Judges Block Trump Travel Ban, Tennessee Delegation Split

At least five judges over the weekend partially blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, the ABA Journal says. Federal judges in Brooklyn, Boston, Alexandra, Los Angeles and Seattle issued injunctions. In Tennessee, Reps. Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen both say they will join fellow Democrats in sponsoring legislation that would bar the use of federal funds to enforce the travel ban, the Commercial Appeal reports. Tennessee Republicans in Congress defended the actions, calling them a "necessary step" to strengthening national security. Some also admitted the actions were sometimes poorly carried out.
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Chief Judge Sharp to Resign, Launch New Practice

Chief U.S. District Judge Kevin H. Sharp resigned today, the Tennessean reports. The Nashville judge confirmed to the newspaper that he has submitted his resignation letter to President Donald Trump, whose administration will now need to nominate two people to federal judgeships in the Middle District of Tennessee. Judge Todd Campbell announced last fall that he would be taking senior status. The Nashville Post reports that Sharp will shift his focus to opening a Nashville office for Sanford Heisler, an employment and public interest law firm that has two offices on each coast.
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Burst Pipe Floods Memphis Federal Building

A pipe burst over the weekend at the Federal Building in Memphis, leading to the closure of the clerk's office through Wednesday. Courtroom proceedings for Memphis judges will continue as scheduled, and the grand jury session scheduled for Tuesday will go forward. Counsel will be notified of scheduling changes. 
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Obama Cuts Sentences for Hundreds More

President Barack Obama today reduced or eliminated the sentences of hundreds more drug offenders, CNN reports. The move brings his total commutations to 1,385 individuals, the vast majority of whom have been serving mandatory minimum sentences for crimes related to distribution or production of narcotics. The group approved today also included Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of passing classified information to WikiLeaks, and James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was convicted of making false statements to investigators when questioned about leaking classified information to two journalists. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Justice Department officials have been working nonstop to complete their review of more than 16,000 clemency petitions filed by federal prisoners.

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Trump Promises Court Nominee in 2 Weeks

President-elect Donald Trump says he expects to announce a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court within two weeks of his inauguration. According to Above the Law, Trump has met with 11th Circuit Court Judge William Pryor, reportedly the leading candidate for the post. The ABA Journal also reports that the president-elect has identified Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo, Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint and a number of Republican lawmakers as advising him on the choice.

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USDA Tightens Rules on Training Tennessee Walking Horses

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday announced several changes to the Horse Protection Act aimed at ending the practice of soring, the Tennessean reports. The new rule, which would go into effect on Jan.1, 2018, bans much of the gear used in the process, including chains that are placed around a horse’s ankles and weights that are attached to the front hooves during training. The rule also directs industry inspectors to become trained and licensed through the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, based in Shelbyville, said it plans to challenge the regulatory action.

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Takata Workers Indicted Over Air Bag Defects

A federal grand jury in Detroit has indicted three former employees of Takata Corp., charging them with concealing deadly defects in the Japanese company’s automotive air bag inflators, the Associated Press reports. The indictments on six counts of conspiracy and wire fraud were unsealed Friday, just hours ahead of a Justice Department news conference to announce a corporate penalty against the company. The FBI has been investigating allegations that the company deceived federal regulators and tried to cover up the air bag problems.

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DOJ to Investigate FBI’s Pre-Election Activities

The U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general will review how the FBI and the DOJ handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced yesterday. Horowitz said the probe would include a review of whether improper considerations influenced investigative decisions and whether proper procedures were followed regarding announcement of the closed probe in July and an Oct. 28 disclosure that newly discovered emails were being investigated. FBI Director James Comey concluded after the second review that prosecution still was not warranted. Some have suggested that the late October announcement negatively impacted support for Clinton. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Court Weighs Education Benefits for Disabled Students

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed willing to put more teeth into a law that requires public schools to help learning-disabled students, the Associated Press reports. Most of the justices indicated that school districts must offer more than the bare minimum of services to children with special needs. But they struggled over how to clarify the law without inviting more litigation between frustrated parents and cash-strapped schools. The court is considering an appeal from the parents of an autistic teen who say his public school did not provide sufficient services and are seeking reimbursement for the costs of sending him to a private school.

