Chattanooga mayor, is qualified to fill the post. Colleagues who worked with McDonough at Miller & Martin praised his abilities. But some who opposed a city decision to cut retiree benefits say their experience with McDonough gives them pause over his future fairness, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. In his role with the mayor, McDonough headed a task force to reduce the city’s liability. The group decided to cut some benefits for retired police and firefighters, who now have sued over the cuts. Some of those involved in the debate called McDonough “brash and hateful” and said “he ran roughshod over the union.” McDonough declined to comment on the story, according to the paper.

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Chattanooga Attorney Rumored to be Federal Judge Nominee

Travis McDonough, chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, has been selected for nomination to fill the federal judge vacancy in Hamilton County when U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier steps down in October, sources say. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that multiple sources with knowledge of the process have confirmed that McDonough, a former attorney for Miller & Martin, has been notified that he will be President Barack Obama's nominee to the U.S. Senate to fill the upcoming vacancy.

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Court Strikes Down Obama Appointments; Rules Against Protest Buffers

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down President Obama’s three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the ABA Journal reports. In his opinion for the court today, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said Obama lacked the power to make the recess appointments during a three-day recess in January 2012 because the time period was too short. The Court also ruled today that a Massachusetts law banning abortion-clinic protests within a 35-foot buffer zone violates the First Amendment rights of protesters. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion for the court, which said the 35-foot buffer zone isn't narrowly tailored to carry out the state's aims of ensuring safety, preventing harassment and keeping clinic entrances free of obstruction. In a major decision yesterday, the Court ruled that police generally must get a warrant before searching the cellphone of a person who is arrested. Several more decisions are expected before the Court wraps up its session on June 30.

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Senate Confirms 3 Diverse Federal Judges

The Senate yesterday confirmed the first openly gay black man to a top-level federal judgeship, voting 98-0 to make Darrin Gayles a district court judge in Florida. Senators also confirmed Staci Yandle, an openly gay black woman, for a federal district judgeship in Illinois and Salvador Mendoza, a Hispanic man, for federal district judge in Washington state. President Obama has appointed more female and Hispanic federal judges than any previous president, WKRN News 2 reports. "These milestones are important not because these judges will consider cases differently, but because a judiciary that better resembles our nation instills even greater confidence in our justice system" and can serve as a future role model, presidential counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post. 

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6th Circuit Reverses Libel Verdict Against Website

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a $338,000 libel verdict awarded to a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader saying that while the allegations made against her on a gossip website were defamatory, the company that operates the site is not liable because third parties posted the content. The lower court had sided with Sarah Jones saying the company was not entitled to protection because it played a significant role in developing the material. The ABA Journal has more on the decision.

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Court Issues 3 Rulings Today, Others on Tap for Thursday

The religious rights of corporations, the speech rights of abortion protesters, the president’s power to make recess appointments and the privacy rights of those under arrest are among the big issues still unresolved at the Supreme Court, the Associated Press reports. The justices handed down three rulings Monday and will decide more of the 14 remaining cases on Thursday. The story, carried by WRCB-TV Chattanooga, looks at some of the key cases that remain.

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Reeves Lauded as 'Trailblazer' at Swearing-In Ceremony

Pamela L. Reeves was officially sworn in as the first female district judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee Friday. She was joined at the ceremony by fellow federal judges, Knoxville’s first female mayor Madeline Rogero and Gov. Bill Haslam, who delivered the keynote speech. Haslam pointed out the oddity of a Republican governor lauding an appointee of Democratic president but said, “I’m here because I love her story.” Noting that Reeves also was the first female president of the Tennessee Bar Association, current TBA President Cindy Wyrick said “Pam Reeves is a trailblazer” and “will be an outstanding judge who truly believes in equal justice for all.” Knoxnews has video comments from Reeves.

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Nashville’s New Courthouse Tops Judiciary Wish List

Nashville is again atop the U.S. judiciary's priority list for a new federal courthouse, but whether or how soon construction begins depends on Congress setting aside $182 million for the project, the Tennessean reports. The quest for a new courthouse to replace the Estes Kefauver Federal Building on Broadway has been a two-decade quest for Nashville's federal courts. Already, $26 million has been spent on land acquisition and design. "The many security, space and operational deficiencies of the aging (building) make a new Nashville federal courthouse the number one priority on the Judiciary's Five-Year Plan," said Judge D. Brooks Smith, the chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Space and Facilities.

