News

Trump Names Jones Day Partner as White House Counsel

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Jones Day partner and election lawyer Donald McGahn as his White House counsel, the ABA Journal reported today. Trump said in an announcement that McGahn has a “brilliant legal mind, excellent character and a deep understanding of constitutional law.” McGahn previously served as general counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee. At Jones Day, he handles government regulation matters.

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Is Harold Ford Jr. Being Considered for Trump Cabinet?

Former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford Jr. may be under consideration for a post in the Trump administration, according to the website Politico. Transportation secretary has been mentioned though “other Cabinet posts have not been ruled out.” Ford, a Democrat, supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential campaign, but he is friends with some of Donald Trump’s children. Two sources confirmed that preliminary feelers have been put out about potential posts via “emissaries.” Ford represented Tennessee’s Ninth Congressional District from 1997 through 2007. He left that post to run for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost to current Sen. Bob Corker. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Obama Hits 1,000 Mark for Commutations

President Barack Obama surpassed the 1,000 mark for commutations granted during his presidency after shortening sentences for another 79 people yesterday. Obama has been granting commutations at rapid-fire pace in his final months in office. All told, he has commuted more sentences than the past 11 presidents combined, according to the White House. Most of those who have received clemency are nonviolent drug offenders, though many were also convicted of firearms violations related to drug crimes, the Associated Press reports. Though Obama is expected to grant more commutations in his final weeks, officials acknowledge a large number of applications will be pending after the president leaves office. WRCB-TV has the story.

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CLE Explores New Rules for Wellness Programs

New rules from the EEOC impacting what incentive employers may offer to employees who provide medical information as part of a wellness program under the Americans with Disabilities Act take effect Jan. 1. Nashville lawyer Fredrick Bissinger, with Wimberly Lawson Wright Daves & Jones, will cover the do’s and don’ts of the new rules at a webcast CLE on Dec. 6. Get more information or register online.

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Federal Suit Filed Against Shelby County Jail

A class action lawsuit was filed yesterday against Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham seeking damages of $10 million for those kept in the jail for “unreasonable periods of time,” Memphis Flyer reports. The federal suit was filed by Just City after reports that the jail was plagued by administrative issues for two weeks while a computer system was updated. “Inmates are being lost in the Shelby County Jail system, those who have gotten bonds aren’t being released, inmates are sleeping on the floors” and the entire system is in “disarray,” according to the group’s executive director.

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Senate Judiciary to be Led by 2 Non-Lawyers

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will be led by two non-lawyers in the next Congress. Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa -- the committee's first ever non-lawyer chair -- will continue in the position he has held since 2014. This week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, became the ranking member of the committee. She replaces Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who was a practicing attorney before he joined Congress. Responding to concerns that Feinstein is not a lawyer, her former chief counsel said the move “illustrates how legal issues are increasingly seen as societal and political issues” and that having “good, hard-working, smart people running these committees” is more important than whether they have a law degree. Today’s General Counsel has an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal story.

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Judge Blocks Union ‘Persuader Rule’

A Texas-based federal judge yesterday blocked the Obama administration’s “persuader rule,” which would have required third-party lawyers and other labor consultants to publicly disclose work they do for companies related to union organization efforts, even if they do not contact employees directly. U.S. Judge Sam Cummings finalized a temporary injunction he issued against the rule in June. Cummings said the rule oversteps the Labor Department’s authority under federal law. The Nashville Business Journal has more on the decision.

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Federal Judge Campbell to Retire Dec. 1

U.S. District Court Judge Todd J. Campbell announced today that he would retire from the bench effective Dec. 1. Campbell, who has served the Middle District of Tennessee for more than 20 years, including seven as chief judge, led the court through a number of significant accomplishments including implementation of an electronic filing and online jury reporting system, securing the new federal courthouse, revising local rules to conform with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, creating an accessible courtroom for individuals with disabilities, supporting law school scholarships for disadvantaged students, and providing free educational programs for attorneys around major cases decided by the court. In a statement released today, Chief Judge Kevin H. Sharp said, “Words cannot capture all that Judge Campbell has meant to his colleagues, this district and the Sixth Circuit … his sage advice and counsel to his fellow judges will be sorely missed.” The Tennessean has more on the news.

