News

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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. 

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

Retired 6th Circuit Judge Won’t Face Ethics Charges

Former 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Boyce Martin Jr. will not be charged with wrongdoing following a U.S. Justice Department probe of his travel expenses, a spokesperson for the retired judge told Cincinnati-area reporters. The U.S. Judicial Conference dropped its ethics probe of Martin when he announced his retirement last summer, but referred the allegations to the Justice Department. Martin, who had blamed administrative errors for any mistakes that were made, agreed to repay $138,500 in travel expenses for the four-year period in question. The ABA Journal has the story.

read more »

Vanderbilt Launches Program to Train Federal Judges

Vanderbilt Law School and the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) are teaming up to provide mid-career training for federal judges. The first seminar will be offered this fall. Law school dean Chris Guthrie says the unique collaboration solidifies the school’s position as a center for the study of judges and judging. The first seminar will be led by FJC Director and U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel and Vanderbilt professor Terry Maroney, who said the program aims “to create space for them to reflect and recharge in a deep way, something their daily work pressures can make difficult.”

read more »

Justices Decline to Re-enter Immigration Debate

A former Pennsylvania coal town and a Dallas suburb lost a lengthy battle to enact anti-immigrant laws Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeals, the Associated Press reports. The high court has held since 2012 that immigration issues are largely a matter for federal agencies, not local governments, to regulate. The ruling Monday involved efforts by the city of Hazleton, in northeastern Pennsylvania, and Farmers Branch, Texas, to enforce housing and employment rules aimed at people in the country illegally, a strategy copied by dozens of other cities that faulted federal efforts to control immigration. WRCB-TV has the story.

read more »

TBA Files Comments on Federal Rules Amendments

The TBA today filed comments on two proposed amendments to federal rules. The first, which contained comments on proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, addresses issues such as time limit for service, discovery scope and limits, protective orders, depositions, interrogatories, requests for admission and preservation of discoverable information. The second, which contained comments on proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy, addresses issues such as notice, plan payments, length of plans, tax refunds, secured claims, trustee’s fees, non-priority unsecured claims, executory contracts, unexpired leases, vesting of property, nonstandard plan provisions and required signatures.

read more »

Court Seeks Pro Se/Death Penalty Law Clerk

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee is seeking a combined pro se/death penalty law clerk in Nashville. The closing date for applications is Feb. 26. The clerk will provide legal assistance to the court in connection with pro se/prisoner civil rights complaints, state habeas corpus petitions (including death penalty cases) and motions to vacate sentences in federal habeas corpus petitions. The clerk will perform substantive review of case records and filings, conduct legal research, draft proposed opinions and orders for each of the district judges, and provide information to chambers staff, court staff and pro se filers. Download the job description.

read more »

If You Did It, Flaunt It With a TBJ Announcement

The Tennessee Bar Journal has a new opportunity for lawyers and firms to promote outstanding achievements, new associates, new partners, mergers, awards and any changes within the firm. Now, Professional Announcements are available at special, lower-rate pricing. You can tell more than 12,000 of your peers about your accomplishments by placing an announcement in the Journal. For information or to place an announcement, contact Debbie Taylor at 503-445-2231 or Debbie@llm.com. To have an announcement placed in the April issue, please contact her before Feb. 18.

read more »

Chattanooga Federal Bar to Hold Annual Meeting

The Chattanooga chapter of the Federal Bar Association will hold its annual meeting next Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m at the Convention Center. Attorney Gary L. Henry of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliot & Cannon will be installed as president. The chapter also will welcome former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as guest speaker. The Chattanoogan has more.

read more »

Federalist Society Looks at Criminalization of Federal Law

The Memphis Lawyers’ and University of Memphis Law Student Chapter of the Federalist Society will host a discussion Feb. 6 on the topic “Over Criminalization of Federal Law.” Participants include Edward L. Stanton III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee; associate professor Steven J. Mulroy, University of Memphis School of Law; and Paul J. Larkin Jr., senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation. University of Memphis School of Law Dean Peter V. Letsou will moderate the panel. The event runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public. To register, contact Greg Grisham, (901) 462-2616. Download the invitation.

read more »

6th Circuit Offers Appellate Advocacy Training

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit now features a series of video clips providing training on appellate advocacy on its website. In one of the videos, Judge Jeffrey Sutton provides an in-depth discussion on effective appellate advocacy before the court, but many of his comments have equal application to practice in Tennessee appellate courts, according to the TBA’s Appellate Practice Section. Other video resources on the site provide tips for electronic filing, avoiding common billing mistakes and handling Criminal Justice Act cases. Read more in this blog posting from the appellate group at Squire Sanders.

read more »