News

Sessions Adds 2 New Prosecutors for Middle Tennessee

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is adding two assistant U.S. attorney positions for the Middle District of Tennessee, the Nashville Post reports. The additional prosecutors are among 40 new positions across the country who will focus on violent crime. “I will be meeting with local law enforcement leaders and district attorneys general to formulate a strategy aimed at vigorously pursuing those violent offenders whose criminal behavior disrupts the peace and harmony of our neighborhoods and endangers the lives of innocent citizens,” U.S. Attorney for the Middle District Don Cochran said.
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Revision to Federal Law Clerk Handbook Addresses Sexual Harassment

The federal law clerk handbook was revised on Monday to address sexual harassment complaints against judges, the ABA Journal reports. The revision was made to address concerns that confidentiality rules wouldn’t prevent sexual harassment claims against judges. The new passage, added to the section that covers confidentiality, reads: “However, nothing in this handbook, or in the Code of Conduct, prevents a clerk, or any judiciary employee, from revealing misconduct, including sexual or other forms of harassment, by their judge or any person. Clerks are encouraged to bring such matters to the attention of an appropriate judge or other official.”
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Judicial Nominee Withdraws After Confirmation Video Goes Viral

Matthew Spencer Petersen, the federal judicial nominee who was seen on video unable to define basic legal terms, has withdrawn his name from consideration, the ABA Journal reports. Petersen, a longtime member of the Federal Election Commission, was nominated to the federal court in Washington, D.C., by the Trump Administration. Last week a video of his confirmation hearing went viral, in which he could not define “motion in limine” and “the Daubert standard,” as well as his admission that he hasn’t tried a case to verdict or argued a motion. In a letter to the president, Petersen noted that his nomination had became a “distraction” and it was not fair to the administration for him to continue.
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Federal Judge Announces Retirement Over Inappropriate Sexual Behavior

Alex Kozinski, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, announced today he would retire immediately after allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct surfaced, The Washington Post reports. Kozinski was facing a judicial investigation for the accusations that he subjected 15 women to inappropriate behavior. Kozinski was appointed in 1985, and served as chief of the 9th circuit from 2007 to 2014.
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Nashville Judicial Nominee Appears Before Senate Panel

Eli J. Richardson appeared before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this week as it considered him for one of two vacant federal judgeships in Nashville, the Nashville Post reports. The Bass, Berry & Sims attorney introduced his family at the hearing and thanked President Donald Trump for the nomination. He faced few tough questions, other than a line of inquiry about a Rule 11 sanction he received.
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Video of Judicial Nominee Struggling Over Basic Legal Terms Goes Viral

A clip of federal judicial nominee Matthew Spencer Petersen going up for questioning against a U.S. Senate panel has gone viral, the ABA Journal reports. The video depicts Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-Louisiana, asking Peterson about his experience. Kennedy asked Peterson to explain concepts like the Daubert standard and motion in limine. “My background is not in litigation,” Peterson said. “I haven’t had to do a deep dive.” Peterson was an associate for three years at Wiley Rein, worked as counsel to the Republican National Committee and worked for the Federal Election Commission prior to his nomination to federal court.
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Judiciary Chair Asks White House to Reconsider Judicial Nominations

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is asking the White House to reconsider the nominations of controversial judicial nominees Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer, the ABA Journal reports. Senate Judiciary Committee spokesman Taylor Foy said that Grassley was concerned about statements made by Talley and Mateer, who are nominated to judgeships in the Middle District of Alabama and the Eastern District of Texas, respectively.

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Low Number of Female, Minority U.S. Attorney Candidates a Concern to ABA

American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass told Attorney General Jeff Sessions she is concerned with the low percentage of women and minority candidates appointed to U.S. attorney positions, the ABA Journal reports. Of 57 U.S. attorney candidates proposed by the Trump administration so far, one was black and three were women. “A justice system that is not representative of the diverse community it serves risks losing its legitimacy in the eyes of those who come before it,” Bass wrote in a letter to Sessions.
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Senate Judiciary Advances 10 Nominees, Including Grasz

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced 10 judicial nominees, including controversial figure Leonard Steven Grasz, who received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, the ABA Journal reports. Grasz was found to have a “passionately held social agenda” by an ABA committee, which believed Grasz would be unable to respect precedent in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. The Judiciary Committee approved the nominees via an 11-9 party line vote.
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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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