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Nashville Moves to Dismiss AT&T Lawsuit

Metro Nashville government filed a motion on Monday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by AT&T seeking to strike down the city’s controversial One Touch Make Ready law, which is being pushed by Google Fiber. The city refutes AT&T’s key complaint that regulation of privately owned utility poles falls under the jurisdiction of the FCC and not local governments. But it asked the court to seek FCC review if it believes the ordinance conflicts with federal law. Though the judge overseeing the case consolidated suits from AT&T and Comcast, the city says it must file separate motions responding to each. The Tennessean has more on the story.

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What Trump Could Mean for Federal Courts in Tennessee

President-elect Donald Trump could dramatically change the makeup of the federal court system in Tennessee with nominations over the next four years, the Tennessean reports. There is one current vacancy in the Western District, with a second one expected to open up when Jackson-based Judge J. Daniel Breen moves to senior status. In the Middle District, U.S. District Court Judge Todd J. Campbell announced today that he would retire from the bench effective Dec. 1. Trump also has the right to replace the state’s three sitting U.S. attorneys. “Here in Nashville … zero of the active judges are Republican appointees,” says Vanderbilt Law School Professor Brian Fitzpatrick. “There has not been a Republican appointed to our federal trial bench here since George H.W. Bush.”

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Is Justice Kennedy About to Retire?

Those who suggest that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy may be getting ready to retire point to several recent developments: Kennedy has scheduled his next clerkship reunion for 2017, one year shy of the five-year cycle he typically has followed; he did not teach abroad this summer, suggesting he may be winding down his schedule; and he has hired just one law clerk for the 2017 term. But the court’s spokeswoman says Kennedy is in the process of hiring more clerks and has plans to return to Salzburg in 2017. As for the timing of the reunion, he wanted to hold it the year he turned 80, she says. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Trump’s Supreme Court List Reflects ‘Revolt against Elites’

When Donald J. Trump issued his list of 21 potential nominees to the Supreme Court in September, he made a vow. “This list is definitive,” he said, “and I will choose only from it in picking future justices of the Supreme Court.” According to the New York Times, the list manages “to reassure the conservative legal establishment and to represent a rebellion against it.” But the major theme, the paper argues, is that Trump’s picks primarily went to law schools other than Harvard or Yale and reside in the country’s heartland rather than the coasts. The list, like his campaign, is a “revolt against the elites,” the paper concludes.

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Profile: Federal Prosecutor Readies for Change

Nancy Harr, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, is maintaining a good attitude about her job in the wake of a Republican presidential win Tuesday night, according to a profile of the lawyer in Knoxnews. “We are the U.S. Attorney’s Office for everyone,” the Democratic appointee says. While she likely will not stay in her current role, she is happy to return to prosecuting cases and said she will help with the transition once a new Republican appointee is confirmed. “I’ve served now under Clinton, under Bush and Obama and now I’m getting ready to serve under President Trump,” she said.

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Stanton Unlikely to Get Confirmation Vote

USA Today is reporting that Donald Trump’s presidential election victory most likely means the end of U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III’s prospects of becoming a federal judge. Stanton was nominated by President Barack Obama and has been waiting more than a year and a half for Senate confirmation. He is one of 52 Obama judicial nominees in limbo. “I can’t imagine that, with the change in government, any additional district judges will be confirmed,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Chattanooga. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Stanton, Weirich Announce Special Heroin Prosecutor

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton and Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich are joining forces to support a special prosecutor to go after those responsible for heroin overdoses and deaths, the Commercial Appeal reports. At the request of Stanton, the board of the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas approved a grant to hire a full-time prosecutor in Shelby County. The yet-to-be-named individual will come from Weirich’s office, but will be named a special assistant U.S. attorney and will work with federal, state and local officials on heroin cases. The pair hope to have a prosecutor on the job by January.

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AG's Office Clarifies Testimony to 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III released a statement about a letter his office sent to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the matter of Andrew Thomas v. Bruce Westbrooks, a death penalty case. The letter from Assistant Attorney General Michael M. Stall seeks to clarify his testimony before the court this month about a $750 payment made to a witness in a federal case involving Andrew Thomas, which occured three years prior to the state case. The letter and today's statement emphasizes that “the payment … was made by the federal government without the knowledge of or involvement by District Attorney General Amy Weirich” and “there has been no finding whatsoever that state prosecutors in this case had actual knowledge of the payment at the time of the state trial.” Read the letter or this explanation from the AG's office.

