News

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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Court Clarifies Evidence for Criminal Stalking Convictions

The Tennessee Supreme Court today clarified that the criminal offense of stalking contains both an objective element and a subjective element of significant mental suffering or distress that must be met to sustain a conviction. The court emphasized that the state must present evidence that a victim actually experienced significant mental suffering or distress. The ruling came in a case in which the court concluded that the evidence presented was insufficient to sustain the conviction.

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Court Overturns Precedent on Ex Post Facto Protections

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that the state constitution’s prohibition against ex post facto laws provides no greater protection than that provided by the U.S. Constitution. The ruling came in a case testing whether application of the exclusionary rule to evidence seized prior to the law’s enactment violates constitutional bans on ex post facto laws. The court found that federal law prohibits retroactive application in four specific scenarios, none of which were involved in this case, and that nothing in the state constitution or history supports a conclusion that the state ex post facto clause is more expansive than its federal counterpart, overturning prior precedent.

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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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Turn Your Expertise into a Magazine Article

It’s no surprise that some of the best articles in the Tennessee Bar Journal have come from TBA section members. Your membership in this section shows that you have a keen interest in trends, developments and case law in this practice area. Sharing this knowledge with your colleagues is one of the best traits of the profession.
 
How can you become a Journal author? Think of and refine your topic. It should be of interest to Tennessee lawyers, which is a broad criteria. This could mean you might explain a new state law, explain a complicated area of law, or take a larger issue and connect it to what it means for Tennessee attorneys and the justice system. Find a global issue within your particular experience or knowledge and tell about it and how it affects Tennessee law. Then take a look at the writer’s guidelines, which will tell you about length, notes and other details. Once it’s in the proper format, send it in! It goes to the editor, Suzanne Craig Robertson, who will then get it to the seven members of the Editorial Board for review.
 
If you are published, you may apply for CLE credit for your work under Supreme Court Rule 21 Section 4.07(b). For details on claiming the credit, check with the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education or access an Affidavit of Sole Authorship or an Affidavit of Joint Authorship from the Commission's website.

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Court Agrees to Hear 6 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently agreed to hear six cases. Issues to be considered include statutes of limitations, self-defense and theft of property. The Raybin Supreme Court Hotlist reviews the cases and offers a prediction as to how each may be decided.

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Photos Posted from Wade Portrait Unveiling

The official portrait of former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade was unveiled Monday in the Supreme Court courtroom in Knoxville. Photos from the event are now available online courtesy of Lincoln Memorial University.

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Court Adopts 2017 Rules Package

The Tennessee Supreme Court today published the 2017 amendments to its rules of procedure and evidence. Proposals include changing the place for filing a notice of appeal to the appellate clerk’s office, requiring payment of fees and taxes to the appellate court clerk at the time of initiation of an appeal, and other changes to the rules of appellate procedure, civil procedure, criminal procedure and juvenile procedure, as well as the rules of evidence. Six TBA sections – Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law, and Juvenile and Children’s Law reviewed the rules when proposed and either found no objections or supported the changes. The proposals now go to the legislature for ratification before becoming effective on July 1.

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Court Rejects Attempt to Force Action on Garland

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday denied an attempt to get the court to force the Senate to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, WRCB-TV reports. Roberts rejected the emergency appeal without comment. The lawyer bringing the case, Steven Michel of New Mexico, had argued that Senate obstruction of the nomination violated his rights as a voter under the Constitution. For his part, Garland is preparing to return to the bench of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., where he serves as chief judge. He is set to start hearing arguments on Jan. 18 according to that court.

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Judges Consider Social Media Access in UT Rape Case

A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals heard arguments today on whether former University of Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams can use subpoenas to force their accuser to turn over social media posts, messages and texts. The pair are accused of raping a female athlete during a post-football game party in 2014. They insist the encounter was consensual. Police did not try to get the information and prosecutors have been trying to block  defense access it to, Knoxnews reports. Neither man will be tried until the social media issues are decided, the newspaper says.

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Court Upholds Conviction for Christian-Newsom Murders

The Tennessee Supreme Court today affirmed the convictions and death sentences imposed on Lemaricus Devall Davidson for the 2007 kidnapping, rape and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. In 2009, a Knox County jury convicted Davidson on multiple counts and imposed two death sentences. In 2015, the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the jury’s actions. During Supreme Court review, Davidson raised a number of issues, including the legitimacy of an unsigned search warrant. The court agreed that the search warrant was invalid but applied its newly adopted good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule to validate the evidence that led to the convictions. Read more from the court.

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Lawyer Asks Court to Force Action on Garland Nomination

A lawyer from New Mexico is mounting a longshot challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to order the Senate to consider the high court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, WRCB-TV reports. Lawyer Steven Michel argues that senators’ obstruction of President Barack Obama’s nomination violates his rights as a voter under the provision of the Constitution that provides for popular election of senators. Lower courts have dismissed the case, which was filed this past summer. The vacancy, created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, has remained unfilled for almost 10 months.

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Breyer Renews Call for Death Penalty Review

Returning to a subject he addressed last year, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer on Monday said death sentences are arbitrary and their constitutionality should be examined. In a dissent filed in one of three death penalty cases the court chose not to hear, Breyer said the cases involved “especially cruel and unusual circumstances.” He also argued that individuals who are executed are not the “worst of the worst” but rather are “chosen at random” perhaps based on geography, views of individual prosecutors or race. The ABA Journal looks at the three cases denied by the court.

