News

Multiple Errors Result in New Trial For Defendant

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted a new trial to a Memphis man convicted of rape due to multiple trial court errors. The Court employed a legal principle called the “cumulative error doctrine,” which represents the idea that multiple errors, while individually harmless, when combined, create a cumulative effect that is prejudicial to the defendant. The AOC has more.

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Supreme Court Uholds Death Sentence After Delayed Appeal

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence for a man who was convicted of first degree felony murder in 1991. In 2009, the Supreme Court denied post-conviction relief for Derrick Quintero but granted relief for William Eugene Hall, finding that his attorneys had simply copied the original appellate brief filed by Quintero’s attorneys. After reviewing claims filed by Hall’s new attorneys, the Supreme Court affirmed Hall’s convictions and sentence of death. Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee filed a separate concurring opinion, in which she agreed that Hall’s death sentence is proportionate to the sentences imposed in similar cases, but reiterated her disagreement with the manner in which this Court reviews the proportionality of death sentences. The AOC has more

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Court Deletes Unpublished Opinion Rule

For many years, Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 4(H) required attorneys to furnish to the court and to opposing counsel copies of all unpublished opinions cited in motions and briefs. Effective immediately, the Tennessee Supreme Court has deleted this requirement. The change means that in both trial courts and on appeal, attorneys are no longer required to file copies of unpublished opinions. The TBA commented on the proposed rule, supporting the change but also encouraging recognition of a broad list of sources for such opinions. Though the order is dated March 4, it was distributed only today by the court clerk. Read the court’s order here.

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Panel OKs TBA Fixes to Business Organization Laws

The TBA bill (SB144/HB 620) to make housekeeping changes to last year’s Nonprofit Corporation Act and the Business Corporation Law moved out of the state Senate Commerce Committee today by a vote of 9 to 0. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and in the House by Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also met today and recommended passage of amendments to the Rules of Appellate Procedure (SR13) and Rules of Criminal Procedure (SR12), which previously were adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

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Court: Post-Trial Communication With Jurors Allowed

The Tennessee Supreme Court today adopted an amended Comment to Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 3.5(c), to clarify that attorneys are permitted to communicate with jurors or prospective jurors after the jury has been discharged "unless the communication is prohibited by law or a court order entered in the case or by a federal court rule ..." The petition proposing the amended comment was filed by the Tennessee Bar Association last July. Read the order and new comment.

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Attorneys Form Green Hills Law Firm

Three Nashville attorneys, including the former legal counsel to then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, have opened a law firm in the Green Hills area of the city. Trajan Carney, Steve Elkins and Leslie Curry have created Carney|Elkins|Curry PLC at 3817 Bedford Ave. in Bedford Commons. The firm will handle general civil litigation and appellate practice, with a focus on construction law, general business litigation, administrative and regulatory law, and labor and employment law. It also will offer estate planning and probate services. The Nashville Post has more on the story.

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1st Amendment Groups Want to Join Rape Records Lawsuit

Two national First Amendment groups – the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the University of Virginia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic – want to file briefs in support of a lawsuit seeking access to records in the rape case against four former Vanderbilt University football players. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear the suit in May after the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled against the media coalition that filed the suit, the Tennessean reports.

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Shelby DA Won’t Handle Murder Re-trial

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich has recused her office from involvement in a new trial for Noura Jackson, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009 for allegedly stabbing her mother more than 50 times. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Jackson a new trial after it determined that Weirich, who was the lead prosecutor in the conviction, failed to turn over a key witness’s statement to the defense. Weirich has asked the Tennessee District Attorney Generals Conference to appoint a pro tem attorney to handle re-trial of the case, WREG reports.

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Supreme Court Upholds Child Neglect Conviction in Religious Exemption Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court today affirmed the conviction of an East Tennessee woman who had failed to obtain medical treatment for her adolescent daughter suffering from a tumor on her shoulder. Jacqueline Crank, a member of a small congregation of the Universal Life Church in Lenoir City, said she had prayed for her daughter in accordance with her religious beliefs instead of seeking medical care. The Department of Children’s Services intervened and Crank’s daughter was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She died in September 2002 at the age of 15. On appeal, Crank claimed that the spiritual treatment law was too vague to give her fair warning that she could be prosecuted for her conduct. The court ruled that the law was not too vague.