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Courts Decline to Pre-emptively Act on Intimidation Claims

The U.S. Supreme Court and federal judges in three states turned down requests yesterday by Democrats trying to head off what they say were plans by Donald Trump’s supporters and a group known as Stop the Steal to harass and intimidate voters on Election Day. The Supreme Court issued a one-page denial in a case out of Ohio, while federal courts in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Nevada also refused to act. Most of the judges said voter intimidation is already illegal and that the group did not present evidence of actual intimidation. They however pledged to monitor the day's activities closely. WRCB-TV has more from the Associated Press.

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Court Raises Doubts About Temporary Presidential Picks

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday raised doubts about the temporary appointment of a former labor official in a case that could limit the president’s power to fill top government posts, the Associated Press reports. The justices are considering whether Lafe Solomon was allowed to serve as acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board while he was waiting for Senate confirmation to fill the role permanently. A federal appeals court ruled last year that Solomon’s tenure was invalid. A ruling from the high court is expected by the end of June. WRCB-TV has the story.

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Comments Sought on Reappointment of Federal PD

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is seeking comments from those who are in a position to evaluate the performance of Henry Martin, federal public defender for the Middle District of Tennessee. Martin’s current term will expire on July 23, 2017, and he is eligible for reappointment. Comments should be submitted by Nov. 15. Get details about how to submit comments.

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Janet Reno, 1st Woman AG, Dies at 78

Janet Reno, the first woman to hold the post of U.S. attorney, died today at her home in Miami-Dade County, Florida. She was 78 and had suffered from Parkinson’s disease since 1995. Reno served as the nation’s top law enforcement officer for eight years, which included some of the most divisive times of the Bill Clinton presidency and two events that garnered national attention: a deadly federal raid on the compound of a religious cult in Waco and the return of refugee Elián González to his father in Cuba. Key cases included the prosecution of the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City federal building bombers, and the filing of an antitrust suit against Microsoft and a suit against the tobacco industry. The New York Times has more on her life.

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Overbey Reappointed to Legal Task Force

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, has been reappointed to the Council of State Governments’ Legal Task Force, the Daily Times reports. The bi-partisan legal task force reviews litigation in federal courts that may potentially impact the states and the relationship between the federal government and states. Overbey is first vice chair on the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee and chair of the Ethics Committee.

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Obama Commutes Another 72 Sentences

President Barack Obama on Friday commuted the sentences of 72 additional federal inmates. That  move brings Obama's total number of commutations to 944 people, the ABA Journal reports. Just eight days ago, the president commuted 98 sentences. In a post on the White House Blog, White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote, “What President Obama has done for commutations is unprecedented in the modern era.” He is “demonstrating that our nation is a nation of second chances.”

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Appeals Court Upholds City’s Right to Cut COLAs

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed a district court ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed against the city of Chattanooga by retired firefighters and police officers over reforms to their pension plans, the Times Free Press reports. U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Collier had granted the city’s motion for summary judgment agreeing that cost-of-living adjustments did not constitute a vested right or contract between the city and its employees. The appellate panel found that, “The retirees do not have a contractual right to a fixed three-percent COLA, because the City Code does not bind the fund to the fixed COLA.”

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Court’s First Live Webcast Honors Scalia

The U.S. Supreme Court today live-streamed a memorial honoring the late Justice Antonin Scalia. It was the court’s first-ever live video webcast, the ABA Journal reports. Former Scalia law clerk Paul Cappucio, executive vice president and general counsel of Time Warner, led the event. Gabe Roth with Fix the Court, which has called for greater court transparency, said the decision to webcast the event was “a shock, though a much appreciated one.” A replay is available on the court’s website.

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U.S. Attorney Stanton Promotes Lawyers, Staff

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton has promoted three attorneys and two staff members in his West Tennessee offices. In the Memphis office, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carroll Andre was named criminal division chief, Assistant U.S. Attorney Keenan Carter was named deputy civil chief, staff member Marian Peete was promoted to legal supervisory assistant and LaRita Bearden was named a victim witness specialist. In the Jackson office, Assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Boswell was named chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. The Jackson Sun has more on each of these promotions.

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