News

Scruggs Asks that Guilty Plea be Vacated

Mississippi attorney Zach Scruggs asked a federal appeals court Monday to vacate his 2008 guilty plea in a judicial bribery case that also resulted in a prison sentence for his once-powerful father and law partner. Scruggs argued that his guilty plea should be thrown out because his conduct didn't constitute a crime in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling that an anti-fraud law was improperly used to help convict former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling. A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans did not immediately rule on the case, according to the Commercial Appeal.

read more »

Federal Practice for Tennessee Lawyers

The TBA's annual Federal Practice CLE will be held this Friday at the Tennessee Bar Center. Topics include whistleblower laws, recent developments in the Sixth Circuit, and evidence and admissibility issues related to social medial and electronic communications. Learn more or register here.

read more »

Health Care Opinion Took Court Out of Political Fray

With last week's health care ruling, the National Law Journal points out that both wings took steps toward each other, which "kept the court from becoming a major political issue from now until the November election." "It was a moment in which the court was potentially in jeopardy, and that was completely sidestepped," said Barry Friedman of New York University School of Law. Another professor called the health care decision a "defining point avoided" because of the ramifications for the court if the health care decision had gone against President Obama, while another said the opinion was up there with Marbury v. Madison. But whether it's a ground-shifting is doubtful. "Roberts and several of the liberals have forged a working coalition here," Duke Law professor Neil Siegel said. "It's not likely you can say that's going to happen when they get to affirmative action or the Defense of Marriage Act. Roberts is a real conservative."

read more »

Court Grants Cert in Key Class Action Case

Potentially lost in the flurry of news coverage about the Supreme Court's upcoming  health care decision was the court's action on Monday granting certiorarii in 11 cases. Among those to be considered during the next term is one that could make it more difficult for plaintiffs to bring class actions in federal courts, according to the ABA Journal. "The issue here," according to one observer, "is whether the plaintiffs have to show at the class-certification stage that they have a method of proving damages that is admissible at trial and common for all plaintiffs." Antitrust lawyer Ankur Kapoor says this could “be the big one” and "whatever the [court] says about this, the legal journals will be writing about it for years."  SCOTUSBlog has the list of all petitions granted.

read more »

Holder: Document Compromise Still Possible

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today indicated he still is willing to engage in negotiations to avoid a constitutional showdown over Justice Department documents in the "Fast and Furious" gun-smuggling investigation. Congressional Republicans say they are willing to negotiate, too, but only if the administration turns over more emails and memos. Barring that, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pledged the House would "vote next week on a contempt measure…" WCYB News 5 has this story from CNN

read more »

Holder, Committee Chair Meet Over 'Fast and Furious'

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was set to meet with House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., this afternoon to discuss the release of documents that might postpone a contempt vote. Issa has scheduled a committee vote for Wednesday on a contempt measure against Holder, but has offered to postpone the vote if Holder authorizes access to additional documents. Issa has accused the attorney general of stonewalling an investigation into Fast and Furious – a botched federal firearms sting – and charges that the Justice Department gave Congress erroneous information about it. WCYB Tri Cities has more

read more »

Man Admits Forging Judge's Signature

A Chattanooga man pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that he forged the signature of U.S. District Court Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice to try to get out of prison early on parole. Shaun Steven Kidd now faces up to five years for the charge on top of separate bank fraud charges to which he previously pleaded guilty. The presiding judge set a sentencing date of Oct. 1. Read more in the Times Free Press

read more »

Trainer Pleads Guilty, Federal Prosecutors Step Up Horse-Soring Actions

Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings, D-Maryland, wrote the Horse Protection Act when he served in the U.S. Senate from 1965 to 1971. With little funding, however, the act has not been widely enforced, as the Tennessean reports. Tydings said he hopes things are finally about to change, not only because of the release last week of undercover video showing soring and other abuses, but also because of federal prosecutors’ willingness to pursue violations of the act. Bill Killian, U.S. attorney for East Tennessee, and Jerry E. Martin, U.S. attorney for Middle Tennessee, are supportive. “If we get wind of soring, we are going to vigorously pursue the case," says Martin. Today in Chattanooga, Jackie L. McConnell, the horse trainer featured in the video, pleaded guilty to violating the act. He could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Neff said, but prosecutors are recommending probation. 