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Supreme Court to Decide on Death Row Inmates’ Lawsuit

The Tennessee Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether a death row inmate can properly challenge the constitutionality of the possibility of electrocution as a method of execution. The lawsuit by 34 death row inmates challenges several aspects of Tennessee’s death penalty protocol. In an order filed today, the Court agreed to hear the State’s request to dismiss the plaintiffs’ challenge to electrocution as a method of execution, asserting that none of the plaintiffs is subject to execution by electrocution at this time. The case will be heard in oral arguments May 6 in Knoxville.

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Supreme Court Evacuated After Suspicious Substance Found

The Tennessee Supreme Court building in Nashville was evacuated this afternoon after a suspicious substance was found, though it later was determined not to be hazardous, the Tennessean reports. According to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security, an employee on the fourth floor of the building opened an envelope and came into direct contact with a white powdery substance. Two other people were in the room when the package was opened, but did not come into direct contact with the substance.

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Commentary: Court Upholds Conviction, Ignores Racist Comment

As reported on Friday, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruled last week in a case involving the carjacking, kidnapping, rape and torture of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. In addition to sealing an investigative file on former judge Richard Baumgartner, the appeals court upheld the conviction of George Thomas on two counts of first-degree murder under the legal theory of criminal responsibility. Unlike others involved in the case, there was no DNA evidence linking Thomas to the crimes, the News Sentinel reports. In addition, the new Lady Justice Unmasked blog from the newspaper notes that the appellate court gave little attention to concerns raised about a racist comment attributed to Thomas, which the prosecutor used to bolster his case. The defense had objected to use of the evidence on a number of grounds.

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Court to Hear 8 Oral Arguments

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear eight cases in oral arguments today and tomorrow in Nashville. Details of the four civil and four criminal cases and a schedule of oral arguments can be found at the AOC website

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Court to Review 3 New Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review to three cases. Issues involved include the motion-to-dismiss standard in securities fraud cases, election of offenses and zoning appeals. The Raybin-Perky Hotlist looks at the cases and offers a prediction as to how each may be decided.

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Court Clarifies Application of Statutes of Limitations

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that a trial court must consider both the legal basis of a claim and the injuries for which damages are sought when determining which statute of limitations applies to a lawsuit. In the case decided today, a landowner seeking to sell property sued for breach of contract. The defendant countered that the suit was filed after the statute of limitations had run and the lower courts agreed. The appeal to the Supreme Court sought to determine which of two statutes of limitations should have been applied: a three-year period for injury to real property or a six-year period for contract action. Applying the test it articulated, the court determined that the suit should be considered a contract action and therefore was allowed because it was filed within the six-year time frame. The AOC has more.

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Belmont Law Review Hosts Supreme Court Justices

Members of the Belmont Law Review will host a Feb. 12 event with Tennessee Supreme Court Justices Jeffrey Bivins and Holly Kirby. The court’s newest members will participate in a moderated discussion addressing issues of concern to the bench and bar. A short reception will immediately follow the one-hour program, which will begin at 5:15 p.m. Download a registration form with more information. Contact Tiffany Sherrill with any questions.

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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Whistleblower

The Supreme Court today ruled that a former air marshal who was fired after leaking plans to the media about security cutbacks can seek whistleblower protection. By a 7-2 vote, the justices said Robert MacLean did not violate federal law when he revealed that the Transportation Security Administration planned to save money by cutting back on overnight trips for undercover air marshals. MacLean leaked the information in 2003 to an MSNBC reporter after supervisors ignored his safety concerns. His disclosure triggered outrage in Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security quickly reversed the policy, calling it a mistake, but TSA fired McLean three years later after it discovered he was the leaker. WRCB has more from the Associated Press.

