News

Court OKs Good-Faith Exception to Exclusionary Rule

The Tennessee Supreme Court today by a vote of 4-1 approved a limited good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule only when law enforcement acts in objectively reasonable good-faith reliance on “binding appellate precedent” that “specifically authorizes a particular police practice” that is later overruled. The decision came in a vehicle accident case from October 2011 in which law enforcement obtained a blood sample from the driver without a warrant because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that warrants were not required to obtain blood from DUI suspects. That decision was later overruled. Justice Sharon G. Lee was the lone dissent.

TBA Board Member and Franklin criminal defense lawyer David Veile said, “It would seem that the citizen, and not the police, will now literally be penalized for previous appellate judge error. The court cited with approval authority indicating that law enforcement officers are the vanguard of our legal system. As a former police officer, I would respectfully submit that the Tennessee Constitution, and its checks and balances on the prosecution of its citizens, should be the vanguard of our legal system.”

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All Charges against Judge Sammons Dismissed

Senior Judge Paul Summers today threw out all charges against Campbell County General Sessions Court Judge Amanda Sammons, who was in court this week for a trial on two counts of official misconduct. After a day of testimony, Summers ruled that the state had failed to present enough proof of official misconduct for the jury to consider the case, Knoxnews reports. Special prosecutor Dan Armstrong said he will consult with the state attorney general’s office about an appeal of today’s decision as well as an earlier ruling by Summers in which he dismissed two unrelated charges. The Board of Judicial Conduct also said today it would lift its suspension of Sammons, clearing the way for her return to the bench.

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Court to Hear Transgender Bathroom Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to take up the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who challenged a Virginia school district policy that prevented him from using the boys’ restroom at his high school. The case will test the Obama administration’s directive that schools must let transgender students use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, the Washington Post reports. In August, the justices put on hold a lower court ruling that had sided with Grimm, while they decided whether to hear the case. The stay will remain in effect until the court rules on the merits.

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Democrats Blast Calls to Block Clinton Court Picks

Three U.S. senators have mentioned the possibility of blocking any Supreme Court candidate nominated by Hillary Clinton if she were to become president. The comments from Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have angered the White House and Senate Democrats, Roll Call reports. Senate Judiciary ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont said such a move would amount to a “piecemeal evisceration of the Constitution.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said such calls threaten “the same kind of dysfunction that has infected Washington for the last six years.”

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6th Circuit to Hold Session at Memphis Law

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will hold oral arguments in the historic courtroom at the University of Memphis School of Law Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. The panel, consisting of Senior Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, Senior Judge Eugene E. Siler Jr. and Memphis Law alumna Judge Bernice B. Donald, will hear arguments in the death penalty case of Andrew Thomas Jr. v. Bruce Westbrooks. Following oral arguments, attorneys in the case will conduct a post-argument debriefing and the judges have agreed to stay for a reception in the school’s Scenic Reading Room.

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NSL Names New Communications Director

The Nashville School of Law has hired alumna Michele Wojciechowski as its first director of communications and engagement. She will start her new post on Nov. 1. Wojciechowski has served as the communications director for the Tennessee judiciary since 2012. At the Administrative Office of the Courts she was responsible for the communications and outreach efforts of the state appellate and trial courts, including the Supreme Court. Prior to joining the AOC, she spent more than 20 years in a variety of newspaper industry roles. Wojciechowski earned her law degree from the school in 2012.

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Court May be Delaying Action on ‘Big’ Cases

The short-handed Supreme Court may be showing signs it is having trouble getting its work done, the Associated Press reports. The justices have yet to schedule three cases for arguments that were granted full review in January – an indication they may think the issues involved (separation of church and state, class-action lawsuits and property rights) will lead to a 4-4 split. "It’s much more difficult for us to do our job if we are not what we’re intended to be – a court of nine,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Monday. The justices have divided evenly in four cases since Antonin Scalia’s death last term. WRCB-TV has the story.

