News

Federal Judge Rules California Death Penalty Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled yesterday that California’s death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the LA Times reports. Carney called the California death penalty system “dysfunctional," with the result being an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding an actual execution.

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Justice Bivins Sworn in as Newest Member of Supreme Court

Judge Jeffrey Bivins was installed as the newest member of the Tennessee Supreme Court today (July 16) at the Franklin Theatre in downtown Franklin. Gov. Bill Haslam performed the swearing in. Photos by Allan Ramsaur.

Bivins Investiture

Judge Jeffrey Bivins is sworn in by Gov. Bill Haslam during ceremonies in Franklin.

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Police Stand Behind Retention of Justices

The Tennessee Fraternal Order of Police today announced support for fair and impartial courts and endorsed the retention of Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Connie Clark and Justice Sharon Lee. “A fair and independent judiciary is the hallmark of our three-part system of government,” Sgt. Robert O. Weaver said in a press release. “Appellate Court judges review the cases and apply the laws written by the legislature and enforced by the executive branch. Judges need to be able to perform their duties without being beholden to the political winds of the other branches.”

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Trial Courts Must Explain Summary Judgment Motions

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that trial judges must explain why they are granting or denying a motion for summary judgment before they ask the lawyer for the winning party to prepare a proposed order. Saying that deciding a motion for summary judgment is a “high judicial function,” the justices found that requiring the court to state its grounds “promotes respect for the judicial system” and ensures the decision is “the product of the trial court’s own independent analysis.”

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Investiture Wednesday for Justice Bivins

A formal investiture ceremony to install Judge Jeffrey Bivins as the newest member of the Tennessee Supreme Court will take place Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Franklin Theatre in downtown Franklin. The Administrative Office of the Courts announced on Friday that Gov. Bill Haslam will perform the swearing in. A reception will follow. The theater is located at 419 Main St.

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Investiture Set for New Supreme Court Justice Bivins

A formal investiture ceremony to install Judge Jeffrey Bivins as the newest member of the Tennessee Supreme Court will take place next Wednesday (July 16) at 3 p.m. at the Franklin Theatre in downtown Franklin. A reception will follow. The theater is located at 419 Main St. View the invitation and response card.

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Court Grants Review in 6 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted review in six cases. Civil cases involve powers of attorney, comparative fault in Claims Commission cases, arbitration agreement enforceability, and motions for new trial. Criminal cases involve jury selection and impeachment by prior conviction. The Raybin Perky Hotlist offers a forecast of each case.

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Judge Stafford Honored with Portrait Unveiling

Judicial and other officials from across the state gathered at the Dyer County Courthouse yesterday to recognize the contributions of Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge J. Steven Stafford and witness the unveiling his official portrait. Stafford has been a member of the judiciary since 1993, first serving as 29th Judicial District chancellor in Dyer and Lake counties. He was named to the appeals court in 2008. The Dyer County Bar Association sponsored the portrait presentation. The Dyersburg State Gazette has more details and photos from the event.

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Judge Donald to Receive ABA Pickering Award

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bernice Donald will receive the American Bar Association’s 2014 John H. Pickering Award of Achievement during the group’s Annual Meeting in Boston this August. Donald, a native of Mississippi, worked for Memphis Area Legal Services and the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office before being elected the first female African-American judge in Tennessee. She later moved from General Sessions court to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and the U.S. District Court for western Tennessee. She was appointed to her current position in 2010. In nominating Donald, California attorney Pauline Weaver wrote, “Judge Donald represents the best of the profession. She has consistently demonstrated the kind of integrity, legal ability, access to justice and public service that would make John Pickering proud.”

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Court to Review 1 Criminal, 2 Civil Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted review to two civil cases involving insurance benefits assignments and termination of parental rights, and one criminal case pertaining to due process concerns associated with kidnapping convictions. The Raybin Perky Hot List has a summary and forecast of each case.

