News

Rivera Sworn in as Middle Tenn. U.S. Attorney

Middle Tennessee’s newly appointed top federal prosecutor vowed to carry on the priorities of his predecessor -- aggressively investigating health care fraud and pursuing stiff penalties against gangs -- after being sworn in last week as U.S. Attorney. David Rivera, who had been serving as “acting” U.S. attorney since Jerry Martin stepped down, now will serve in the top job for 120 days. After that, he will have to nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Congress, The Tennessean reports. Rivera has been an assistant U.S. attorney in the office since 2004. Before moving to Tennessee, he worked in federal prosecutors’ offices in Puerto Rico, Florida and New York.

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Reeves Awaiting Word on Judgeship

Knoxville lawyer and former TBA President Pamela Reeves is awaiting the U.S. Judiciary Committee’s next move after it postponed a meeting on Thursday. Reeves, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed Thomas W. Phillips, appeared in Washington on Sept. 26 before the committee as part of the confirmation process. The committee was to decide whether to send her nomination on to the full Senate for consideration. No reason was given for the postponement. Knoxnews has more.

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UT Law Profs Author New Book on Civil Procedure

University of Tennessee College of Law professors George Kuney and Donna Looper have authored a new book: A Civil Matter: A Guide to Civil Procedure and Litigation, both as a print edition and an e-book. Published by West, the book is a concise overview of the civil litigation process under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and follows a diversity car accident case from the district court to post-trial proceedings and settlement before retrial. The authors report that the book is intended as an introduction and overview for those unfamiliar with civil litigation and who need to develop a detailed understanding of the nuts and bolts of the process quickly and efficiently.

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DOJ Lawyers Return to Work

More than 18,000 Justice Department employees who were furloughed during the shutdown, including a significant number of lawyers who handle civil matters, will return to court after an untold number of cases were put on hold, the Blog of the Legal Times reports. Main Justice and U.S. attorney's offices nationwide asked courts to postpone civil litigation, citing the lack of appropriations. Some judges granted blanket stays, while other judges made case-by-case decisions. In a letter this morning to the entire department, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said he was "grateful to be able to welcome the entire Department of Justice back to work."

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Federal Judiciary Gets Budget Increase in Last-Minute Deal

The budget deal Congress approved late yesterday to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling provides $51 million in additional funding for the judiciary and federal defenders. In the bill, $1.01 billion would go to defender services, marking a $26 million annual increase over Fiscal Year 2013 for attorneys who represent indigent defendants, said Charles Hall, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The extra funding would primarily go to pay the backlog of attorney fees under the Criminal Justice Act, which funds court-appointed private counsel. Overall, the judiciary budget would increase from about $6.65 billion to about $6.7 billion. The Blog of the Legal Times has the story.

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Federal Courts Reducing Space to Save Money

The federal judiciary will hand over more than 66,300 square feet of underused office space in 31 court buildings across the county, saving $1.7 million in annual rent, the Blog of the Legal Times reports. Space in the offices will be returned to the U.S. General Services Administration, which manages court facilities, as part of a series of cost-saving measures the federal judiciary adopted to cope with budget cuts.

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Judge Wiseman to Retire After 35 Years on Bench

After 35 years of service, U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Wiseman is leaving the bench, the Tennessean reports. Wiseman, 82, was appointed in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, and helped Middle Tennessee navigate the long legal journal to progress on race, health care for the poor and the war on drugs. He tentatively plans to leave office this Friday. He leaves a legacy as a “very careful, humane and wise judge, a model for other judges to follow,” said Gilbert Merritt, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals senior judge.

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No Stay for Airline Merger Case

In light of the government shutdown, Justice Department lawyers asked for a stay in the US Airways-American Airlines antitrust case, but the judge denied the request this afternoon. “Because of the need for the prompt resolution of this matter, the Court has set an expedited discovery and trial schedule. A stay at this point would undermine this schedule and delay the necessary speedy disposition of this matter. It is essential that the Department of Justice attorneys continue to litigate this case,” U.S. District Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote in the opinion. WRCB TV and the Blog of Legal Times have more on the story.

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DOJ: Judges Should Stay Civil Cases During Shutdown

Citing the government shutdown, which started at 12:01 a.m. today, U.S. Justice Department lawyers are urging federal judges to stay civil cases. Federal prosecutors across the country started filing requests for extensions yesterday in civil cases in anticipation of the shutdown and judges agreed to cancel settlement conferences and other hearings scheduled for this week. The Blog of Legal Times looks at the issue and the impact of the shutdown on the D.C. Superior Court and D.C. Court of Appeals.

