News

Supreme Court Comes Down Against Race-Based Testimony

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a death-row inmate whose expert witness testified he is more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black, the ABA Journal reports. The inmate had been convicted in Texas in 1995 during a time in which a death sentence couldn’t be imposed unless jurors believed the convicted presented a future danger. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 6-2 majority opinion.
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Accused Knox County Rapist Free on Bond

A man who fled the country after child rape accusations in 1994 is now free on bond, Knoxnews reports. Jahangir John Shafighi, who was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl in 1992 while attending graduate school at the University of Tennessee, was captured last year in Atlanta and nailed with a passport fraud charge, but was released on bond. Knox County Assistant District Attorney Joanie Stewart has fought to keep Shafighi behind bars to guarantee he will show up at trial in the rape case.
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Tennessee Man Found Guilty of Plotting Attack on Muslim Community

Robert Doggart, the Sequatchie County man who was accused of plotting to attack a Muslim community in New York, was found guilty of all charges by Chattanooga’s U.S. District Court today, the Times Free Press reports. The former engineer at the Tennessee Valley Authority faced federal charges including one count of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation, one count to commit arson of a building and two counts of threats in interstate commerce. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 31.
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Right-wing Extremist Will Not Be Labeled ‘Terrorist’

Classifying the crimes of Robert Doggart, the Tennessee man charged with planning to attack a Muslim community in New York, is drawing controversy, the Times Free Press reports. Attorneys representing the Muslim community of Islamberg said that Doggart meets the qualifications of domestic terrorism, but federal prosecutors are using nonterrorism charges because the current statutes are largely aimed at foreign radical groups, and not homegrown extremists like South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof or Doggart.
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TBA Mashup and Mini Legal Hackathon this Friday

In conjunction with the Law Tech UnConference CLE this Friday, the TBA is also offering a variety of free events and programs for lawyers we’re calling a Mashup. One program will teach you about Legal Hackathons and see one in action. A Legal Hackathon is a collaborative effort of experts in the legal profession collaborating with a computer programmer to find a technology assisted solution to a problem in the legal industry. Join the TBA Special Committee on the Evolving Legal Market for a mini legal hackathon that will demonstrate the power of collaborative minds at work. We will have tasty beverages and snacks to help you get your collaborative juices flowing.  
 
Other programs that will be a part of the Mashup include Pro Bono In Action which will show you various pro bono programs you can participate in to help your fellow Tennesseans and Member Benefit Programs that will provide you information on  Fastcase 7, health insurance options for small firms, ABA retirement funds and professional liability insurance.
 
Please sign up now to let us know you are coming.

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Company Claims No Federal Liability in Bus Crash Lawsuit

Durham School Services, the company contracted to provide busing services to Hamilton County Schools, said it should not be held liable in federal court for its role in the November bus crash that killed five students, the Times Free Press reports. The company responded to a federal class-action lawsuit filed against it in December, saying that the plaintiffs have “a proper and adequate remedy in a state court tort action.”
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Appeals Court Upholds Travel Ban Suspension

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the suspension of President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order, CNBC reports. A panel of three judges in San Francisco decided the case, brought before the appellate court after U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban. The states of Washington and Minnesota initiated the suit. Read the full opinion here.
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Jeff Sessions Confirmed as U.S. Attorney General

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed last night as U.S. Attorney General, NBC News reports. The final vote was 52-47, straight across party lines with the exception of Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who voted in favor. This was the Sessions' second attempt at a Senate confirmation. His first attempt, in 1986, was for a federal judgeship, which failed after he was accused of racial insensitivity. 
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Gorsuch Calls Trump Attacks on Judiciary 'Demoralizing'

