News

White House Considers Asking Judicial Nominees to Refuse ABA Interviews

The Trump administration is considering asking judicial nominees to refuse interviews with the American Bar Association and refuse to sign waivers allowing the ABA to access their disciplinary records, the ABA Journal reports. The measure is being considered after the ABA gave a “not qualified” rating to federal nominee Leonard Steven Grasz, who was found by an ABA committee to appear to be affected by a “passionately held social agenda.” The rating was based on interviews with 207 lawyers, judges and others.

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Recent Vandy Law Grad to Clerk for SCOTUS Justice Sotomayor

2016 Vanderbilt Law graduate Samiyyah Ali has been chosen to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Nashville Post reports. Ali will begin working for Sotomayor in October. She is currently the clerk to Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington. Ali, a Georgia native, was executive editor of the Vanderbilt Law Review and vice president of the Black Law Students Association while at Vanderbilt.
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Overbey Resigns Senate Seat, Sworn In as U.S. Attorney

Former state Sen. Doug Overbey resigned his seat yesterday, and hours later was officially sworn in as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, The Daily Times reports. Overbey was confirmed on Nov. 9 and prior to yesterday was waiting for President Donald Trump to sign off on his commission. The ceremony took place at the Howard H. Baker Jr. United States Courthouse in Knoxville. Overbey said he anticipates a more formal ceremony at a later date.
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DOJ Sues to Block AT&T Acquisition of Time Warner

The U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit yesterday to seek to block the $85 million acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T, the ABA Journal reports. The suit notes AT&T’s ownership of DirecTV, the largest distributor of subscription television, and Time Warner’s ownership of several top cable networks, including TBS, CNN and HBO. AT&T and DirecTV could force rival cable providers to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for Time Warner’s networks, the suit argues.
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New Design Released for Nashville Courthouse; Work to Start in Early '18

The U.S. government has released new designs for the Nashville courthouse to be built and named after late U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The government plans to award the development contract for the project early next year. Three companies have made the shortlist for the project: Clark Construction Group out of Washington, D.C., W.G. Yates and Sons Construction from Philadelphia and Hensel Phelps of Colorado. The project is expected to cost $194.5 million and will be located at 719 Church Street.
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Hardin Takes Up Gavel of National U.S. States Attorneys Organization

Tennessee attorney Hal Hardin was recently sworn-in as president of the National Association of Former U.S. States Attorneys (NAFUSA) at the organization’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. Immediate Past President Bart Daniel passed the gavel to Hardin in front of the most well-attended conference in the group’s history. The 2018 conference will be held in Hardin’s home city of Nashville on Oct. 24-26.
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ABA President Defends Judicial Nominee Ratings After GOP Senators Claim Bias

After Republican senators accused the American Bar Association of “liberal bias” in its ratings of federal judicial nominees, ABA President Hilarie Bass is defending the ratings, the ABA Journal reports. Bass said that the ABA is a nonpartisan organization and the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary “has thoroughly vetted thousands of nominees using a fair and nonpartisan process that no other organization can match.” The controversy stems from the ABA rating Nebraska lawyer Leonard Steven Grasz as “not qualified.” Committee chair Pamela Bresnahan argued that the committee had only rated four out of 53 judicial nominees as “not qualified” all year, and added that the ratings are not about personal beliefs but rather about what data is derived from peer reviews.
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Federal Judicial Nominee Who Has Never Tried a Case Wins Senate Panel Approval

A federal judicial nominee in Alabama has won the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, despite the fact that he has never tried a case, has only practiced law for three years and was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association, The Los Angeles Times reports. Brett J. Talley, who was nominated by President Donald Trump for a lifetime appointment, was also criticized for his history as an online blogger with overtly partisan public opinions. Additionally, The New York Times reported today that Talley failed to disclose that he is married to a senior lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office.
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Overbey Confirmed by Full Senate as U.S. Attorney

