News

1st Criminal Meningitis Trial Starts Today

After a lengthy federal probe and two years of legal battles, the first criminal trial associated with the fungal meningitis outbreak caused by tainted steroid injections starts this week, USA Today reports. Victims are watching as Barry J. Cadden, director of the New England Compounding Center, which made the injections, is charged with 25 counts of second-degree murder. Opening statements were scheduled to begin today. About 750 people nationwide were sickened by the injections and 76 died. Federal officials have alleged that the pharmacy did not follow regulations and procedures when preparing more than 10,000 tainted doses of methylprednisolone acetate. Tennessee was the second-hardest hit state, with 153 illnesses and 16 deaths, according to the Tennessean.

read more »

Court to Hear 2 Free Speech Cases This Month

The U.S. Supreme Court’s January oral argument calendar includes two major cases about freedom of speech and how far the First Amendment extends to limit government regulation. Erwin Chemerinsky writes about the cases of Lee v. Tam and Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman in the ABA Journal.

read more »

Texas Sues FDA over Seizure of Lethal Injection Drugs

Texas officials have filed a federal lawsuit to force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make a decision whether it will return lethal injection drugs the agency confiscated nearly a year and a half ago. “There are only two reasons why the FDA would take 17 months to make a final decision on Texas’ importation of thiopental sodium: gross incompetence or willful obstruction,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton says in the suit. The Washington Post reports that the state had purchased 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental from a foreign distributor, but the drugs were seized by the FDA at the Houston airport in 2015. Texas authorities argue that the drugs do not violate any of the statutes enforced by the FDA.

read more »

Credit Reporting Companies Settle Federal Case

Credit reporting companies Equifax and TransUnion have agreed to pay more than $23 million to resolve claims they misled consumers and lured them into paying monthly fees for credit-related products, the ABA Journal reports. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced the settlement this week. According to regulators, the companies touted free or $1 credit scores while enrolling people in automatic renewal programs that cost $16 or more a month, and falsely portrayed the credit scores marketed to consumers as the same scores used by lenders for credit decisions. In reality, lenders use a variety of credit scores, which can vary by provider and target industry.

read more »

State Sued over Driver’s License Law

A lawsuit filed in federal court this week alleges that the state’s driver’s license law violates constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, and unfairly deprives the poor of the right to drive because they cannot pay court fees. The suit, brought by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the Memphis-based reform group Just City and the Memphis office of Baker Donelson, argues that more than 146,000 Tennesseans have had their driver’s licenses revoked since 2012 for not paying court fines. State law provides for automatic revocation when court fines go unpaid for a year. The suit asks the Nashville-based court to reinstate the revoked licenses and waive reinstatement fees for those impacted, the Tennessean reports.

read more »

Trump Picks 'Big Law' Lawyers for Key Posts

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Robert Lighthizer, a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom, as his nominee for U.S. trade representative. Lighthizer served as deputy U.S. trade representative in the Reagan administration and has been critical of China’s trade practices. At Skadden, he has represented companies seeking access to foreign markets and litigated antidumping and other trade cases. The ABA Journal has links to several stories on the nomination. Trump also has nominated Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, News Channel 9 reports. Clayton is a partner in the New York City office of Sullivan & Cromwell.

read more »

Schumer, Democrats Prepared to Block Trump Court Pick

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says he is prepared to block President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee if he or she is not in the “mainstream.” In an interview yesterday, Schumer said it is “hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support that we could support.” Asked if he would do his best to hold the seat open, Schumer responded, “Absolutely.” Schumer also said Democrats will push for a mainstream nominee, according to Roll Call.

read more »

Roberts Praises Lower Court Judges in Annual Report

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts devoted his annual report on the state of the judiciary to the role of lower court judges he calls “selfless, patriotic and brave individuals.” The report, which sheds light each year on an issue identified by the chief justice, maintains that the lower court judges play a “crucial role” but are not often the focus of public attention. Roberts asks why any lawyer would want a job that requires long hours, exacting skill and intense devotion, while promising high stress, solitary confinement and guaranteed criticism. But finds that many of those willing to make that sacrifice are motivated by the “rewards of public service.” Local Memphis has the story from CNN.

read more »

Have You Heard About the TBA Mashup?

Interested in observing a legal hackathon or getting a hands-on demonstration of the new Fastcase 7 platform? Both will be part of the first TBA Mashup, a full-day of activities and free programming set for Feb. 17 at the Tennessee Bar Center in conjunction with the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program.