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch expressed consternation at President Trump’s negative remarks towards the judiciary, the New York Times reports. A White House advisor confirmed that Gorsuch had called Trump’s remarks “demoralizing” and “disheartening.” Via Twitter, Trump had earlier attacked a Seattle judge who temporarily blocked his travel ban, calling him a “so-called judge” whose ruling was “ridiculous.” Trump also  complained that judicial review of the ban was “disgraceful” and “so political.” 
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Chattanooga VW Employee Files Brief Against NLRB Decision

A Chattanooga Volkswagon employee is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit to overturn a National Labor Relations Board decision that allows the United Auto Workers to bargain on behalf of maintenance employees at the plant, Nooga.com reports. A spokesperson from the National Right to Work Foundation, which provided free legal help to the employee, said the decision forced workers “into a monopoly union.”
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SCOTUS Pick Expected Tomorrow

Multiple sources are reporting that President Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court will be announced live on television tomorrow at 8 p.m. EST, according to the ABA Journal. Three finalists confirmed to replace Judge Antonin Scalia are Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge William Pryor of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Thomas Hardiman of the Philiadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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Judges Block Trump Travel Ban, Tennessee Delegation Split

At least five judges over the weekend partially blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, the ABA Journal says. Federal judges in Brooklyn, Boston, Alexandra, Los Angeles and Seattle issued injunctions. In Tennessee, Reps. Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen both say they will join fellow Democrats in sponsoring legislation that would bar the use of federal funds to enforce the travel ban, the Commercial Appeal reports. Tennessee Republicans in Congress defended the actions, calling them a "necessary step" to strengthening national security. Some also admitted the actions were sometimes poorly carried out.
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Chief Judge Sharp to Resign, Launch New Practice

Chief U.S. District Judge Kevin H. Sharp resigned today, the Tennessean reports. The Nashville judge confirmed to the newspaper that he has submitted his resignation letter to President Donald Trump, whose administration will now need to nominate two people to federal judgeships in the Middle District of Tennessee. Judge Todd Campbell announced last fall that he would be taking senior status. The Nashville Post reports that Sharp will shift his focus to opening a Nashville office for Sanford Heisler, an employment and public interest law firm that has two offices on each coast.
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Burst Pipe Floods Memphis Federal Building

A pipe burst over the weekend at the Federal Building in Memphis, leading to the closure of the clerk's office through Wednesday. Courtroom proceedings for Memphis judges will continue as scheduled, and the grand jury session scheduled for Tuesday will go forward. Counsel will be notified of scheduling changes. 
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Obama Cuts Sentences for Hundreds More

President Barack Obama today reduced or eliminated the sentences of hundreds more drug offenders, CNN reports. The move brings his total commutations to 1,385 individuals, the vast majority of whom have been serving mandatory minimum sentences for crimes related to distribution or production of narcotics. The group approved today also included Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of passing classified information to WikiLeaks, and James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was convicted of making false statements to investigators when questioned about leaking classified information to two journalists. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Justice Department officials have been working nonstop to complete their review of more than 16,000 clemency petitions filed by federal prisoners.

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Trump Promises Court Nominee in 2 Weeks

President-elect Donald Trump says he expects to announce a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court within two weeks of his inauguration. According to Above the Law, Trump has met with 11th Circuit Court Judge William Pryor, reportedly the leading candidate for the post. The ABA Journal also reports that the president-elect has identified Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo, Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint and a number of Republican lawmakers as advising him on the choice.

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USDA Tightens Rules on Training Tennessee Walking Horses

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday announced several changes to the Horse Protection Act aimed at ending the practice of soring, the Tennessean reports. The new rule, which would go into effect on Jan.1, 2018, bans much of the gear used in the process, including chains that are placed around a horse’s ankles and weights that are attached to the front hooves during training. The rule also directs industry inspectors to become trained and licensed through the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, based in Shelbyville, said it plans to challenge the regulatory action.