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Grassley: GOP Has Responsibility to Consider Court Nominees

Republicans “can’t just simply stonewall” nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court even if the president making that choice is Democrat Hillary Clinton, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said Tuesday. The senator, who is chair of the Judiciary Committee, was responding to comments from fellow Republican Sen. John McCain that Republicans would unite against any nominee Clinton puts forward if she becomes president. “I think we have a responsibility to very definitely vet…whoever nominee that person puts forward. We have the same responsibility for [Donald] Trump,” Grassley said. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

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LAET Inducts 2 into Pro Bono Hall of Fame

The Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) has inducted two longtime members of the judiciary into its Chattanooga Pro Bono Hall of Fame. Former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice William M. Barker and retired Hamilton County Chancellor Howell N. Peoples were recognized at a reception and ceremony this week at the group’s Chattanooga office. The pair was selected for the honor because of their early work in the access to justice movement. According to LAET, Barker was the first chief justice of the state Supreme Court to make access to justice a priority for the court, while Peoples was the first legal aid attorney in Chattanooga to be funded through the federal legal aid program.

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Prosecutors Need Not Link Firearms Charges to Specific Felonies

In two unanimous opinions issued today, the Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that an indictment that includes a charge for employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony does not have to specifically state which underlying felony is tied to the firearms charge. The cases – State of Tennessee v. Rhakim Martin and State of Tennessee v. Willie Duncan – address a Tennessee law that created an additional crime if certain “dangerous” felonies are committed with a firearm. Read more about the cases from the AOC.

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Court Upholds Method of Charging Lesser Offenses

The Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that the state legislature did not nullify a practice long used in state courts when it enacted a statute that outlines methods for determining lesser-included offenses for which a defendant can be convicted. The court’s decision means that a defendant can continue to be convicted of a lesser offense if it contains the same elements, but requires a lesser mental state or less risk of harm to others, than the offense being charged. Read more from the court.

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Death Row Inmate Gets New Hearing

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins has ordered a new hearing to determine if prosecutors discriminated against potential jurors based solely on race in the case of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, who has been on death row since 1987. Abdur'Rahman was convicted of first-degree murder and other counts in the robbery, attack and stabbing of Patrick Daniels and Norma Jean Norman. Watkins cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, which potentially created a new precedent that warrants an evidentiary hearing. A date for the hearing has not yet been set, the Tennessean reports.

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Reminder: Supreme Court Society Event Thursday

The Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society, in cooperation with the Knoxville Bar Association, will hold its annual cocktail reception and “Night with the Chiefs” on Thursday. The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a program following at 6:30 p.m. The event, held each year to honor the members of state Supreme Court, will take place at the East Tennessee Historical Center in Knoxville. RSVP to Amanda Messer.

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4 Vying to Redevelop Former Supreme Court Building

Four companies have submitted bids to redevelop the former Tennessee Supreme Court building in downtown Knoxville, Knoxnews reports. The building has been empty since 2003 when the state moved the court to its current site on Main Street. Plans for redevelopment call for an “exciting urban lifestyle” where residents will want to live, shop and play. The request for proposals also asks the bid winner to preserve portions of the original Supreme Court courtroom and reuse materials found in the courthouse.

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Walker Sworn In to U.S. Bankruptcy Court

Hon. Charles M. Walker was sworn in to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Tennessee today. Chief Bankruptcy Judge Marian F. Harrison administered the oath in a courtroom at the U.S. Customs House in Nashville, and Chief District Judge Kevin H. Sharp of the U.S. District Court gave remarks welcoming Walker to the court.

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Deadline Nearing for Supreme Court Admissions Event

The deadline to take part in the TBA Academy and be admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court is just weeks away. The 2016 TBA Academy will take place Nov. 28-30 in Washington, D.C., at The Hay Adams Hotel. Participating attorneys will be sworn in before the court in a private ceremony on Nov. 29. Registration forms and required materials must be submitted by Oct. 19. Learn more online or contact TBA Meetings Coordinator Therese Byrne, 615-277-3208, with any questions.