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Court Appears Split in Judicial Campaign Case

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court appeared closely split today when they heard oral arguments over whether to uphold a Florida ethics rule that prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign money, Gavel Grab reports. During oral arguments in the case brought by former judicial candidate Lanell Williams-Yulee against the Florida Bar, “The court’s conservative justices appeared to favor Williams-Yulee’s free speech argument. The court’s liberals voiced support for the state’s right to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary” through the ethics rule. Justice Anthony Kennedy was seen as the likely swing vote in a final decision.

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Court Rules Successor Judge Can Act as 13th Juror

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a successor judge who takes over a case from the judge that presided over the trial, may act as the “13th juror” in a case. In its ruling, the Court created a rebuttable presumption, which means that it is assumed the judge can act as a 13th juror unless evidence is presented that contradicts that assumption. A successor judge may act as the 13th juror in all cases except in the rare occasion in which the demeanor of a witness was the critical issue in weighing the evidence that led to the verdict. The Chattanoogan has more.

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Court Clarifies Rule for Ending Mortgage

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that home buyers do not need to file a lawsuit, but may simply write a letter if they want to back out of a mortgage because they believe their lender violated the federal Truth in Lending Act. The decision came in a case of a Minnesota couple that refinanced their home in 2007 but later claimed the company failed to provide disclosures required under federal law. Resolving a split among lower courts, the Supreme Court said written notice was enough. In another unanimous opinion, the court upheld a mandatory 10-year minimum prison term for a suspect who forces another person to accompany him during a bank robbery or in trying to elude police. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

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High Court May Address Same-Sex Marriages Monday

In its first official business of the new year, the U.S. Supreme Court met today but, according to SCOTUSblog, did not not grant review in any new cases. This includes the issue of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry no matter which state they live in or whether states can individually decide if marriage should only be allowed between a man and a woman. The court’s next chance to issue an order on those cases will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, with the release of a lengthy list of actions on new cases. If no action on the five marriage cases comes then, the cases are likely to be rescheduled for the conference next Friday, the blog reports.

In related news, a federal judge in Georgia has declined to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage, NewsChannel 9 reports. And in New Orleans today, two of three federal judges who will decide whether to overturn laws against same-sex marriage in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana appeared critical of Texas's ban at a hearing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, questioning the state's argument that marriage primarily is an institution meant to encourage procreation, the Houston Chronicle reports.

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Investiture for Holloway, Easter Set for Monday

An investiture ceremony for Judges Robert L. Holloway Jr. and Timothy L. Easter – both of whom recently joined the Court of Criminal Appeals – will take place Monday at 10 a.m. in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the state capitol in Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam will administer the oath of office. Judge Holloway was named to the appeals court after serving on the 22nd Judicial District Circuit Court. Judge Easter previously served on the 21st Judicial District Circuit Court. Download the invitation.

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Supreme Court Moving to Electronic Filing

The Supreme Court is moving toward a full and free-access system for all documents filed in cases before the Justices — a system expected to be working “as soon as 2016,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., revealed in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary. The Court already receives some of its filings electronically, but the present arrangements do not include all filings. The Chief Justice’s annual report was dominated by a theme of technological advances and their impact on the operation of the courts, SCOTUSBlog reports.

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Tennessee Lawmakers Voice Opposition to ACA Tax Incentives

Nineteen current and former Tennessee legislators have filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of petitioners who oppose tax incentives to health insurance plans bought on the federal exchange. This March, the Court is set to hear the case of King v. Burwell in which the central question is whether health insurance on federal or state exchanges are eligible for tax incentives or whether tax incentives are available only on state exchanges. The Tennessean has more.

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5 Most Important Supreme Court Stories of 2014

Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky presents his five most important stories about the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 in terms of their impact on the law and society for the ABA Journal. The list includes the court’s unanimity, rulings on intellectual property, the increasing rights of corporations, influence of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the lack of vacancies on the court — specifically 81-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s refusal to retire so that Democratic President Barack Obama could appoint her successor. The court is predicted to consider marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, abortion and affirmative action in 2015.

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