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Takata Workers Indicted Over Air Bag Defects

A federal grand jury in Detroit has indicted three former employees of Takata Corp., charging them with concealing deadly defects in the Japanese company’s automotive air bag inflators, the Associated Press reports. The indictments on six counts of conspiracy and wire fraud were unsealed Friday, just hours ahead of a Justice Department news conference to announce a corporate penalty against the company. The FBI has been investigating allegations that the company deceived federal regulators and tried to cover up the air bag problems.

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DOJ to Investigate FBI’s Pre-Election Activities

The U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general will review how the FBI and the DOJ handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced yesterday. Horowitz said the probe would include a review of whether improper considerations influenced investigative decisions and whether proper procedures were followed regarding announcement of the closed probe in July and an Oct. 28 disclosure that newly discovered emails were being investigated. FBI Director James Comey concluded after the second review that prosecution still was not warranted. Some have suggested that the late October announcement negatively impacted support for Clinton. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Court Weighs Education Benefits for Disabled Students

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed willing to put more teeth into a law that requires public schools to help learning-disabled students, the Associated Press reports. Most of the justices indicated that school districts must offer more than the bare minimum of services to children with special needs. But they struggled over how to clarify the law without inviting more litigation between frustrated parents and cash-strapped schools. The court is considering an appeal from the parents of an autistic teen who say his public school did not provide sufficient services and are seeking reimbursement for the costs of sending him to a private school.

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VW Reaches $4.3 Billion Deal to Settle Civil, Criminal Charges

Volkswagen has agreed to a $4.3 billion settlement to resolve civil and criminal investigations into the German automaker's diesel emissions cheating, Reuters reports this afternoon. U.S. prosecutors also charged six Volkswagen executives and employees for their roles in the nearly 10-year conspiracy to mislead regulators and customers about diesel emissions from VW cars. Volkswagen had previously agreed to spend up to $17.5 billion in the United States to resolve claims by U.S. regulators, owners and dealers and offered to buy back nearly 500,000 polluting vehicles.

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Court Declines to Hear Backpage Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday decided not to hear the case of Jane Doe v. Backpage.com, a civil suit filed by sex-trafficking victims that contends the website helps facilitate sex trafficking of minors. That decision leaves in place a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that the company is covered by the Communications Decency Act and protected from claims against third-party content. Despite that win, Backpage.com announced Monday it is shutting down its adult advertising section, the ABA Journal reports. The move appears to be a response to a report from a Senate subcommittee accusing the company of editing ads to remove evidence of child sex trafficking.

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Groups Plan Ad Campaign to Help Court Nominee

A number of conservative groups are launching a coordinated effort to build support for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, the ABA Journal reports. The plan includes ad buys in states that supported Trump in the presidential election and also will have moderate Democrat senators on the ballot in 2018. The Judicial Crisis Network says it will spend up to $10 million on the effort after having spent $7 million in efforts to prevent the Obama administration from filling the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year. “We are preparing to launch the most robust campaign for a Supreme Court nominee in history,” JCN’s chief counsel said.

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Sessions’ Hearing Hits Hot Button Issues

Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions went before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today and mounted a full-scale response to what he has described as character attacks against him and false charges about his past. The hearing, which was interrupted from time to time by protestors, covered a range of “hot button” issues including civil rights, immigration, a border wall, same-sex marriage and abortion, with Sessions saying he will uphold the law even if he does not agree with it. Sessions also said he would recuse himself from any investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation given his past comments on those issues. The hearing continues tomorrow with unprecedented testimony by one sitting senator, Illinois’ Cory Booker, against another. Read Sessions’ opening statement.

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Lawmakers Re-file Bill to Name Courthouse for Thompson

The Tennessee congressional delegation re-filed legislation Monday to name the new federal courthouse in Nashville after former Sen. Fred Thompson, Knoxnews reports. A similar bill was approved by the House of Representatives last year but the congressional term ended before the Senate considered it. The Tennessean had that story. The new $194 million structure would be known as the Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse under the proposed legislation. Thompson, who died in 2015 at age 73, represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003.

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