News

Batey Lawyer Asks to be Removed from Appeal

The primary lawyer for Cory Batey, a former Vanderbilt University football player convicted of raping an unconscious woman, is asking to be removed from the case, the Tennessean reports. Worrick Robinson said he made the request because he does not handle appeals. A hearing in the matter has been scheduled for Wednesday. Batey, 22, was found guilty after a trial in April and sentenced last month to 15 years in prison.

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Tennessee Athletes Take ‘Pay for Play’ to 6th Circuit

Tennessee college athletes will be before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati this week arguing they should be paid for the use of their names and images in the college sports industry and on television, the Tennessean reports. The athletes are asking a panel of three judges to reopen their case, which a Nashville federal judge dismissed last year. Ten former football and basketball athletes, many of whom attended Vanderbilt University or the University of Tennessee, filed a $5 million lawsuit in 2014 saying their images were used without their permission by the broadcast networks and eight NCAA conferences.

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Law Clerk Tells Story of Knoxville’s Only U.S. Justice

Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge John McClarty’s law clerk, Stephanie Slater, has published an article about Justice Edward T. Sanford’s tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sanford is believed to be the only known Knoxvillian and University of Tennessee graduate to sit on the high court. The article is part of an upcoming book, Emerging from Obscurity: Edward Terry Sanford, Tennessean on the United States Supreme Court that is to be published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2017. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Attorneys Argue Self-Defense, Poor Policing in Mills Case

Attorneys for Christopher M. Ferrell, the man convicted of killing country musician Wayne Mills, asked the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals this week to grant their client a new trial, arguing that erroneous jury instructions and a botched police investigation tainted his conviction. They also argued that Ferrell acted out of fear and shot Mills in self-defense, the Tennessean reports. Ferrell was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing Mills after a tribute concert to music legend George Jones. The two were drinking in a downtown Nashville bar when they got into an argument and Ferrell shot Mills.

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Memphis Law Alumni to Honor Justice Kirby

The Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Alumni Chapter will honor Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Holly Kirby as a “Special Distinguished Alumna” at its 2016 Pillars of Excellence Awards Ceremony and Dinner. The event will be held Aug. 22 at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn. A VIP Meet & Greet will begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception at 6 p.m., and dinner and an awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Kirby graduated from the law school in 1982 and is the first Memphis Law graduate to serve on the state Supreme Court. Others to be recognized by the alumni group are G. Pat Arnoult, Saul Belz, John Dunlap, Jef Feibelman, Philip Kaminsky, Henry Klein and former Memphis Mayor AC Wharton. For more information contact Marina Carrier, 901-678-2461. The AOC has more on Justice Kirby's selection.

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Court to Decide if Grundy Man Gets New Trial

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about whether a Grundy County man convicted of murder should get a new trial. Adam Braseel was convicted for the 2006 murder of Malcolm Burrows but was released from prison earlier this year after a circuit court judge found a number of discrepancies in his original trial. WRCB-TV has the latest news.

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Justice Birch Building, Statue to be Celebrated Aug. 27

The Nashville Bar Foundation will hold an event Aug. 27 at 5 p.m. to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Justice A. A. Birch Building and dedicate a new 8-foot bronze statue of Birch, who was the first African American to serve as chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Following the ceremony, the foundation will hold an awards dinner inside the Justice A.A. Birch Building. For more information, contact Judge Rachel Bell, 615-862-8341.

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McConnell Renews Vow: Obama Will Not Fill Vacancy

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doubled down Tuesday on his pledge to block President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee from a confirmation hearing and vote this year, CQ Roll Call reports. “On that sad day when we lost Justice Scalia, I made [a] pledge that Obama would not fill his seat,” McConnell said yesterday from the stage of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. When it comes to picking a Scalia successor, McConnell said, “That honor will go to Donald Trump next year.”

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DOJ Asks Court to Rehear Immigration Case

The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday asked the Supreme Court for a rehearing of a case challenging President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration as soon as a ninth justice is appointed. The administration said there should be a definitive decision on the merits of the executive actions instead of the 4-4 split by the high court that left an appellate court decision striking the actions in place, but did not set precedent on the issue. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

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Transgender Bathroom Case Lands on Courthouse Steps

A Virginia school board hoping to block a transgender teen from using the boy’s bathroom at his high school took its legal fight to the Supreme Court yesterday, Politico reports. The move marks the first time that the legal battle over transgender students’ bathrooms use has been brought to the court. The board is challenging a federal appeals court decision that (1) directed the school to honor the teen’s preferences and (2) rejected a request to block the ruling while the school appeals to the high court. In response, the school board filed an emergency application asking the Supreme Court to suspend the decision.

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Court Adopts New Standard for Shareholder Lawsuits

In a case involving claims between siblings who were shareholders in a closely held family corporation, the Tennessee Supreme Court today adopted a new standard for when a shareholder can file a direct lawsuit on claims that concern the corporation. The decision overturned a ruling by the Court of Appeals and set aside Tennessee’s prior standard. In its place, the court adopted a standard used in Delaware that “is clear and easily understood” and “should facilitate consistent and predictable outcomes in disputes involving shareholder claims.” Chattannoogan.com has the story.

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Services Set for Weekend for Justice Cooper

 In a statement releasing details of funeral arrangements for former Tennessee Supreme Court justice Robert E. Cooper, Chief Justice Sharon Lee said, “Justice Cooper was highly respected by members of the judiciary and legal community. He diligently served this great state for nearly 40 years as a public servant.” The family will receive friends from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday at East Chapel Funeral Home, 404 South Moore Rd. in Chattanooga. Services will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at Second Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, 700 Pine St., with visitation in the church beginning at 10 a.m. Burial will be at Chattanooga National Cemetery at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Shriners Hospital for Children, Second Presbyterian Church or Hospice of Chattanooga. The Tennessean has more on his life.