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Court Rejects Challenges to NFL Concussion Settlement

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday rejected the final two challenges to an estimated $1 billion settlement between the NFL and more than 20,000 former players who have been diagnosed with brain injuries linked to repeated concussions. Players who already have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia now could begin receiving payments in 90 to 120 days, CBS News reports. The remaining lawsuits had accused the league of hiding what it knew about concussion risks but the NFL denied those claims. WREG TV has the story.

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Internet Tax Case Could Change Online Shopping

States can require Internet retailers to tell customers how much they owe in sales taxes thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision yesterday that could help officials recoup billions of dollars lost to online retailers. The court declined to hear a challenge to a Colorado law requiring online sellers to notify customers and the state how much they owe in taxes. At least three other states – Louisiana, Oklahoma and Vermont – have passed similar laws. Though the court did not rule on the merits of the case, states are likely to see the move “as a green light to step up collection efforts,” WRCB TV reports

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Court Plans SCALES Event for 2017

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hold its SCALES program next November at Lane College in Jackson. The program, which is designed to educate high school students about the judicial branch of government, has served more than 25,000 students from more than 460 high schools across the state. Lane College, founded in 1882 by one of the nation’s early African American church denominations, is a small, private, co-educational institution that provides a liberal arts curriculum.

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Alabama Executes Man Who Had Challenged State Law

Alabama inmate Ronald B. Smith was put to death by lethal injection yesterday after a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay his execution, the New York Times reports. Smith had been sentenced to death by a judge despite a jury’s recommendation of life without parole. He had challenged Alabama’s death penalty system, the only one in the nation that allows such judicial overrides. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s capital sentencing system, which also allowed judicial overrides of jury-recommended life sentences. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in September that state laws were sufficiently different from Florida’s to be upheld.

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Portrait Unveiling Set for Justice Wade

The official portrait of former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade will be unveiled Dec. 19 at 4 p.m. in the courtroom of the Knoxville Supreme Court. Members of the bench and bar are invited to attend. A reception will follow, according to the court.

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AOC Director Speaks to Leadership Nashville

Deborah Taylor Tate, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, recently spoke to Leadership Nashville’s 2016 class at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Tate, a graduate of the program, shared insights from her own government service as well as the work of the Tennessee court system, including access to justice efforts and new innovations such as recovery courts, a human trafficking court and a "toddler court" designed to reduce child fatalities. 

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Court Tackles Vehicular Homicides, Malpractice, Liquor Store Fees

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear four East Tennessee cases, including a Claiborne County vehicular homicide case in which a lower appellate court set the admittedly guilty driver free. Another vehicular homicide case looks at whether a police officer should have sought a warrant before seeking a hospital blood draw from the defendant. The third case looks at whether a legal malpractice claim should have been dismissed for being filed too long after the alleged wrongdoing. And the fourth case explores whether the city of Morristown overcharged liquor stores with fees totaling a half-million dollars. Knoxnews reviews each case.

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AOC Names New Communications Director

The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) announced today that Jill G. Frost has joined its office as director of communications. Frost, a licensed Tennessee attorney, also has public relations and communications experience, including stints with the American Red Cross and the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. Frost earned her law degree from Belmont University College of Law. She replaces Michele Wojciechowski, who recently was named director of communications for the Nashville School of Law.

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TBA Activates Disaster Legal Assistance for Wildfires

In response to the wildfire disasters in Gatlinburg and Sevier County, the TBA is partnering with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) and the Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission to help those affected with their legal needs. Attorneys who want to help can access training resources and other materials on the TBA's Disaster Legal Assistance page. Legal clinics and outreach related to losses from the fires are anticipated and volunteers will be needed. For more information or to volunteer in the area, contact Kathryn Ellis at Legal Aid of East Tennessee. Those who are not in the area but still want to help can volunteer to answer online questions at TN Free Legal Answers or respond to calls on the HELP4TN helpline. The TBA's Young Lawyers Division Disaster Relief Committee has also been activated and will be assisting with volunteer recruitment and coordination efforts. To volunteer, complete the Disaster Legal Assistance Volunteer Form. If you know someone in need of legal assistance, please have them call the legal helpline at 844-HELP4TN, or visit help4tn.org.

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Tennessee Attorneys Admitted to Practice Before Supreme Court at TBA Academy

A group of attorneys from across Tennessee were sworn in to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court today as part of the 33rd Annual TBA Academy. Along with the admissions ceremony, the attorneys took part in other networking and educational activities at the Supreme Court and on Capitol Hill. One highlight of this year's event was when TBA President Jason Long made the motion for admission of his wife, Carol Anne Long.

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Justices Appear Sympathetic to Intellectual Disability Issues

A majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared ready to side with a man sentenced to death for a 1980 Houston murder who is challenging how Texas gauges whether a defendant has intellectual disabilities that would preclude execution, Reuters reports. The court ruled in 2002 that execution of the intellectually disabled violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. At issue in this case is whether Texas is using an obsolete standard to assess whether the defendant is intellectually disabled.

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