News

Justice Thomas Silent During Oral Arguments for 10 Years

It’s been nearly 10 years since U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas asked a question during oral arguments, the ABA Journal reports. His last question was on Feb. 22, 2006, in a death penalty case. His reason: “I think we should listen to lawyers who are arguing their cases, and I think we should allow the advocates to advocate,” he said in 2013 at a Harvard Law School appearance.

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Delaware Judge Puts Death Penalty Decisions on Hold

Delaware Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden announced Monday that all capital cases will be put on hold while the state supreme court discusses if the state’s capital punishment structure is constitutional. The decision follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that struck down a Florida death-penalty sentencing law similar to Delaware’s. Read more from the ABA Journal.

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Court Rules on Parents' Constitutional Rights in Termination Proceedings

The Tennessee Supreme today held that a parent's constitutional right to fundamental fairness in termination proceedings does not require adoption of a separate procedure that allows parents to further appeal termination orders based on ineffective representation by appointed counsel. The Court argued that adding a separate procedure could result in years of litigation that “could cause immeasurable damage to children.” The Court imposed an additional safeguard that says in an appeal from an order terminating parental rights, the Court of Appeals must consider whether the evidence supports the trial court’s findings as to all the grounds for termination alleged and as to the best interests of the child, even if the parent fails to challenge these findings on appeal. Read the majority opinion in In Re Carrington H., authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, and the separate concurring and dissenting opinion, authored by Chief Justice Lee.

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Court Rules on Generic Evidence in Child Molestation Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court today said that in generic evidence cases, where the child victim testifies about repeated incidents of sexual abuse but cannot provide details about the acts, the prosecution is not obligated to choose a specific instance of abuse. The announcement comes as the Court upheld the conviction of Jimmy Dale Qualls, of Hornsby, for 37 counts of sexual battery by an authority figure. The state asked the high Court to review the case after Qualls appealed to the Court of Appeals; Qualls claimed prosecution’s method of election was not sufficiently specific to guarantee the defendant his state constitutional right to a unanimous verdict on each charged offense. The Court, analyzing decisions from courts in other states, encouraged prosecutors to always attempt to gather details about specific incidents of sexual abuse. Read the unanimous opinion in State of Tennessee v. Jimmy Dale Qualls, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark.

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Court Considers 'Good Faith Exception' in Davidson Appeal

The Tennessee Supreme Court today heard the appeal of of Lemaricus Davidson, who was sentenced to die for his role in the January 2007 slayings of Knoxville couple Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. The justices said they are interested in crafting a “good faith exception” to apply to a search warrant mistake brought by attorneys for Davidson in the appeal. “This court has the authority to adopt that, and we want to know if we should adopt that," Justice Jeffrey Bivins said during oral arguments. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel

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Court Will Hear Appeal Tomorrow in Christian-Newson Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Knoxville in the direct appeal of Lemaricus Davidson, the man sentenced to death for his role in the 2007 murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Davidson was sentenced to death by a Knox County jury after he was convicted of of multiple charges in 2009, including two counts of first degree murder and three counts of aggravated rape. The Court will also hear an appeal from Thomas William Whited, who contends he should have not have received a 22-year sentence after he was charged for secretly recording videos of his 12-year-old daughter and her minor friends as they got undressed. The oral arguments are open to the public and will begin at 10 a.m. EST at the Supreme Court building, 505 W Main St.

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Court's Ruling on Autopsy Report Sets Legal Precedent

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports an opinion issued last week by the Tennessee Supreme Court set legal precedent in the state when the court ruled that an autopsy report can serve as evidence in a murder trial – even when the medical examiner who wrote it is no longer available to testify. Dr. Sandra Elkins, formerly Knox County’s chief medical examiner, was forced to step down after authorities say she suffered a drug relapse. Bob Jolley, defense attorney for Thomas Lee Hutchison in the case, argued that Hutchison had the right to confront Elkins if the autopsy were to be admitted. Justice Holly Kirby said that the justices agreed an autopsy report does not itself accuse a particular defendant of murder but only documents that a killing took place. Read the full opinion authored by Justice Kirby.