In addition to the hackathon and Fastcase 7 demo, the TBA Mashup will feature sessions on: 

  • Current State of Health Insurance for the Small Firms
  • Professional Liability Insurance - What to look for in YOUR Policy
  • A Demo of Fastcase TopForm, a powerful bankruptcy filing software
  • Retirement Planning Guidance from the ABA Retirement Funds
  • Pro Bono in Action: How to help with pro bono events and how to take part in online options

At the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program, you can take as many or as few hours as you need. Registration will be open all day. Payment will be determined at checkout based on the hours you need. Topics will include: 

  • Bill & Phil Tech Show
  • Ethical Considerations for Cyber Security in Law
  • Evolution of the Legal Marketplace
  • Making e-Discovery Affordable 
  • Drone Law
  • Encryption for Lawyers

read more »

Obama Signs Bill to Review Civil Rights-Era Killings

Racially motivated, civil rights-era killings that are now cold cases will get a fresh look under legislation signed by President Barack Obama, PBS reports. The measure, signed last week, extends a 2007 law that calls for a full accounting of race-based deaths, many of which have been closed for decades. It also provides federal resources to help local jurisdictions look into the cases, extends the time frame of cases to be considered and requires the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI to consult with civil rights organizations, universities and others who had been gathering evidence on these deaths.

read more »

31 Complete Federal ‘Smart on Crime’ Program

The federal “Smart on Crime” initiative was announced in 2013 and implemented in East Tennessee by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chattanooga and the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office in conjunction with local law enforcement, social service organizations and churches. The program focused on ways to make the district safer by providing federal ex-offenders with the resources necessary to successfully re-enter the community and reduce recidivism. U.S. Attorney Nancy Stallard Harr recently announced that 31 ex-offenders completed the program in 2016. “As a result, these ex-offenders are in a better positon to become productive members of our communities, making east Tennessee a safer and better place to live,” Harr told Chattanoogan.com. She also announced that a special emphasis will be placed on juvenile offenders in 2017.

read more »

Court Rejects Attempt to Force Action on Garland

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday denied an attempt to get the court to force the Senate to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, WRCB-TV reports. Roberts rejected the emergency appeal without comment. The lawyer bringing the case, Steven Michel of New Mexico, had argued that Senate obstruction of the nomination violated his rights as a voter under the Constitution. For his part, Garland is preparing to return to the bench of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., where he serves as chief judge. He is set to start hearing arguments on Jan. 18 according to that court.

read more »

Opinion: Trump Picks ‘Combative’ White House Counsel

New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau writes in a recent piece that President-elect Donald Trump’s newly named White House counsel “has always been an iconoclast bent on shaking things up” in a “town filled with button-down lawyers.” According to Lichtblau, Donald F. McGahn II was openly scorned for signing on to Trump’s campaign, but is now set to become one of the most powerful figures in Trump’s inner circle. Lichtblau describes McGahn as a “fiercely competitive and even intimidating man” with a “bare-knuckle style.” But as one conservative activist tells Lichtblau, “Everyone in Washington knows that if you have a problem, Don McGahn is the person to call.”

read more »

Obama Grants 78 Pardons, 153 Commutations

President Barack Obama granted 78 pardons and 153 commutations today – a single-day record for the use of presidential clemency power, USA Today reports. With just 32 days left in office, today’s action more than doubled the number of pardons granted in the previous seven years. In addition, today’s commutations brought Obama’s total to 1,176. The previous one-day record for commutations was 214 in August. Overall, including both pardons and commutations, Obama has granted more acts of clemency than any president since Harry Truman.

read more »

Lawyer Asks Court to Force Action on Garland Nomination

A lawyer from New Mexico is mounting a longshot challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to order the Senate to consider the high court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, WRCB-TV reports. Lawyer Steven Michel argues that senators’ obstruction of President Barack Obama’s nomination violates his rights as a voter under the provision of the Constitution that provides for popular election of senators. Lower courts have dismissed the case, which was filed this past summer. The vacancy, created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, has remained unfilled for almost 10 months.

read more »

Suit Accuses Nashville VA Hospital of Negligence

The parents of a U.S. Army veteran who served three tours of duty in the Middle East are suing the veterans' hospital in Nashville, saying staff negligence led to the death of their 26-year-old son. The suit, filed in federal court, alleges Aaron M. Merritt did not receive appropriate care for the treatment of ulcerative colitis, the Tennessean reports. The suit comes at a time when the veteran’s healthcare system is experiencing trouble nationwide. In Tennessee, the veterans’ hospitals in Nashville and Murfreesboro recently were ranked among the worst in the country for quality of care according to the Veterans’ Affairs Department itself.