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Services Pending for Former Supreme Court Justice

Judge Robert E. Cooper, who served a long tenure on the Tennessee Supreme Court, died Sunday at his home on Signal Mountain. He was 95. A native of Chattanooga, Cooper studied at the University of North Carolina and Vanderbilt University. He served as a Circuit Court judge in Hamilton County from 1953-1960 and on the Tennessee Court of Appeals from 1960-1974. Cooper was named to the Supreme Court in 1974 and served there until he retired in 1990. His son, Robert E. Cooper Jr., served as Tennessee attorney general from 2006 to 2014. Funeral details are pending. Chattanoogan.com has more on his life.

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UT Law Students Claim Victory in Appeals Case

University of Tennessee law school students arguing two cases before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit claimed a victory today. In an opinion issued by the court, the members of UT Law’s Appellate Litigation Clinic successfully argued that their client properly filed a habeas corpus petition under Kentucky state law, reversing the decision of the lower court. The Appellate Litigation Clinic students still await a decision in a second case that the group argued in March.
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Gov. Haslam Administers Oath to Judge Dyer

An investiture ceremony for Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Ross Dyer was held in Memphis last month with Gov. Bill Haslam administering the ceremonial oath of office. Judge Dyer was appointed by Haslam on March 31 and confirmed by a joint session of the General Assembly on April 18. The Administrative Office of the Courts has photos from the ceremony.

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Court Audio Recordings Find New Home

After months of uncertainty about its future, the Oyez Project, a free repository of more than 10,000 hours of U.S. Supreme Court oral-argument audio and other court resources, has found a new home. The project’s founder, Jerry Goldman, who is retiring soon, told the National Law Journal that a new arrangement with Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute and Justia, an online publisher of legal information, will keep Oyez alive.

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Lee: Court Continually Seeking to Improve Services

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee spoke to the Sevierville Rotary this week to update the community on ways the court is modernizing and striving to make itself more accessible. According to the Mountain Press, she highlighted efforts such as allowing e-filing of court documents, improving access for indigent clients, exploring increased pay for indigent representation, consolidating complex business matters in one court, and streamlining the juvenile court system. Lee told local leaders that the court is committed to continually improving its services. “We need to be looking at how we do things to see if we can do them better,” she said.

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ABA Ranks Garland as ‘Well Qualified’

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has finished its peer review of Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, and has rated him as “well qualified.” In announcing the rating today, ABA President Paulette Brown called on the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities to consider and act promptly on the nominee. Read her full statement.

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Federal Judge Bans Court Filings by Prisoner

Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan has issued a permanent injunction barring Eric Houston “from filing any motion, letter or civil action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee without first obtaining approval.” The move comes after Houston filed more than 100 civil petitions in federal courts across the United States – all handwritten and filled with profanities, Knoxnews reports. The injunction also threatens to hold the imprisoned drug dealer in contempt if he violates the order. In taking the unusual stance, Varlan explained that “the court has attempted to review the filings to determine the nature of (Houston’s) allegations, but due to the partially indecipherable handwriting, the threatening language, the profanity, and the nature of the filings — some of which were submitted on what appears to be toilet paper — the court has been unable to fully discern (his) allegations.”

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6th Circuit Launches New Website

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit will launch a new website next Monday but has released the web link for interested individuals to review the site in advance. The new site is based on a national model template for federal court websites, which some courts are already using. The new format promises to make things easier on practitioners, especially those who practice in multiple jurisdictions, by trying to include a measure of standardization between the various sites. The existing site can be seen here. Comments about the new format can be sent by email to the webmaster.

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Searches Allowed Based on Outstanding Warrants

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled 5-3 that police can seize evidence from what would otherwise be an unconstitutional search if they first discover that the suspect has one or more outstanding arrest warrants. Opponents of the decision cited the fact that, in some cities, thousands of people have arrest warrants pending against them, mostly for traffic violations as insignificant as unpaid parking tickets. In a strongly-worded dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.” The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Court Declines to Hear Challenge to Assault Weapon Bans

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear a case challenging gun control laws enacted in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The decision, handed down with no additional explanation as to the court’s reasoning, allows assault weapons bans to stand in New York and Connecticut. Gun rights groups had challenged laws in those states banning certain semi-automatic weapons and restrictions on bullet magazines. The Commercial Appeal has more.

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Montgomery Takes Reins of Judicial Conference

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Robert Montgomery of Kingsport was installed last week as the 64th president of the Tennessee Judicial Conference during the group's annual meeting in Nashville. He succeeds Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeff Bivins. Others taking office at the meeting included Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft of Memphis, who was named president-elect, and Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Tim Easter of Williamson County, who was named moving vice president.

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TBA Members Give Strong Support to Justices

Nine out of 10 lawyers recommend that Tennesseans vote to “retain” the three Tennessee Supreme Court Justices on the Aug. 4 ballot, according to a TBA Candidate Evaluation Poll conducted over the last four weeks. The TBA asked its members to indicate whether they highly recommended, recommended, did not recommend or had no informed opinion on the retention election of Justices Jeffrey S. Bivins, Holly Kirby and Roger A. Page. More information, including data tables of the results, is available on the TBA website

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New Data: Male Justices More Likely to Interrupt

Even the nation’s High Court is not immune to “gender dynamics” when it comes to men cutting off women, Mother Jones reports. Research on the legal blog Empirical SCOTUS revealed male justices are more likely to cut off their colleagues. The data also showed the court's two youngest female justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, were the most likely to be interrupted. Justice Clarence Thomas never interrupted or got interrupted during this term’s oral arguments. 

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