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Senate Passes Spending Bill; if Gov't Shuts Down Judiciary Would Stay Open 10 Days

The Senate this afternoon approved a bill designed to avoid a partial government shutdown next week, CBS News reports, but the legislation now returns to the House where Republican leaders have already said they won't pass the Senate bill. If that happens and the government partially shuts down on Oct. 1, the federal judiciary says it will remain open for business for approximately 10 days. “On or around Oct. 15, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance," according to a press release from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. "All proceedings and deadlines remain in effect as scheduled, unless otherwise advised.”

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Reeves To Go Before Senate Judiciary Wednesday

Former TBA President, Knoxville lawyer and federal judicial nominee Pamela Reeves faces a hearing Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Reeves has been nominated to replace Judge Thomas W. Phillips on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Phillips retired on Aug. 1. The committee has announced that in addition to Reeves, it will consider nominations for the Tenth Circuit and two other district courts on Wednesday. Knoxnews also reports that Reeves has already met with Sen. Bob Corker about her nomination.

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Nashville Lawyer Honored for Indigent Defense

Nashville attorney Patrick Frogge, who frequently represents indigent federal defendants, has been selected as Panel Lawyer of the Year by Federal Public Defender Henry Martin and former recipients of the award. He will be honored at the 22nd annual Criminal Justice Act Panel Appreciation Banquet Oct. 9 in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. Speaking about Frogge, Martin said he “represents the underdogs” and “continues to show that he’s a lawyer for the people” having worked on thousands of cases. Frogge earned his law degree from Fordham University School of Law in 1999. He worked as Nashville’s assistant public defender before entering private practice in 2005.

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Groups Urge ‘Necessary’ Resources for Federal Judiciary

The nonprofit group Justice at Stake and 26 other nonpartisan organizations joined together in a letter to members of the U.S. Congress today urging them to provide proper resources for the federal judiciary. The appeal cites data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts that sequestration already has resulted in cuts of $350 million. “These cut threaten to erode several core constitutional values, including the right to a jury trial and due process, and threaten to make illusory key statutory rights, such as the right to a speedy trial,” the groups wrote. Read more from Gavel Grab or download a copy of the letter, which includes the list of participating groups.

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Retired Federal Judge Dies in Germantown

Retired federal judge Michael A. Lasher Jr. of Germantown died Sunday (Sept. 15). Lasher, 81, graduated from the University of Louisville School of Law and practiced law in Phoenix before becoming a judge with the Bureau of Mine Safety. His work took him to Washington, D.C., and Denver. Lasher moved to Germantown 20 years ago after retiring from government service. A private graveside service will be held at Calvary Cemetery in Memphis. The family suggests that memorials be made to the Memphis Humane Society, 935 Farm Rd., Memphis, TN 38134. The Commercial Appeal has more on his life.

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Breen Named Chief Judge of U.S. District Court

U.S. District Judge and former TBA President J. Daniel Breen assumed the position of chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee this week. Judge Breen, who has served on the court since March 2003, began his judicial career in 1991 as a magistrate judge in the Western District. He served in that capacity until nominated to the district court by President George W. Bush. Judge Breen earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1975. Read the announcement from the court.

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DOJ Readying New Cases Related to Financial Meltdown

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says he expects to announce new cases related to the financial meltdown in the coming months. Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Holder said, "My message is, anybody who's inflicted damage on our financial markets should not be of the belief that they are out of the woods because of the passage of time. If any individual or if any institution is banking on waiting things out, they have to think again." According to the story, recent disclosures indicate the government is pursuing prosecutions related to suspected wrongdoing in the mortgage-backed securities industry and manipulation of the energy market. (Subscription required)

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Kagan: Justices Have More to Learn about Technology

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court continue to communicate with one another through memos printed on ivory paper even as they face cases related to emerging technology and electronic snooping, Justice Elena Kagan admitted Tuesday. In an appearance at Brown University, Kagan said the justices have a ways to go to understand technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and even email. While clerks email one another, she said, "The court hasn't really 'gotten to' email." When asked how the court will approach issues such as technology and privacy, Kagan said, "I think we're going to have to be doing a lot of thinking about that." WRCB-TV has more from the AP.

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First Wrongful Dismissal Suit Filed Against Vanderbilt

The first of what could be several lawsuits against Vanderbilt University Medical Center in relation to a recent round of job cuts was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. The suit alleges the hospital violated the Family and Medical Leave Act by targeting certain employees to cut. “While VUMC has yet to publicly comment on the precise criteria utilized in selecting employees to terminate, some employees were targeted as a direct result of having exercised their rights pursuant to the FMLA,” argues Nashville civil rights attorney George Barrett and former U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin, both with Barrett Johnston LLC, who are representing the plaintiff.