read more »

Judge Dismisses Mosque’s Discrimination Claims

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger yesterday dismissed a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the Islamic Center of Nashville, saying the case should have been brought in state court. In her opinion, Trauger said state law is clear that tax matters should be handled in state chancery courts, and that a federal district court “does not have jurisdiction over state and local tax matters where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy is available in state court.” The congregation had claimed it was unfairly denied a state tax exemption because it followed its religious teachings, the Tennessean reports.

read more »

Report: 2 Testify in Possible Durham Bribery Case

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed witnesses to testify before a grand jury considering criminal charges against former state lawmaker Jeremy Durham, the Tennessean reports. One witness told the Tennessean that questions focused on Durham’s use of campaign funds. A copy of one subpoena obtained by the paper indicates the grand jury is investigating “federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud.”

read more »

Court Seals Haslam Deposition in Rebate Scam Case

Pilot Flying J President Jimmy Haslam spent Tuesday in an all-day deposition in a civil lawsuit brought by three trucking firms that refused to join a class action settlement resolving a Pilot diesel fuel rebate scam. Haslam continued to deny any role or knowledge of the fraud to which several subordinates have confessed or are facing indictment. Attorneys for the trucking firms say Haslam insisted his testimony be sealed, but they would ask a court in Ohio to make it public, Knoxnews reports.

read more »

Breyer Renews Call for Death Penalty Review

Returning to a subject he addressed last year, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer on Monday said death sentences are arbitrary and their constitutionality should be examined. In a dissent filed in one of three death penalty cases the court chose not to hear, Breyer said the cases involved “especially cruel and unusual circumstances.” He also argued that individuals who are executed are not the “worst of the worst” but rather are “chosen at random” perhaps based on geography, views of individual prosecutors or race. The ABA Journal looks at the three cases denied by the court.

read more »

Internet Tax Case Could Change Online Shopping

States can require Internet retailers to tell customers how much they owe in sales taxes thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision yesterday that could help officials recoup billions of dollars lost to online retailers. The court declined to hear a challenge to a Colorado law requiring online sellers to notify customers and the state how much they owe in taxes. At least three other states – Louisiana, Oklahoma and Vermont – have passed similar laws. Though the court did not rule on the merits of the case, states are likely to see the move “as a green light to step up collection efforts,” WRCB TV reports

read more »

Sessions Confirmation Hearing Set for January

The U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, will run for two days starting Jan. 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced Friday. Committee Democrats had asked for four days to dig into the background of their colleague, Roll Call reports. Committee Chair Charles E. Grassley cited hearings for previous nominees that lasted one or two days with three to nine outside witnesses each day. Grassley also said that Sessions had completed the committee’s questionnaire and that the 33-page document is available on the committee’s website.

read more »

Cope to Pay $200,000 Fine for Insider Trader

Former Rutherford County attorney Jim Cope will pay a $200,000 fine and serve two years on probation, the first nine months at home, after pleading guilty to insider trading as a Pinnacle bank director. U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger handed down the sentence Friday, nearly quadrupling a fine of $55,000 Cope initially agreed to pay in a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney's office. At an earlier hearing, Trauger had said Cope should pay a greater fine given his net worth of $12 million and monthly income of $37,000. The Murfreesboro Post reports that Cope still faces potential penalties from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has filed a civil complaint, and the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, which is investigating his case.

read more »

Congress Renews Civil Rights-Era Cold Case Review

As one of its last acts on Saturday before adjourning the current legislative session, Congress approved and sent to President Barack Obama legislation that would continue reviews of racially motivated killings from the civil rights era that are now considered cold cases. The legislation, passed by voice vote, extends indefinitely a 2007 law that calls for a full accounting of race-based deaths, many of which have been closed for decades. It also extends the cut-off date to include any cases occurring before Dec. 31, 1979. The Associated Press reports that more than 100 cases from the 1960s and earlier have been reviewed so far, with one resulting conviction.

read more »

Judge Dismisses Suit Against Nashville DA Funk

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger dismissed developer David Chase’s lawsuit against Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk on Friday, saying the prosecutor was immune from suit because he was acting in his official capacity. “The decision to prosecute is a core prosecutorial function with respect to which the defendants are entitled to absolute immunity,” the order states. Trauger also noted that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld such immunity even in release-dismissal agreements, which Funk used and became an issue in Chase’s case, the Tennessean reports. In a separate ruling, Trauger denied Funk’s request for sanctions against Chase and his lawyer saying the case was not frivolous enough to warrant sanctions.

read more »