News

Louisiana Appoints First Black Chief Justice

After a racially tinged battle over the rightful successor to Chief Justice Catherine Kimball, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bernadette Johnson, making her the first African American Chief Justice in the state News Channel 5 reports. Justice Jeffrey Victory contested that Johnson’s years of appointed service shouldn’t count and he should succeed Kimball. Johnson filed suit in federal court in July after her colleagues said they would debate the matter. The court ultimately ruled that Johnson’s appointed service was legitimate according to the constitution and that she was the rightful successor.

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Blount County Officer to Face Trial in Wrongful Death Suit

Blount County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Doug Moore will stand trial in a wrongful death lawsuit in the 2008 shooting death of Leeroy Hickman Jr. and an alleged cover-up, Knoxnews reports. The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals supported an earlier ruling by U.S District Judge Tom Varlan who opined there were too many questions left unanswered not to bring the case before a jury. A date has not been set. 

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Justice Kagan to Judge UT Appellate Competition

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan will judge the final round of the University of Tennessee College of Law’s Advocates’ Prize, the college’s annual intramural appellate advocacy competition, on Oct. 18. Kagan will be the second justice to preside over the competition after Justice Clarence Thomas did the honors in 2010. Five federal appeals court judges also will help judge the competition. They include Judge Rosemary Barkett, Judge Marsha Siegel Berzon, Judge Jerome A. Holmes, Judge Adalberto Josè Jordan and Judge James A. Wynn. The competition takes place Oct. 15-18.

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Health Law, Supreme Court Boot Camp See Record Numbers

Tennessee lawyers had lots of options last Thursday and Friday to learn more about health law, as well as how to practice before the state Supreme Court. First, nearly 300 attorneys attended the 24th Annual Health Law Forum in Cool Springs and a record number attended the Health Law Primer the day before. At the meeting, Section Chair Walt Schuler introduced next year’s chair, Angela Youngberg, and vice chair, Christie Burbank, during the group’s annual business meeting. Just down the road, the 2012 Supreme Court Bootcamp, sponsored by the TBA's Appellate Practice Section, was underway, bringing more than 20 attorneys to Nashville for the annual program, which included skills building sessions and a trip to the Supreme Court, where attendees observed two oral arguments then took part in a debriefing with the attorneys who argued the cases. See a picture of the group.

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Appellate Practice Attorneys Hone Skills at Bootcamp

The 2012 Supreme Court Bootcamp, sponsored by the TBA's Appellate Practice Section, brought more than 20 attorneys to Nashville Oct. 4 for the annual program, which included skills building sessions and a trip to the Supreme Court, where attendees observed two oral arguments then took part in a debriefing with the attorneys who argued the cases.

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High Court Will Not Hear Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in a lawsuit over the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission's makeup. The plaintiffs filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in 2010, challenging sections of the Iowa Constitution and state code. They argued that the system excludes Iowa voters from participation in the election of the elected attorney members of the state Judicial Nominating Commission; that it denies voters the right to equal participation in the selection of state Supreme Court justices; and that it denies voters the right to vote for the elected attorney members of the commission. The judicial commission is given the power to select the nominees for vacant positions on both the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The governor then chooses one of the commission's three nominees. Learn more from LegalNewsLine.com

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Apply Now for Eastern Division Court of Appeals Seat

The Judicial Nominating Commission is now accepting applications for the Court of Appeals vacancy in the Eastern Division, which will be created by the Dec. 31 retirement of Judge Herschel P. Franks. Applications must be in by Oct. 22 at noon Central time. The commission will set a date to interview all qualified applicants, along with a public hearing where anyone may express  opinions about the applicants. The interview, public hearing and deliberation process will be open to the public. The commission then will select three candidates to recommend to the governor. Get the details from the Administrative Office of the Courts

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Affirmative Action, Same-Sex Marriage, Voter Rights on Agenda for New Term

Today is the first day of the U.S. Supreme Court's fall term and court watchers say this term may be just as exciting as the last one, Law.com reports. Subjects the justices will cover include affirmative action, same-sex marriage and possibly erecting new obstacles to class actions. Also waiting in the wings are cases questioning the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and voter ID laws.  Refresh your memory on the justices --  the AP shows you the justices' order of seniority, age, the presidents who appointed them, and when they took their seats on the high court.