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Federal Courts Cut Pay for Private Defenders

The federal courts say that private lawyers paid to act as federal public defenders will have their salaries cut as part of an attempt to survive government cost-cutting measures, the Associated Press reports. The Judicial Conference of the United States announced Monday it would reduce by $15 an hour the pay of "panel attorneys." The pay for non-capital cases will drop from $125 per hour to $110. The pay for capital cases will drop from a maximum of $179 per hour to $164. The cuts are scheduled to start in September and be in place for the next year. More than 10,000 lawyers serve as panel attorneys, representing defendants financially unable to retain counsel in federal criminal proceedings. WRCB-TV has the story.

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Scalia: Not Court’s Place to ‘Invent New Minorities’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in a speech before the Federalist Society yesterday that the court is making decisions that should be left to Congress. Citing recent rulings on issues such as wiretapping and gay marriage, he argued it is not the court’s place to “invent new minorities that get special protections." Scalia also addressed what he sees as one of the last remaining issues to be settled with regard to the Second Amendment: determining the scope of armaments that people can keep and bear. Scalia helped launch the Federalist Society more than 30 years ago to fight the perception of liberal bias at the nation's law schools. WDEF has this Associated Press story.

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Justice Kennedy, ABA House Address Human Trafficking

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy spoke out against human trafficking on Saturday after attendees at the ABA Annual Meeting had heard from Minh Dang, a victim of human slavery. In his keynote address, Kennedy recounted statistics indicating there are 27 million people being held as slaves around the world, with at least 100,000 of them in the United States. "Let's stop human trafficking," he said. "I urge you to continue to bring this to the world's attention." On Monday, the ABA House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved model legislation for states to use in adopting new prohibitions against human trafficking. In related news, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission announced it has begun using civil actions -- which require a lesser burden of proof than criminal actions -- against those who traffic or abuse employees, while a federal judge struck down a New Jersey law aimed at fighting the sexual trafficking of minors. The ABA Journal has more on these developments.

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Holder, Clinton Address ABA House of Delegates

The ABA House of Delegates, meeting today and tomorrow in San Francisco, faces a full agenda of resolutions but “the early buzz [was] over two legal superstars" who addressed the House today, the ABA Journal reports. This morning, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder outlined a new crime and prison policy focusing on what the administration believes is an over-reliance on mandatory minimum sentences. Holder said the department would be directing the nation’s prosecutors to avoid these sentences for “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or drug organizations.” Then this afternoon, Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared before the House to receive the ABA Medal, the association's highest award. The Washington Post has more on both of those stories.

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Tennessee Joins Brief Supporting Prayer at Town Meetings

The State of Tennessee has joined with Texas, Indiana and 20 other states in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that prayers by mostly Christian clergy members before legislative meetings are not unconstitutional. The brief cites a history of legislative prayer and the American culture of religious accommodation to argue that, “The establishment clause does not require officials either to edit historically permissible religious expressions or scrub them from the public square.” The brief was filed in response to the court’s decision to hear the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway in its October term. The ABA Journal has more on the story while SCOTUSBlog has details on the case.

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Memphis Lawyer Nominated for Federal Judgeship

President Barack Obama has nominated University of Memphis general counsel Sheryl H. Lipman for a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, the White House announced Thursday evening. If confirmed, Lipman would succeed Judge Jon P. McCalla, who is taking senior status later this month. Interim University of Memphis President R. Brad Martin praised the move saying, "Sheri Lipman is an outstanding choice to serve on the federal bench. She has served and continues to serve the University of Memphis and our community with great distinction, and I know she will do so as a federal judge as well. This is a wise choice and the entire University of Memphis community congratulates Sheri on her nomination." The Commercial Appeal has more.

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Ginsburg Claims to be Hardest Working Justice

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg completes her 20th year on the U.S. Supreme Court, she says she is not ready to retire or slow down anytime soon. In an interview with USA Today, the 80 year-old said she was still the hardest-working justice. "As long as I can do the job full-steam, I would like to stay here," she told the newspaper. "Last term was a good example. I didn't write any slower. I didn't think any slower. I have to take it year by year at my age, and who knows what could happen next year? Right now, I know I'm OK. Whether that will be true at the end of next term, I can't say." The ABA Journal has the story.

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