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Collier to Take Senior Status

U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Collier, the senior federal judge in Chattanooga, is taking senior status, the Times Free Press reports. Collier, a native of Arkansas, is a former federal prosecutor. He has served on the bench for 19 years as the first and only black U.S. district judge in eastern Tennessee. According to the paper, those mentioned as replacements include federal Magistrate Susan Lee, attorneys Celeste Creswell, Lee Davis, Leah Gerbitz and Travis McDonough, chief of staff to Mayor Andy Berke.

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Federal Courts Librarian Dies

Federal courts librarian Joe Daugherty McClure died Friday (May 2) at the age of 64. A Clarksville native, McClure earned his law degree from the Nashville School of Law and was employed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals as the federal courts’ librarian in Middle Tennessee for 28 years. He also was a member of the Tennessee and Montgomery County bar associations and the Tennessee Library Association. Services were held today with internment at the Smith Cemetery in Big Rock. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Smith Cemetery Maintenance Fund, 270 Big Rock Rd., Big Rock, TN 37023. The Tennessean has more on McClure's life.

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City Wants to Use Grant for Federal Prosecutor

The city of Chattanooga is sitting on $300,000 from a federal grant intended to help crack down on crime, WRCB-TV reports. City officials said they plan on using the money to help fund a special federal prosecutor but need approval from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to change the grant’s purpose. Originally, the city applied for and was granted the money to hire a special prosecutor in the district attorney's office. City officials say they will submit the required paperwork in the next few weeks and should hear back from the DOJ within 30 to 60 days.

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New Head Named for Civil Rights Unit

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton has named Brian K. Coleman, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, to lead the civil rights unit of his office. Coleman has been a federal prosecutor since 2008 and was a state prosecutor before that. Stanton created the unit in 2011 to handle traditional civil rights violations, as well as government corruption, human trafficking and hate crime cases. Larry Laurenzi, who previously led the unit, has been named first assistant in the office, the Memphis Daily News reports.

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Lipman Confirmed for Federal Judgeship

Nine months after she was nominated, University of Memphis administrator Sheryl H. Lipman has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the newest federal judge for West Tennessee, the Commercial Appeal reports. The Senate today voted 95 to 0 to confirm Lipman, who President Obama nominated for the judgeship last August upon the recommendation of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. She replaces Jon McCalla, who announced last year that he was going on senior status.

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Accused Gang Member Fatally Shot During Trial

An accused street gang member standing trial in federal court in Salt Lake City who was shot by a U.S. marshal this morning has died of his wounds, according to an FBI spokesperson. The defendant was shot when he attacked a witness who was testifying against him, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said. The defendant, Siale Angilau, 25, who was not handcuffed, lunged at the witness on the first day of testimony in his trial. After the shooting, a group of marshals continued to hold Angilau at gunpoint near the jury box. The incident is being investigated by the FBI. The Chicago Tribute reported.

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Opinion: Public Suffers When Judgeships are Vacant

Americans who use the federal courts to resolve their cases are the ones hurt most by dozens of vacancies on the federal bench, Gavel Grab writes. Quoting heavily from an editorial that first appeared in the Bryan (Texas) Eagle, Gavel Grab points to 10 federal judgeships in Texas that have been vacant for an average of almost two years, and calls the situation “unacceptable.” The piece goes on to point out that there are 85 district court vacancies around the country, but only 48 nominees have been named to fill those posts. The editorial blames both the Obama Administration -- for not nominating more individuals -- and key senators -- for delaying votes on those who have been nominated.

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Court Passes on Range of Controversial Appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to enter the controversy over businesses refusing to serve gay and lesbian customers, Scotusblog reports, turning aside an appeal from the owners of a photography studio who had refused to work with a lesbian couple. The decision leaves intact an appellate court ruling that the studio violated state law prohibiting discrimination. In other significant denials, the court refused to hear a case upholding a ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates, declined to hear a case expediting a challenge to the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s telephone data gathering, refused to hear a case on testing federal court power to overturn an arbitration award, and denied a case assessing whether death-row inmates have a right to know the method of their execution in advance. The justices did grant one appeal to be reviewed in the next term. That case tests what information a party in a state court case must provide to have the case transferred to federal court.

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