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VW Reaches $4.3 Billion Deal to Settle Civil, Criminal Charges

Volkswagen has agreed to a $4.3 billion settlement to resolve civil and criminal investigations into the German automaker's diesel emissions cheating, Reuters reports this afternoon. U.S. prosecutors also charged six Volkswagen executives and employees for their roles in the nearly 10-year conspiracy to mislead regulators and customers about diesel emissions from VW cars. Volkswagen had previously agreed to spend up to $17.5 billion in the United States to resolve claims by U.S. regulators, owners and dealers and offered to buy back nearly 500,000 polluting vehicles.

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Court Declines to Hear Backpage Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday decided not to hear the case of Jane Doe v., a civil suit filed by sex-trafficking victims that contends the website helps facilitate sex trafficking of minors. That decision leaves in place a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that the company is covered by the Communications Decency Act and protected from claims against third-party content. Despite that win, announced Monday it is shutting down its adult advertising section, the ABA Journal reports. The move appears to be a response to a report from a Senate subcommittee accusing the company of editing ads to remove evidence of child sex trafficking.

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Groups Plan Ad Campaign to Help Court Nominee

A number of conservative groups are launching a coordinated effort to build support for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, the ABA Journal reports. The plan includes ad buys in states that supported Trump in the presidential election and also will have moderate Democrat senators on the ballot in 2018. The Judicial Crisis Network says it will spend up to $10 million on the effort after having spent $7 million in efforts to prevent the Obama administration from filling the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year. “We are preparing to launch the most robust campaign for a Supreme Court nominee in history,” JCN’s chief counsel said.

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Sessions’ Hearing Hits Hot Button Issues

Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions went before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today and mounted a full-scale response to what he has described as character attacks against him and false charges about his past. The hearing, which was interrupted from time to time by protestors, covered a range of “hot button” issues including civil rights, immigration, a border wall, same-sex marriage and abortion, with Sessions saying he will uphold the law even if he does not agree with it. Sessions also said he would recuse himself from any investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation given his past comments on those issues. The hearing continues tomorrow with unprecedented testimony by one sitting senator, Illinois’ Cory Booker, against another. Read Sessions’ opening statement.

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Lawmakers Re-file Bill to Name Courthouse for Thompson

The Tennessee congressional delegation re-filed legislation Monday to name the new federal courthouse in Nashville after former Sen. Fred Thompson, Knoxnews reports. A similar bill was approved by the House of Representatives last year but the congressional term ended before the Senate considered it. The Tennessean had that story. The new $194 million structure would be known as the Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse under the proposed legislation. Thompson, who died in 2015 at age 73, represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003.

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Fact Check: Ginsburg Not Resigning Over Trump

A widely shared story that claims U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told The Associated Press that she plans to resign from the Supreme Court in protest of Republican President-elect Donald Trump is false. According to the AP, the false story was posted by several websites in December and versions of it have been in circulation since last July. The false story includes one accurate quote but also several paragraphs of fabricated quotes attributed to Ginsburg. At age 83, Ginsburg is the court’s oldest justice, but has announced no plans to retire. WRCB-TV has the story.

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1st Criminal Meningitis Trial Starts Today

After a lengthy federal probe and two years of legal battles, the first criminal trial associated with the fungal meningitis outbreak caused by tainted steroid injections starts this week, USA Today reports. Victims are watching as Barry J. Cadden, director of the New England Compounding Center, which made the injections, is charged with 25 counts of second-degree murder. Opening statements were scheduled to begin today. About 750 people nationwide were sickened by the injections and 76 died. Federal officials have alleged that the pharmacy did not follow regulations and procedures when preparing more than 10,000 tainted doses of methylprednisolone acetate. Tennessee was the second-hardest hit state, with 153 illnesses and 16 deaths, according to the Tennessean.

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Court to Hear 2 Free Speech Cases This Month

The U.S. Supreme Court’s January oral argument calendar includes two major cases about freedom of speech and how far the First Amendment extends to limit government regulation. Erwin Chemerinsky writes about the cases of Lee v. Tam and Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman in the ABA Journal.

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Texas Sues FDA over Seizure of Lethal Injection Drugs

Texas officials have filed a federal lawsuit to force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make a decision whether it will return lethal injection drugs the agency confiscated nearly a year and a half ago. “There are only two reasons why the FDA would take 17 months to make a final decision on Texas’ importation of thiopental sodium: gross incompetence or willful obstruction,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton says in the suit. The Washington Post reports that the state had purchased 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental from a foreign distributor, but the drugs were seized by the FDA at the Houston airport in 2015. Texas authorities argue that the drugs do not violate any of the statutes enforced by the FDA.