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Law Prof: Court Rises Above Partisanship

For the first time since 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed unanimously on more than 66 percent of its cases throughout the term, Georgetown University law professor Neal K. Katyal writes in an opinion piece for the New York Times. Katyal notes that the figure still holds even if Monday’s remaining two cases are not unanimous. “Unanimity is important because it signals that the justices can rise above their differences and interpret the law without partisanship,” Katyal writes. “When the justices forge common ground, it signals to the nation the deep-seated roots of what the court has said and contributes to stability in the fabric of the law."

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Court Strikes Down Obama Appointments; Rules Against Protest Buffers

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down President Obama’s three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the ABA Journal reports. In his opinion for the court today, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said Obama lacked the power to make the recess appointments during a three-day recess in January 2012 because the time period was too short. The Court also ruled today that a Massachusetts law banning abortion-clinic protests within a 35-foot buffer zone violates the First Amendment rights of protesters. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion for the court, which said the 35-foot buffer zone isn't narrowly tailored to carry out the state's aims of ensuring safety, preventing harassment and keeping clinic entrances free of obstruction. In a major decision yesterday, the Court ruled that police generally must get a warrant before searching the cellphone of a person who is arrested. Several more decisions are expected before the Court wraps up its session on June 30.

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Governor Names Panel to Hear Hooker Case

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed a special Tennessee Supreme Court to hear the case of Hooker et al v. Lt. Governor Ramsey et al. All of the court except Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Holder recused themselves from the case. Named to the special court are Oscar C. “Bo” Carr III of Glankler Brown in Memphis; Rosemarie L. Hill of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel in Chattanooga; Thomas M. Hale of Kramer Rayson in Knoxville; and Melvin J. Malone of Butler Snow in Nashville.

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Court Issues 3 Rulings Today, Others on Tap for Thursday

The religious rights of corporations, the speech rights of abortion protesters, the president’s power to make recess appointments and the privacy rights of those under arrest are among the big issues still unresolved at the Supreme Court, the Associated Press reports. The justices handed down three rulings Monday and will decide more of the 14 remaining cases on Thursday. The story, carried by WRCB-TV Chattanooga, looks at some of the key cases that remain.

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Commission Recommends 5 for Criminal Appeals Court

The Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments met today in Nashville to interview and vote on candidates seeking to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals following the appointment of Judge Jeffrey Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The panel recommended Circuit Court Judge Robert Lee Holloway Jr., Circuit Judge and Chancellor Larry B. Stanley Jr. and Circuit Court Judge Larry J. Wallace. In a rare move, the commission also sent two additional names to the governor “by acclamation.” The pair – Circuit Court Judge Timothy Lee Easter and District Public Defender Roger Eric Nell – previously were nominated for the Court of Criminal Appeals seat being vacated by Judge Jerry Smith. The governor has not yet named a replacement for Smith.

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Deadline Extended for Workers' Comp Board Vacancies

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments has extended the deadline for applications for three vacancies on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board to 4 p.m. CDT, June 4. Candidates ultimately chosen by the governor will fill one of three terms: two, four or six years. After the initial terms, each term will be six years and judges are limited to serving two terms. Learn more from the Administrative Office of the Courts. The commission will interview all qualified Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board applicants on June 10 in Nashville. The same day, the commission will also consider applicants for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy.

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7 Apply for Court of Criminal Appeals Vacancy

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments will consider seven applicants when it meets June 10 at Legislative Plaza in Nashville to select nominees for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy. The vacancy was created by the appointment of Judge Jeffrey Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The candidates are: Leslie Anne Collum, assistant district attorney general, Rutherford County; Timothy Lee Easter, Circuit Court judge, Williamson County; Robert Lee Holloway Jr., Circuit Court judge, Maury County; Roger Eric Nell, district public defender, Montgomery County; Larry B. Stanley Jr., Circuit Court judge and chancellor, Warren County; Russell Fletcher Thomas, attorney, Davidson County; and Larry J. Wallace, Circuit Court judge, Stewart County. The meeting will include a public hearing at 8 a.m.