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Court Upholds Conviction in Knox County Murder Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld the conviction of a man for facilitation of aggravated robbery and facilitation of the first degree murder of a Knox County man. Thomas Hutchinson appealed his convictions, arguing that his constitutional rights were violated in two ways: (1) The medical examiner who testified at Hutchinson’s trial was not the examiner who performed the autopsy report on the victim; (2) Police officers who entered Hutchison’s home seized evidence without first obtaining a warrant. The Court of Criminal Appeals found no violations of Hutchinson’s constitutional rights. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld that ruling. Read the opinion in State of Tennessee v. Thomas Lee Hutchison, authored by Justice Holly Kirby.

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Attorneys for Ex-Vols Appeal Social Media Ruling

Attorneys for A.J. Johnson and Michael Wiliams, ex-Vol football players accused of rape, are asking the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to rule on a legal issue over access to social media accounts of witnesses. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee in November denied a request for a social media subpoena, but later authorized the appeal, known as an interlocutory appeal because it is filed pretrial, in hopes of getting legal guidance on both the defense's right to such information and the method in which it should be obtained. McGee has repeatedly said the case is plowing new legal ground at a time when communication via social media, Internet messaging services and text messages is now the norm. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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Court Adopts Proposed Rule Amendments; Packages Await Legislative OK

The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted proposed amendments to the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Juvenile Practice. The amendments are set to become effective July 1, 2016, but must first win approval by resolutions of the General Assembly.

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Lawmakers Urge Scalia to Recuse Himself from Case

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., are calling for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to recuse himself from Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, an affirmative action case. Justice Scalia was accused of being racist after comments he made during oral arguments. "I think he should be held accountable," Grayson said. "We have to understand that this is a government of laws, not of men, and we need to have unbiased justice." Read more from KUTV.

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U.S. Supreme Court Review, 4 Hours of CLE

Need 4 hours of CLE credit? The United State Supreme Court Review program will offer 4 hours of CLE on Dec. 28, 10:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at the Tennessee Bar Center. More CLE hours are available on the same day at the TBA’s CLE Blast.

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Two New CLE Challenges Available

Two new programs have been added to the Tennessee Supreme Court Fantasy Challenge, which allows you to predict the outcome of cases while earning CLE credit. Each program provides access to lower court decisions, briefs and case summaries. Start playing now!

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Justice Breyer Discusses Oral Arguments, Ted Kennedy

Who would Justice Stephen Breyer like to have dinner with? The U.S. Supreme Court member sat down with NPR for a chat (the answer in Alexander Hamilton) while promoting his new book, “The Court and the World.” Justice Breyer discusses what he learned from working with Sen. Ted Kennedy and how the justices approach questions in oral arguments. “It's horrible for the poor lawyers! Because we do not think that that half hour, each side, is for them to make their argument,” Justice Breyer said. “We think we know the argument.”

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9 Sworn In at TBA Supreme Court Admission Ceremony

Nine Tennessee attorneys were admitted to practice today before the U.S. Supreme Court at the 32nd Annual TBA Academy and Admission Ceremony in Washington, D.C. TBA President Bill Harbison led the activities leading up to admission of: Rebecca Wells Demaree of Cornelius & Collins in Nashville; Calvin Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley; incoming TBA president Jason H. Long of Lowe, Yeager and Brown in Knoxville; Shane Kelvin McNeill of Tellus Law in Thompson’s Station; C. Creed McGinley of Savannah; Charles McIver Molder of Mounger and Molder in Columbia; J. Britt Phillips of Sutter O’Connell in Franklin; Steven Wilson of The Steve Wilson Firm in Memphis; and Rachel Lea Zamata of Nashville. See more photos.

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Criminal Procedure Rule Concerning Illegal Sentences Clarification

The Tennessee Supreme Court today clarified the meaning and purpose of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedures 36.1, which was adopted in 2011 and outlines a procedure for challenging illegal sentences. The Court said Rule 36.1 does not expand the scope of relief for illegal sentence claims and to obtain relief under the rule, a moving party must show that the challenged sentence is “illegal,” and that the challenged sentence has not expired. Based upon this clarification, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded the defendant in State v. Wooden failed to show that his challenged sentence was an illegal sentence and that the defendant’s sentence in State v. Brown expired several years before he sought relief under Rule 36.1. Read the opinions in State v. Wooden and State v. Brown, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark.

