News

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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