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Court Corrects Order Dealing with Chief Justice’s Term

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a correction this week to an order originally filed on Aug. 30 to note that Justice Sharon Lee dissented to adoption of an order that amended Supreme Court Rule 32, which made several changes to the way the court’s chief justice is selected. Specifically, the order (1) removed the deadline of Sept. 1 for selecting a new chief justice, (2) extended the initial term of the chief justice from one to four years, (3) allowed the chief justice to serve additional unlimited consecutive two-year terms, and (4) allowed three justices to remove the chief justice for cause (down from the previous requirement of four).

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Ceremonial Swearing-in Thursday for Chief Justice Bivins

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins will have a ceremonial swearing in with Gov. Bill Haslam at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the historic Supreme Court chambers in the state Capitol. The event is open to the public. Bivins was unanimously elected chief by the other members of the court last month. He was officially sworn in by Justice Connie Clark during the Equal Justice University conference in August. Read more from the court.

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Court Grants Review of 4 New Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review of four cases, which raise issues related to administrative employment appeals, marital property and two wrongful death claims. The Raybin Supreme Court Hotlist reviews each case and offers a prediction as to how each may be decided.

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Trump Releases New List of Court Picks

Donald Trump has released a new list of possible Supreme Court picks that appears to address criticism that his prior list lacked diversity. The new list includes U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar of the Eastern District of Kentucky, an Indian-American; U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno of the Southern District of Florida, who was born in Venezuela; and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr., who is black. The one woman on the list is Judge Margaret Ryan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. See the full list in the ABA Journal.

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CLE SKI Set for Jan. 22-27 in Snowmass

Mark your calendar for the 32nd Annual TBA CLE SKI, being held Jan. 22-27, 2017, at the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass, Colorado. Participants will be able to attend CLE sessions each morning and afternoon with plenty of time to hit the slopes in between programs. Topics will cover entertainment law, social security disability, updates on labor and employment law, ethics and a U.S. Supreme Court case review.

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New Supreme Court CLE Challenges Available

Join colleagues who have been playing TBA’s Supreme Court Fantasy Challenge! The challenge CLEs let you read briefs, hear arguments and predict how the court ruled. See listing of current cases here.

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Supreme Court Admissions Program Filling Up

Only a limited number of spaces remain for the TBA Academy, which includes an opportunity for Tennessee attorneys to be admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and network with some of the nation’s leading appellate practitioners. The 2016 TBA Academy will take place Nov. 28-30 in Washington, D.C., at The Hay Adams Hotel. Participating attorneys will be sworn in before the court in a private ceremony on Nov. 29. Registration forms and required materials must be submitted by Oct. 19. Learn more online or contact TBA Meetings Coordinator Therese Byrne, 615-277-3208, with any questions.

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Court Looks at Role of Election Commissions in Resolving Disputes

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a case that is raising tricky questions about challenging election results. Attorney Tom McFarland brought the suit, challenging the outcome of his 2014 race for Ninth Judicial District Circuit Court judge. He lost that race to Michael Pemberton, but continues to maintain that Pemberton did not meet residency requirements and therefore his election was invalid. A trial judge and the Court of Appeals ruled against McFarland, though, because the Roane County Election Commission had determined that Pemberton did meet those requirements. According to Knoxnews, the justices appeared divided on whether a county election commission should have the final authority in determining a candidate’s qualifications.

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UT Law Reception to Honor Justice Lee

The University of Tennessee College of Law will hold a reception Sept. 23 to honor Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee and her just-completed tenure as chief justice. The event will take place in the rotunda of the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy beginning at 5:30 p.m. All are invited to attend. Register online or contact Rynn Dupes, 865-974-6691.

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