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TBJ: Summary Judgment Comes Full Circle

With the Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis MPLLC decision, Tennessee now has its own “summary judgment trilogy”: Byrd, Hannan and Rye. Solicitor General Andrée Blumstein explains in the December Tennessee Bar Journal how Rye brings the state’s summary judgment jurisprudence full circle, rejecting as problematic the idiosyncratic Hannan standard and reinstating as tried-and-true the familiar federal summary judgment standard. Also in the issue, University of Tennessee law professor Michael J. Higdon shows you how to write succinctly, to better communicate with the impatient, skeptical legal reader.

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AOC Names Harmon New General Counsel

Tennessee Attorney General senior counsel Rachel Harmon will join the Administrative Office of the Courts next month as general counsel for the judiciary. Harmon comes to the AOC after nine years with the AG's office, where she served in the criminal appellate division and the civil litigation and state services division. As general counsel of the AOC, she will head the legal division, oversee administrative functions and support trial and appellate judges across the state.

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6th Circuit: Ex-Deputy Not Entitled to Summary Judgment

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling by Judge Harry S. Mattice that said former Bradley County deputy Dustin Patrick was not entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, The Times Free Press reports. Friday's ruling means the case will go to trial, but no trial date has been set. Patrick shot Armetta Foster in 2011 after she allegedly slashed him with a knife and drove off in his patrol car; Foster later died from the gunshot wounds. Foster’s father filed a federal civil lawsuit claiming that Patrick used aggressive force.

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Study says Roberts Favors Justices When Assigning Major Decisions

A new study says U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. plays favorites when assigning the court’s most important decisions. “Not surprisingly, Roberts calls his own number more than anyone else’s and assigns the second-highest number to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the pivotal justice on the ideologically divided court,” The Washington Post writes about the new study published in the Harvard Law Review. The article also says Roberts pays "little regard to seniority" in assigning major decisions. 

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Convicted 'Black Widow' Wants Baumgartner Files Opened

A Knoxville woman who was charged with killing her first husband and later convicted of killing her second husband is trying to win a new trial by pointing to the misdeeds of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, the Knoxnews reportsRaynella Dossett Leath had been charged with killing her first husband, Knox County District Attorney General Ed Dossett, in 1992, but that case was dropped when she was convicted of fatally shooting David Leath. Baumgartner had denied Leath’s motion for new trial just before stepping down from the bench. She is now seeking Baumgartner's entire Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file to bolster her case.

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Court Grants Metro Nashville Standing in Suit

The Tennessee Supreme Court's unanimous ruling grants Metropolitan Government of Nashville standing in its suit filed against the local Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) regarding the BZA’s 2012 decision to deny permits to install a digital billboard. Landowners and a company that leased the property said Metro Nashville lacked legal standing to initiate the suit. The Court determined Metro Nashville had legal standing and “can be considered a party that possibly could be ‘aggrieved’ by the actions of the board.” The case now returns to chancery court. Read the opinion authored by Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins.

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Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Memphis

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in two cases -- one criminal (State of Tennessee v. Michael Smith) and one civil (Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc.) – on Nov. 5, 1:30 p.m. in the Historic Courtroom.

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Columnist: Keep an Eye on Politics of the Court

Justice Gary Wade’s dissent in last week’s summary judgment decision in the Michelle Rye v. Women's Care Center of Memphis case may point to a political swing in the court, Knoxville News Sentinel columnist Tom Humphrey writes in his blog. Writing before his resignation took effect, Wade quoted the Federalist Papers and the need for the judiciary to be vigilant in defending its independence from the other branches of government, which Humphrey notes have become increasingly business friendly. Read Wade’s full dissent and the court’s opinion.

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Supreme Court Denies Tire Company Dismissal Request

The Tennessee Supreme Court denied Bridgestone entities’ request to dismiss a case because of lost evidence and a request for summary judgment. The decision affirmed a trial court ruling in the case in which a woman’s car was totaled in an accident after it appeared that a tire may have failed and the wrecking service later destroyed her car. The Court also reviewed the defendants’ additional reasons for requesting summary judgment, conducting the analysis under the Court’s recent opinion in Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis. Justice Gary R. Wade wrote a concurring opinion, in which he disagreed with the new summary judgment standard, but reached the same conclusion under a different analysis. Read the opinion authored by Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins.  

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