News

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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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

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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

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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

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