read more »

Man Confesses to Plan to Murder Judge

Kenneth Wade Jr. this week confessed to a charge of threatening to kill Social Security Administrative Law Judge K. Dickson Grissom after the judge denied Wade Social Security benefits. Wade now says he armed himself with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol in February and waited outside Grissom's Knoxville office "so that he could shoot him, but the judge did not come out." The News Sentinel reports

read more »

Mayor Calls for More Domestic Violence Prosecutors

Last year, two domestic violence prosecutors handled 12,686 reported incidents in Davidson County, averaging about 250 cases every week. Now Mayor Karl Dean says they need help. In his budget proposal, the mayor recommends $125,000 to add two more domestic violence prosecutors, bringing the total to four. Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson supports the move saying it would increase the amount of time attorneys have to spend on cases and, in turn, increase the quality of the representation. The Tennessean has more

read more »

Federal PD Explains Decision to Step Down

After 16 years, Stephen Shankman is leaving his post as West Tennessee federal public defender. He sent his notice to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month saying he wants to opt out of another possible appointment to a new four-year term. "I'm fine. There are no health issues," he said this week, the day after the notice for applicants was posted. "It’s just time." However, Shankman did tell The Memphis Daily News that the job had become "a bit frustrating" now that federal courts deal with more "street crime and low level stuff," which he says belongs in state court.

read more »

Federal Public Defender Sought in Memphis

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is accepting applications for the position of Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Tennessee. The position, which is filled by the court, is located in Memphis and is vacant due to retirement of the incumbent. The successful candidate will serve a four-year term. Those interested should apply by June 15. A full public notice, application and qualification standards are posted online.

read more »

Low Number of Judicial Nominations, Confirmations Fuel 'Emergency'

Since President Obama took office, he's had a chance to make nominations for 241 federal judgeships. Fifty-five of them  were vacant slots held over from the Bush administration. Obama has nominated 188 judges, and the Senate has approved 147 of them. That leaves a current total of 94 vacancies — 77 vacant slots and 17 held by judges who have said they plan to retire. Some law professors and advocacy groups say Obama could have had more judges confirmed to the bench had he simply made more nominations over his first three-plus years in office. The National Law Journal looks at what some are calling a judicial emergency.

read more »

Bill Extends 30 Federal Bankruptcy Judgeships

Congress sent a bill to the White House on Thursday that would extend 30 temporary federal bankruptcy judgeships for another five years. The bill reauthorizes bankruptcy judgeships in 14 states and Puerto Rico that had already expired. Without the legislation, those districts would have lost a judgeship anytime a judge retired or left the bench for any reason, something that had already happened in two districts. The Blog of Legal Times has more

read more »

Longest Serving Federal Appeals Judge Dies

Judge James Browning of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals died Saturday (May 5) at the age of 93. Browning, reportedly the nation's longest serving federal appeals judge, was appointed to the court in 1961 by President John Kennedy. He served as chief judge from 1976 to 1988 and took senior status in 2000. Browning once said his greatest contribution was helping persuade Congress not to split the appeals court. University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur Hellman called Browning "the architect of the modern 9th Circuit" saying he created innovations in case management, persuaded judges to work together despite differing views, and helped create the disciplinary system for federal judges. The ABA Journal has links to several stories

read more »

Senate Confirms 3 to Federal Bench, First Asian-American Woman

The U.S. Senate confirmed three judges to federal courts late Monday afternoon, including the first Asian-American woman on any federal appellate court. The Senate voted 91-3 to confirm Vietnam-born Los Angeles federal Judge Jacqueline Nguyen to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, filling a vacancy that had remained open since 2009. The Senate also confirmed two judges by voice votes: Kristine Gerhard Baker to be district judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and John Lee to be district judge for the Northern District of Illinois. The Blog of Legal Times has details

read more »

Federal Courts Increasingly Citing Wikipedia

Federal appeals courts are increasingly citing the reader-edited encyclopedia Wikipedia, though the trend has not spread to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to a search by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, federal appeals courts have cited Wikipedia about 95 times in the last five years. The news source also found that the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited Wikipedia 36 times, more than any other federal appeals court.