The full U.S. Senate confirmed State Sen. Doug Overbey as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee last night, Knoxnews reports. Overbey said he was grateful to Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker for recommending him to President Donald Trump, and was “excited about the opportunity to combine my avocation in public service with my vocation as a lawyer.” The appointment will be official once President Trump signs Overbey’s commission documents, which Overbey said he expects should happen by the end of the month.
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Court Rules Sevier Jailers Not Liable for Inmate's Death

A federal appeals court has ruled that Sevier County jailers shouldn’t be held liable for an inmate's death because they were following a nurse’s advice, Knoxnews reports. The family of Samuel M. McGaw IV filed a suit after he fell into a coma in a Sevier County Jail cell in 2014, 24 hours after he was booked into the facility high on alcohol and pills. The jailers knew McGaw was in danger, but trusted a nurse’s trained assessment that he go untreated. The ruling means the case now returns to U.S. District Court Judge Pamela Reeves’ court for a trial with Sevier County leaders as the sole defendants.
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Norris Faces Same-Sex Marriage Questions During Hearings

State Sen. Mark Norris told a congressional panel on Wednesday that he considers the legality of same-sex marriage to be a settled issue and that he would follow it as a precedent if confirmed to the bench, the Tennessean reports. The State Senate Majority Leader has been nominated for a federal judgeship in West Tennessee. His prior statements on gay marriage have been cited by groups opposing his nomination.

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ABA Explains ‘Not Qualified’ Rating for Federal Judicial Nominee

An ABA committee is explaining the reasons for a federal judicial nominee recently receiving a “not qualified” rating,” the ABA Journal reports. The nominee, Leonard Steven Grasz of Nebraska, received the rating after “an extensive two-part review process,” according to the chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. Grasz was nominated for the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and is currently a lobbyist and litigator with Husch Blackwell. The ABA review found that Grasz had a “passionately-held social agenda” that “appeared to overwhelm and obscure the ability to exercise dispassionate and unbiased judgment.”
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Sessions Criticizes Federal Judges Who Block Trump Administration Policies

Attorney General Jeff Sessions today had harsh words for judges who have issued nationwide injunctions that blocked Trump administration policies, the ABA Journal reports. Sessions said in a speech to the Heritage Foundation that the judges are failing to respect the legislative and executive branches, and emphasized that "the judiciary is not a superior or policy-setting branch." American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass issued a statement saying that the ABA is “alarmed” in response to the remarks. “Judges should not be attacked or diminished by another branch of government just because they do not rule in its favor,” Bass said. “Judicial independence is critical to maintaining the rule of law in our nation.”
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Spring Start Likely for Federal Courthouse in Nashville

Long-gestating plans for a new U.S. courthouse in Nashville will finally come to fruition in spring 2018, the Nashville Post reports. Groundbreaking on the courthouse, which will be named for the late U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, is planned for spring of next year, with demolition of a remaining building on the site planned for November. The courthouse is expected to cost $194.5 million to build and will sit on a plot of land downtown on Church Street.
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Judge Campbell: Serving Was 'Greatest Honor'

An overflow crowd gathered Friday afternoon at the Nashville federal courthouse to witness the unveiling of the courtroom portrait of retired U.S. District Judge Todd D. Campbell. Judge Campbell told the crowd that the opportunity to serve the nation, first in the White House as counsel to Vice President Al Gore and then as U.S. District Judge, was the greatest honor of his life. The ceremony was presided over by Chief Judge Waverly Crenshaw and the portrait was painted by Michael Shane Neal.