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Credit Reporting Companies Settle Federal Case

Credit reporting companies Equifax and TransUnion have agreed to pay more than $23 million to resolve claims they misled consumers and lured them into paying monthly fees for credit-related products, the ABA Journal reports. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced the settlement this week. According to regulators, the companies touted free or $1 credit scores while enrolling people in automatic renewal programs that cost $16 or more a month, and falsely portrayed the credit scores marketed to consumers as the same scores used by lenders for credit decisions. In reality, lenders use a variety of credit scores, which can vary by provider and target industry.

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State Sued over Driver’s License Law

A lawsuit filed in federal court this week alleges that the state’s driver’s license law violates constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, and unfairly deprives the poor of the right to drive because they cannot pay court fees. The suit, brought by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the Memphis-based reform group Just City and the Memphis office of Baker Donelson, argues that more than 146,000 Tennesseans have had their driver’s licenses revoked since 2012 for not paying court fines. State law provides for automatic revocation when court fines go unpaid for a year. The suit asks the Nashville-based court to reinstate the revoked licenses and waive reinstatement fees for those impacted, the Tennessean reports.

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Trump Picks 'Big Law' Lawyers for Key Posts

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Robert Lighthizer, a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom, as his nominee for U.S. trade representative. Lighthizer served as deputy U.S. trade representative in the Reagan administration and has been critical of China’s trade practices. At Skadden, he has represented companies seeking access to foreign markets and litigated antidumping and other trade cases. The ABA Journal has links to several stories on the nomination. Trump also has nominated Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, News Channel 9 reports. Clayton is a partner in the New York City office of Sullivan & Cromwell.

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Schumer, Democrats Prepared to Block Trump Court Pick

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says he is prepared to block President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee if he or she is not in the “mainstream.” In an interview yesterday, Schumer said it is “hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support that we could support.” Asked if he would do his best to hold the seat open, Schumer responded, “Absolutely.” Schumer also said Democrats will push for a mainstream nominee, according to Roll Call.

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Roberts Praises Lower Court Judges in Annual Report

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts devoted his annual report on the state of the judiciary to the role of lower court judges he calls “selfless, patriotic and brave individuals.” The report, which sheds light each year on an issue identified by the chief justice, maintains that the lower court judges play a “crucial role” but are not often the focus of public attention. Roberts asks why any lawyer would want a job that requires long hours, exacting skill and intense devotion, while promising high stress, solitary confinement and guaranteed criticism. But finds that many of those willing to make that sacrifice are motivated by the “rewards of public service.” Local Memphis has the story from CNN.

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Have You Heard About the TBA Mashup?

Interested in observing a legal hackathon or getting a hands-on demonstration of the new Fastcase 7 platform? Both will be part of the first TBA Mashup, a full-day of activities and free programming set for Feb. 17 at the Tennessee Bar Center in conjunction with the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program.

In addition to the hackathon and Fastcase 7 demo, the TBA Mashup will feature sessions on: 

  • Current State of Health Insurance for the Small Firms
  • Professional Liability Insurance - What to look for in YOUR Policy
  • A Demo of Fastcase TopForm, a powerful bankruptcy filing software
  • Retirement Planning Guidance from the ABA Retirement Funds
  • Pro Bono in Action: How to help with pro bono events and how to take part in online options

At the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program, you can take as many or as few hours as you need. Registration will be open all day. Payment will be determined at checkout based on the hours you need. Topics will include: 

  • Bill & Phil Tech Show
  • Ethical Considerations for Cyber Security in Law
  • Evolution of the Legal Marketplace
  • Making e-Discovery Affordable 
  • Drone Law
  • Encryption for Lawyers

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Obama Signs Bill to Review Civil Rights-Era Killings

Racially motivated, civil rights-era killings that are now cold cases will get a fresh look under legislation signed by President Barack Obama, PBS reports. The measure, signed last week, extends a 2007 law that calls for a full accounting of race-based deaths, many of which have been closed for decades. It also provides federal resources to help local jurisdictions look into the cases, extends the time frame of cases to be considered and requires the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI to consult with civil rights organizations, universities and others who had been gathering evidence on these deaths.

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