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Deadline Approaches for TBA Academy

A select group of Tennessee attorneys will soon experience the honor of being admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court during the 29th Annual TBA Academy Nov. 26-27 in Washington, D.C. This year's program includes a welcome reception with TBA President Jackie Dixon, group lunch and dinner, breakfast and tour of the court and private admission ceremony. The group will stay at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel and will have the opportunity to network with some of the nation’s leading appellate practitioners. Registration is open through Oct. 15. Get details and directions on how to apply

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Supreme Court: Student's Suspension Stands

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a 10-day suspension of a student at Hillsboro High School in Nashville in a ruling issued today. In 2008, senior Christian Heyne was suspended after the principal determined that Heyne had violated the school rule prohibiting “reckless endangerment.” The Chancery Court for Davidson County agreed with the Heynes, holding that the disciplinary process has been tainted by bias and procedural unfairness and the suspension was based on insufficient evidence. But the Court of Appeals reversed, and the Supreme Court agreed. Learn more from the court

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Trauger is ABOTA Trial Judge of Year

The Tennessee Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) has named U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee Aleta Arthur Trauger as its Trial Judge of the Year for 2012. ABOTA is a national association dedicated to preserving the constitutional guarantee of a civil jury trial. Trauger has served on the U.S. District Court in Nashville since 1998. Her district has for several years ranked among the top 10 federal courts in the nation for number of trials completed per judgeship.

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Supreme Court Announces Cases for New Term

The U.S. Supreme Court today added six new cases to its docket, including a case asking whether the litigation exception to the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act protects lawyers who use car buyers' personal information for a potential class action. The new term officially begins on Oct. 1, but as has been the practice in recent years, the justices released an orders list of newly granted petitions the day after meeting in their summer conference. The National Law Journal looks at the upcoming cases

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2 Federal Judges Confirmed

The Senate confirmed two non-controversial judicial nominees for federal district courts early Saturday, part of the last scheduled business until after the presidential election. The Senate confirmed Gonzalo Curiel for the Southern District of California and Robert Shelby for the District of Utah, the Blog of Legal Tmes reports The posts are considered judicial emergencies because of the workload faced in the districts. Both men had the support of both of their state's senators and were approved by a voice vote.

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File Sharing Opinion Avoids Ruling on Key Issue

Recording companies are entitled to the $222,000 in damages that they were awarded in a 2007 file-sharing case, but an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision issued today in St. Louis did not decide on whether a federal district court in Minnesota erred by ordering a new trial after that first verdict. Read more in the ABA Journal.

3 Special Justices Step Down in Judicial Election Case

Three of the five justices appointed to a Special Supreme Court have stepped down from the body, following a motion filed by John Jay Hooker questioning their impartiality. William M. Barker, George H. Brown Jr. and Robert L. Echols filed the order of recusal today, the Nashville Post reports. Gov. Bill Haslam appointed the trio, along with Special Justice Andree S. Blumstein and Special Justice W. Morris Kizer, to hear an appeal of Hooker’s suit challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee’s method of selecting and retaining appellate court judges. All five members of the Tennessee Supreme Court had earlier recused themselves from hearing the case.

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Summers: Remember Past Experience with ‘Election’ of Judges

In an opinion piece in the Tennessean today, former state attorney general Paul Summers writes that those supporting direct election of appellate judges have forgotten the state’s past experience with that system. “Back when we had partisan elections for the judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Appeals, they were in theory elected by hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans. In truth, they were selected by a handful of party officials in Nashville...” Summers writes. He reminds readers that in those days, Democrats were in charge and often Republicans didn’t even put up a slate of judges. Today, under merit selection, he argues, the appellate courts are more evenly balanced.

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TBA Academy Offers Admission to U.S. Supreme Court

A select group of Tennessee attorneys will soon experience the honor of being admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court during the 29th Annual TBA Academy Nov. 26-27 in Washington, D.C. This year's program includes a welcome reception with TBA President Jackie Dixon, group lunch and dinner, breakfast and tour of the court and private admission ceremony. The group will stay at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel and will have the opportunity to network with some of the nation’s leading appellate practitioners. Registration is open through Oct. 15. Get details and directions on how to apply

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Former Judges Lead Fight for Missouri Merit Selection