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Of Trump U.S. Attorney Nominees, Only 1 is Female

President Donald Trump has nominated 42 lawyers to fill U.S. Attorney positions since the start of his term, but only one of those 42 is a woman, the ABA Journal reports. Jessie Liu, nominated to become the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., is the lone female nominee. The analysis comes on the heels of Friday’s announcement of nine new nominees to U.S. Attorney positions across the country. 
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Kevin Sharp Explains Why He Left the Bench

Former Middle District Chief Judge Kevin Sharp spoke to an audience in Nashville this week about why he decided to leave his seat on the U.S. District Court earlier this year, the Nashville Post reports. Sharp told the gathering that he struggled with issues related to mandatory minimums, and it was very difficult to make changes to the justice system from the district court level. Following the presidential election last year, he felt “something is happening” and “I can’t be a part of that if I’m sitting on the bench.”
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Tennessee Judicial Nominees Breeze Through Senate Hearings

Two Tennessee attorneys nominated by President Donald Trump to federal judgeships went before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, the Nashville Post reports. William L. “Chip” Campbell, a member of Frost Brown Todd’s business litigation practice group in Nashville, and Thomas Lee Robinson Parker, a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Memphis office, faced few questions from the panel in their confirmation hearing, as senators focused their attention on other, controversial nominees. Tomorrow Donald Cochran, a Belmont law professor nominated to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, will testify.
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Wildasin Named Acting U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has named Mark H. Wildasin as acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, The Tennessean reports. The appointment was announced this morning, to fill the vacancy created by Jack Smith’s retirement last month. He will serve in the role for 120 days, or until the U.S. Senate confirms a presidential nominee. Wildasin previously served as chief of the office’s Civil Division.
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Engineer Who Bought American Nuclear Tech for China Gets 2-Year Sentence

A federal judge today handed down a two-year sentence for an engineer who bought American nuclear information for the Chinese government, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Chief U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee Tom Varlan said that the case of Szuhsiung Allen Ho is an “atypical” one – this prosecution is the first of its kind in the U.S. Ho insisted that the information he bought for China was to be used exclusively for the production of nuclear energy, not weapons, but Assistant U.S. Attorneys Charles Atchley and Bart Slabbekorn argued that regardless of Ho’s intent, China cannot be trusted to act responsibly with the information.
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Last Chance to Sign Up for the 2017 TBA Academy

Last chance to sign up! 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 34th Annual TBA Academy, Oct. 10-11. A select group of Tennessee attorneys will be able to take part in this private ceremony before the court and enjoy other events at the court and the capitol. 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, where the TBA has obtained a special rate for Academy participants. The deadline to submit applications is Sept. 1.
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Sen. Grassley Doesn’t Expect Imminent Supreme Court Vacancy

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chair of the U.S. Senate committee that handles Supreme Court nominations, said he does not expect an imminent court vacancy, Reuters reports. The statement signals that Justice Anthony Kennedy will not retire this year, despite earlier speculation. "Evidently that's not going to happen," Grassley said. "I don't have any expectation we will have a vacancy as I thought there would be" earlier this year.
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U.S. Attorney Jack Smith to Leave Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney Jack Smith announced today that he will leave the Department of Justice, the Tennessean reports. Smith said that he was not looking to leave the department, where he has been for 16 years, but another opportunity came up. He has been leading the Nashville office since David Rivera announced his resignation in March. Belmont law professor Donald Cochran was nominated in June to lead the office. His nomination is currently pending Senate confirmation.
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Be Admitted to Practice Before the U.S. Supreme Court

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 34th Annual TBA Academy, Oct. 10-11. A select group of Tennessee attorneys will be able to take part in this private ceremony before the court and enjoy other events at the court and the capitol. 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, where the TBA has obtained a special rate for Academy participants.

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Appeals Court Hears Arguments on 2014 Constitutional Amendment Vote

A federal appeals court today heard arguments on whether a 2014 vote on a constitutional ballot initiative should be recounted or voided entirely, the Tennessean reports. The dispute is rooted in two interpretations of a single sentence added to the Tennessee constitution in 1953. That sentence mandates a different vote counting method than the simple majority vote required for candidates for office. The decision by the court could throw into question the abortion measure known as Amendment 1, as well as all abortion laws enacted in Tennessee since its passage three years ago removed the right to an abortion from the state’s constitution.
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