News

Court Will Hear 6 New Cases in April

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear six cases during its April sitting, which begins April 15. The cases include questions of whether an individual who has not been arrested but is interviewed by police has the right to remain silent; whether federal funds can be withheld from anti-AIDS groups that do not actively oppose prostitution; whether federal law preempts port regulations that limit the operations of federally licensed truckers; whether state or federal law controls the right to receive death benefits from a federal employee’s life insurance policy; whether the federal anti-extortion act applies to a private individual fighting a government recommendation about a pension fund; and whether Congress has authority to make failure to register for a sex crime a federal offense long after the sentence imposed for the crime is completed. Learn more on SCOTUSBlog.

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U.S. Will Not Retry Whistleblower Case

The Department of Justice yesterday told U.S. District Judge John D. Bates that it will not try again to sue the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight for sharing $400,000 of a $1.2 million whistleblower settlement with Richard A . Bearman, a government economist at the time, for exposing oil companies’ underpayment of royalties to the government 14 years ago. The government argued the payment violated a federal ban on supplementing the salary of an executive branch employee, but the jurors split 7-1, causing the judge to declare a mistrial.

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Senate Confirms New Judges; More Votes Likely

The U.S. Senate has confirmed five more district court judges, for a total of 13 confirmations so far this month, the Legal Times reports, and more votes are possible when lawmakers return to Washington, D.C. tomorrow. That makes December the second most active month for filling the federal bench during this session of Congress, behind the 15 confirmations made in October 2011.

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Federal Employees Get Relief on Discrimination Appeals

The justices on Monday ruled unanimously that federal employees appealing certain discrimination rulings from the Merit Systems Protection Board may take their cases directly to the district courts rather than be forced to appeal to the Washington, D.C.-based Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Writing for the majority Justice Elena Kagan chastised the federal government for trying to complicate the appeals process. “It would be hard,” she wrote, “to dream up a more round-about way” of setting up judicial review than the one laid out by the government. SCOTUSblog reports

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Fee Collections Up For Eastern District Federal Court

Total collections by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee have been up in the past three years, with 2012 collections setting a new record, reports Chattanoogan.com. The increased revenue will allow the office to undertake additional projects and cases. “During this time of economic recovery, these collections are more important than ever,” said U.S. Attorney William C. "Bill" Killian. The trend in Tennessee follows one happening nationwide. In 2012, more than $13.1 billion was collected in criminal and civil actions, more than doubling the $6.5 billion collected in  2011. Learn more about federal collection trends in the United States Attorneys’ Annual Statistical Reports.

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Memphis FBI Office May Be Moving

Neither FBI nor General Services Administration officials in Memphis will confirm it, but The Commercial Appeal reports that all indications point to a move for the bureau from its East Memphis offices. According to a notice recently issued, the federal government is seeking a long-term lease for nearly 96,000 square feet in a building that is "professional and prestigious in appearance" or in an office park that is "modern in design with a campuslike atmosphere."

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D.C. Court Skeptical of Judging Recess Appointments

Federal Judge Thomas Griffith expressed skepticism on weighing in on a dispute between Congress and the White House over the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earlier this year. In a hearing yesterday to test the legality of Obama’s appointments, Judge Griffith stated that courts have assiduously refrained from stepping into political spats over recess appointments, and asked “Why drag us into it?”

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Courts Begin to Hear Challenges to Presidential Appointments

In a major test of presidential power, federal appeals courts are starting to hear legal challenges to President Barack Obama's decision to bypass the U.S. Senate in appointing three members to the National Labor Relations Board. The suits have been winding their way through the legal system for several months but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was set to be the first to hear oral arguments on the issue today. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will take up the issue in a similar case next Wednesday. Legal observers predict that the issue likely will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court as there are “good arguments on both sides” and there is “little precedent on the issue.” Learn more about the cases in this story from the Associated Press.

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Sender of Fake Anthrax Letter Gets 8 Years After Retrial

After a six-hour sentencing hearing yesterday, Marshall DeWayne Williams was sentenced to eight years in prison for sending a fake anthrax letter to U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen in 2008. He had previously been sentenced to five years for the crime, but that sentence was overturned and a new trial ordered because no pre-sentence report had been filed. Williams, who is serving time for killing his stepfather, admitted sending the letter to Breen as well as other judges and congressmen, shopping malls, restaurants and schools. According to the Commercial Appeal, he said the letters were designed to give him access to the courts so he could protest his sentence in the earlier case.

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Vines: Candidates Lining up for U.S. District Judge Post

Writing in the Knoxville News Sentinel today, columnist Georgiana Vines expands on the list of lawyers expected to be interested in an appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee if Judge Thomas Phillips retires as expected next year. Among those previously mentioned are past TBA president and Knoxville lawyer Pamela Reeves; TBA president-elect and Sevierville lawyer Cynthia Richardson Wyrick; and Knoxville lawyer Dawn Coppock. Today, Vines adds Suzanne Bauknight, chief of the civil division of the U.S. attorney's office in East Tennessee, to the list.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Returns to Bass Berry & Sims

Former Bass Berry & Sims partner Matt Curley has returned to the firm following a two-year stint in the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, the Nashville Post reports. A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Law, Curley served as an assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the local office’s civil division. At Bass, he will again be a partner in the firm’s compliance and government investigations practice group.

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Jury Selection in Baumgartner Case Underway

Jury selection in the federal case against former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was to begin today, Knox News reports. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Lewen and Zachary Bolitho filed various motions indicating how they intend to prove Baumgartner is guilty on seven counts of misprision of a felony for allegedly lying to cover up a drug conspiracy involving Baumgartner's pill-supplier and mistress. U.S District Judge Ronnie Greer has summoned 100 potential jurors from East Tennessee counties.