read more »

Confirmation for Judges Still Subject to Delay Tactics

The Senate confirmation process for federal judicial nominees has descended to a new level of contentiousness, Sen. Al Franken and a group of panelists said Tuesday in an event at the liberal Center for American Progress, the Blog of Legal Times reports. Even nominees with bi-partisan support in their home states are going through days of filibusters, he said. Jeremy Paris, chief counsel for nominations and oversight for the Senate Judiciary Committee majority staff, said there were only 28 judicial vacancies at this point in President George W. Bush’s presidency, compared with 82 vacancies for Obama right now. That is about one in 10 judgeships that remain open, including four judicial emergencies in the overwhelmed Ninth Circuit, he said.

read more »

Sentencing Commission Proposes New Guidelines

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has proposed several new amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. The proposed changes cover securities fraud, mortgage fraud, human rights offenses, drug offenses, contraband cellphones in prison, cigarette offenses, trafficking in fake Indian goods and animal crush videos. The commission must submit its proposed guideline amendments to Congress by May 1. Congress will have 180 days to act on the proposals, which will take effect Nov. 1 unless Congress votes to modify or disapprove them. ABAJournal.com has more

read more »

Comment on 6th Circuit Proposed Procedure Changes

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is proposing comprehensive amendments to the Sixth Circuit Rules and Internal Operating Procedures. Send your comments to the proposed changes to Clerk Leonard Green by July 12 to ca06-rules_comments@ca6.uscourts.gov

read more »

6th Circuit Affirms Donald Decision

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has upheld the life sentence of a Jackson man who pleaded guilty to exploitation of minors and trafficking in child pornography. Stephen Lynn Hammonds had argued that his sentence by U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald was unreasonable and excessive. Writing for the appeals court, Judge Julia Gibbons said Donald did not abuse her discretion: "The district court did consider the mitigating factors in the case but found, appropriately and within its discretion, that concerns about the seriousness of the crime and the need to protect the public were paramount." Read an analysis of the case on Chattanoogan.com or download the opinion

read more »

Tennessee Joins E-Book Price Fixing Suit

Tennessee has joined with 14 other states and the U.S. Justice Department to file suit against three of the nation’s largest book publishers and Apple Inc., alleging price fixing of e-books in a $100 million conspiracy. The suit was filed yesterday in Austin, Texas. Read the AG's release or more about the case in the Tennessean

read more »

Trial Set for Man Alleged to Have Forged Judge's Signature

A Chattanooga man serving time in state prison was arraigned Tuesday on charges that, in an attempt to get out early, he forged the signature of the federal judge who sentenced him in a separate embezzlement scheme. The document could have removed a federal hold, allowing possible release from state custody, where he's serving time on separate charges before beginning his five-year federal sentence. Trial is scheduled for June 18. If convicted, Shaun Steven Kidd could face up to 20 years on a tampering with evidence charge. The Times Free Press has more

read more »

Jackson Federal Buildings Not Closing

After reports surfaced that the federal government is considering closing court facilities in four Tennessee cities, lawyers in Jackson became concerned about the future of two federal buildings and their occupants. To set the record straight, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has confirmed that it is not considering closing the Ed Jones Federal Building or the U.S District Courthouse. What is under consideration is closure of a historic courtroom on the second floor of the Ed Jones building as well as the attached chambers, a jury room, probation office and pre-trial services. If closed, 15 people would be affected but none would lose their jobs. Other offices within the building, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS and U.S. Attorney's Office, would remain intact. The Jackson Sun has the story

read more »

AG Holder Promises More Resources to Middle Tennessee Office

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said today in Nashville that the traditionally understaffed U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee will be getting new resources to fight crime in the region. Holder, along with U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin, met with Nashville reporters to discuss health care fraud initiatives nationally and locally when he made the commitment. “This district is one of 25 that we have determined to be ‘distressed,’” said Holder, promising that Martin and his district would receive additional personnel to remedy the situation. NashvillePost.com has the story

read more »