Defenders of Missouri’s nationally recognized merit selection plan for choosing judges have unveiled a campaign to defeat proposed changes when voters go to the polls this fall. According to critics, the proposed state constitutional amendment would insert politics into choosing appellate judges and give too much influence to the governor. A group of former judges, state bar leaders and community representatives have formed the Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee to fight the initiative. Among the leaders are six former state Supreme Court judges. Read more from Gavel Grab

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Court Will Consider Juror-to-Witness Facebook Message

The Tennessee Supreme Court will soon address the hazards that the internet age has created in the justice system, specifically concerning a juror who sent a witness a Facebook message during a trial. The juror wrote that the witness "did a great job today” and “really explained things so great!” Another case the court will hear considers a remittitur where the jury awarded $43.8 million in damages and assessed 15 percent fault against Ford Motor Company. But the Court of Appeals remanded with a suggestion of remittitur to a total amount of $12.9 million (of which Ford remains only 15 percent liable). In another case, the court will revisit the corpus delicti rule to determine if this rule survived the new criminal code and how it should be interpreted. Read more about these cases and others coming before the court in the Raybin-Perky Hot List.

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Court Upholds Statewide Voting for Appellate Judges

John Jay Hooker, known for repeated challenges to the state's judicial retention election system, is pursuing yet another Supreme Court review of the issue. His latest challenge, which will be heard by a special court, questions whether the current system is constitutional but also raises the issue of whether it is constitutional for appellate judges to be elected statewide. Since each judge is assigned to one of the state’s three grand divisions, Hooker claims that voting should be limited to those residing in each division. Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Hamilton Gayden Jr. recently rejected all but this element of Hooker’s suit. Last week, the Court of Appeals overruled him on that point. Writing for the court, Judge Herschel P. Frank said that state laws establishing the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals “defined the entire state of Tennessee as the district to which the intermediate court judges are assigned" so "their election by a statewide retention election” is constitutional. Hooker has appealed to the Supreme Court. The Memphis Daily News reports

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Governor Appoints Special Supreme Court to Hear Appeal

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed a special Supreme Court to hear a case from which all five Tennessee Supreme Court justices have recused themselves. William M. Barker, Andree Sophia Blumstein, George H. Brown Jr., Robert L. Echols and W. Morris Kizer will hear the case, which is an appeal of Hooker et al. vs. Haslam et al., a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Court of Criminal Appeals appointment by the governor.

'Showdown' on Appellate Judicial Nominees Set

A confirmation vote scheduled for Monday could be a pivotal moment for how many appellate court bench spots the Senate will fill during the rest of this year, the Blog of Legal Times reports. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is forcing a vote Monday afternoon on Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, a nominee considered to be highly qualified and noncontroversial. The move is a direct challenge to Republicans who have leaked plans that they will block all circuit court judges for the rest of the presidential election year.

If Reid succeeds in getting enough Republican votes to overcome the filibuster, it could pave the way for other noncontroversial circuit court nominees awaiting confirmation this year, including William Kayatta Jr., of Maine for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Richard Taranto, nominated to the Federal Circuit. If Reid does not succeed, it would suggest Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has party members in line to solidify a freeze on any circuit court confirmations until next Congress, nomination watchers say.

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Wrong 'Scruggs' Cited in News Story

A news item in yesterday's issue of TBA Today mistakenly identified the Mississippi lawyer who petitioned a federal appeals court this week to vacate his guilty plea in a judicial bribery case. It was Zach Scruggs, son of Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who filed the motion. The younger Scruggs pleaded guilty to failure to report a crime in the same case involving his father. He served a 14-month prison sentence, paid a $250,000 fine and lost his law license. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Scruggs Asks that Guilty Plea be Vacated

Mississippi attorney Zach Scruggs asked a federal appeals court Monday to vacate his 2008 guilty plea in a judicial bribery case that also resulted in a prison sentence for his once-powerful father and law partner. Scruggs argued that his guilty plea should be thrown out because his conduct didn't constitute a crime in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling that an anti-fraud law was improperly used to help convict former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling. A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans did not immediately rule on the case, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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Court Grants Review in 5 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted review in five new cases, the most recent Raybin-Perkey Hot List reports. The two civil cases concern modification of grandparent visitation and an interpretation of the teachers’ tenure act. The criminal appeals address the consequences of the state’s failure to preserve evidence, a potential violation of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers and a sufficiency of evidence review of a conviction for tampering with evidence.

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