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Justice Kagan to Speak Friday at UT

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan will take part in a public discussion with University of Tennessee College of Law Dean Doug Blaze during a Friday visit to the school. The event will take place at 1 p.m. in the Cox Auditorium. The presentation will kick off the law school’s new Richard Rose Distinguished Jurist in Residence Program. According to Blaze, Kagan was asked to be the inaugural speaker because she is the justice assigned to the Sixth Circuit, which includes Tennessee. As previously reported in TBA Today, Kagan also will preside over the final round of the law school’s moot court competition while in town for the event. The UT Daily Beacon has details

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U.S. Attorney: Trafficking Crimes Are a Priority

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton, working in the Western Division of Tennessee, says his office views prostitution and sex trafficking as “akin to modern-day slavery" and as a priority. As prostitution continues to plague the Lamar Ave. area of Memphis, Stanton says, “We will be very vigilant in prosecuting and bringing to justice those individuals that would seek to sex traffic.” His comments come on the heels of high-profile statements about trafficking from President Barak Obama and ABA President Laurel Bellows. Read more from WMC-TV

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Komisar Named Panel Lawyer of the Year

The Federal Public Defenders Office recognized Nashville attorney David Komisar as Panel Lawyer of the Year at the 21st Annual Panel Appreciation Banquet, which honors court-appointed private attorneys who represent federal defendants. Komisar is a Nashville native and graduate of the University of Memphis law school. The Tennessean has the full story.

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Varlan Named Chief Judge

U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan has been named chief judge of the Eastern District of Tennessee, succeeding U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier of Chattanooga, who has served as chief judge the past seven years, Knoxnews.com reports.

Deadline Approaches for TBA Academy

A select group of Tennessee attorneys will soon experience the honor of being admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court during the 29th Annual TBA Academy Nov. 26-27 in Washington, D.C. This year's program includes a welcome reception with TBA President Jackie Dixon, group lunch and dinner, breakfast and tour of the court and private admission ceremony. The group will stay at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel and will have the opportunity to network with some of the nation’s leading appellate practitioners. Registration is open through Oct. 15. Get details and directions on how to apply

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MTSU Announces Federal Court Reporting Program

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) announced a new project in collaboration with the Tennessean in which students will report on the federal judicial system and federal law enforcement operations in Nashville. Named after journalism icon and former Tennessean CEO John Seigenthaler, the Seigenthaler News Service selected seven seniors as the first program scholars. Read the full story at the Daily News Journal.

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TBA Academy Offers Admission to U.S. Supreme Court

A select group of Tennessee attorneys will soon experience the honor of being admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court during the 29th Annual TBA Academy Nov. 26-27 in Washington, D.C. This year's program includes a welcome reception with TBA President Jackie Dixon, group lunch and dinner, breakfast and tour of the court and private admission ceremony. The group will stay at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel and will have the opportunity to network with some of the nation’s leading appellate practitioners. Registration is open through Oct. 15. Get details and directions on how to apply

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Ceremony for Judge Fowlkes Tomorrow

A formal ceremony recognizing new federal judge John Fowlkes will be held tomorrow at 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at Memphis City Hall. Fowlkes was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed in July to replace U.S. District Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, who was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Fowlkes, a former criminal court judge, county chief administrative officer and federal prosecutor, was sworn in on Aug. 2. He began hearing cases on Aug. 6. The Commercial Appeal reported the news.

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Federal Suit Filed Against McMinn County

Gussie Vann, a McMinn County man serving time for the rape of his 13-year-old niece, has filed suit against the county claiming that he was held for 48 hours without probable cause and held for 10 months without being allowed to see an attorney in relation to separate charges of murder and incest of his daughter. Those charges ultimately were dismissed by now District Attorney Steve Bebb, who was serving as a judge at the time. Vann was later convicted on the rape charges by a jury. Vann’s lawyer said both Bebb and the prosecutor in the case likely would be immune from civil suit while acting in their official capacity, but that the county could be held liable. The Times Free Press has more

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Comment Period Open for Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure

The public comment period has opened for several proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure. The comment period closes Feb. 15, 2013. When you submit your comments you will notice a revamped website for the Federal Rules, which the court intended to be "simpler and more logical."

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Appeals Judge Blocked, Others Unlikely to See Action

Senate Republicans have blocked an up-or-down vote on President Obama’s nomination of Magistrate Judge Robert Bacharach to the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite bipartisan support for his approval. In response, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office indicated that no more confirmation votes on appeals court judges would be attempted before the presidential election. While Democrats criticized the move as “extreme,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., described the freeze as following Senate tradition for “a bipartisan timeout” before the presidential election in November. Read more in Gavel Grab

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Judge Allows Access to Mosque, U.S. Sues for Occupancy Permit

A federal judge in Nashville ruled this afternoon that a Murfreesboro mosque may open in time for Ramadan, though he said the building must go through the normal inspection process. Attorneys for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro argued in court today that they were being held to a higher standard than other religious groups in seeking a construction permit for their building. Also today, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against Rutherford County, claiming violations of a federal law that prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning decisions. The suit asks the court to force the county to issue a certificate of occupancy for the mosque. The county has refused to issue the certificate following a chancery court ruling that proper notice was not given for the mosque’s building permit. The Tennessean has the latest

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Wrong 'Scruggs' Cited in News Story

A news item in yesterday's issue of TBA Today mistakenly identified the Mississippi lawyer who petitioned a federal appeals court this week to vacate his guilty plea in a judicial bribery case. It was Zach Scruggs, son of Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who filed the motion. The younger Scruggs pleaded guilty to failure to report a crime in the same case involving his father. He served a 14-month prison sentence, paid a $250,000 fine and lost his law license. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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