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Investiture for Appellate Judge McBrayer Set for May 29

The investiture ceremony for the state’s newest Court of Appeals Judge, Neal McBrayer, will be held at the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chamber at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday. Gov. Bill Haslam, who appointed McBrayer to the court last year, will administer the oath of office. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Commission Sends 3 to Haslam for Appeals Court

The Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments, which met in Memphis on Friday, has submitted three candidates to Gov. Bill Haslam to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Court of Appeals. They are Shelby County Chancellor Kenny W. Armstrong, Memphis lawyer Oscar C. Carr III and Jackson lawyer Steven Wayne Maroney. The vacancy on the court was created by the appointment of Judge Holly Kirby to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Kirby will move into her new role on Sept. 1. Read more about the three candidates from the AOC.

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3 Advance to Governor for Criminal Appeals Court Post

Timothy Lee Easter of Williamson County, James Winn Milam of Robertson County and Roger Eric Neil of Montgomery County have been selected as the top candidates to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals. The Governors Commission on Judicial Appointments interviewed all nine of the candiates for the post today in Nashville before deciding on the three who will go to Gov. Haslam for consideration. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Some Expect Costly, Divisive Judicial Campaign

Tennessee could be facing the costliest state Supreme Court election in its history now that conservatives have targeted three sitting justices on the state's highest court, Knoxnews reports from the Associated Press. While Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has been meeting with business leaders, victims' rights groups and others to make the case that all three should go, supporters of the justices are already trying to raise money to counter the outside money they expect to be coming in to influence the race.

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Nashville Lawyers Share Views on Criminal Appeals Candidates

Nashville lawyers gave their opinions of nine candidates seeking to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in a poll released today by the Nashville Bar Association (NBA). Timothy Lee Easter, a Circuit Court Judge in Williamson County, earned the highest recommendation from the NBA members. The second highest level of support went to Russell Fletcher Thomas, a solo practitioner in Davidson County. The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments will interview all nine applicants on Tuesday in Nashville and recommend three finalists to pass on to Gov. Bill Haslam. Judge Jerry Smith, who currently holds the Middle District position, earlier said he would not seek to retain his seat in the August general election.

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Supreme Court Names New Appellate Courts Clerk

James M. Hivner of Bartlett has been named as the Clerk of the Appellate Court by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Hivner currently serves as the Chief Administrative Officer of the Shelby County Chancery Court. He will replace Mike Catalano, who is retiring in early June after more than 10 years as clerk. In his role as Clerk of the Appellate Courts, Hivner will oversee a staff of 29 at offices in Jackson, Nashville and Knoxville. He will serve the Supreme Court as well as the Court of Appeals, and Court of Criminal Appeals. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Investiture Set for New Court of Appeals Judge

The investiture of Neal McBrayer as judge for the Tennessee Court of Appeals is set for May 29 at 10:30 a.m. in the Historic Supreme Court Chambers of the state Capitol. A reception will follow and the public is invited to attend. McBrayer, a Maryville native, most recently served as an attorney in the Nashville office of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada where he handled commercial litigation and bankruptcy law. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Bill Haslam in August 2013 to replace Judge Patricia J. Cottrell, who is stepping down at the end of the current term. The Daily Times has more on McBrayer's background and appointment.

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1 in 25 Sentenced to Death Are Likely Innocent, Study Says

A new study suggests that about one in 25 people who are sentenced to death are likely innocent, the ABA Journal reports. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that while only 1.6 percent of those on death-row are exonerated and released, the actual figure is likely a minimum of 4.1 percent when statistical assumptions are applied to the cases of people who are removed from death row and given life sentences.The new study also refutes a statement made by Justice Antonin Scalia in a concurring opinion in 2007 in which he wrote that American criminal convictions have an error rate of 0.027 percent “or, to put it another way, a success rate of 99.973 percent.”

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