News

Judge Reviews IQ in Death Penalty Case

U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell is reviewing the case file of Byron Lewis Black, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her two daughters in 1988. Black's federal public defender has argued that he is intellectually disabled and cannot be executed under Tennessee law. Judge Campbell will review interpretations of the state’s three-pronged approach to determining intellectual disability, including the use of IQ test scores. The law maintains that a person must have an IQ score of less than 70 to be deemed “intellectually disabled.” Black’s IQ scores ranged from 57-97 over a period of four decades. Campbell has not issued an opinion in the case. The Nashville City Paper has the story.

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New Court Procedures Raise Privacy Concerns

Audio recordings from cases in Tennessee appellate courts will be available online starting this spring, and some attorneys and judges are upset. They say that easy access to sensitive information from oral arguments could produce privacy issues since there is no exception for juveniles or families going through personal divorce proceedings. Judge Frank Clement of the Court of Appeals wrote a three-page letter to the Supreme Court expressing his concerns. The Court told Nashville’s News 2 that the intent was to continue to promote the transparency and openness of the courts. “We do recognize a concern for possible misuse of the audio files and are developing measures to mitigate possible misuse of the proposed system."

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Supreme Court Clerk to Retire

William K. Suter, the clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court, will retire at the end of August after 22 years of service, the Blog of the Legal Times reports. Suter is the 19th person to serve as clerk. Before taking that position, he was an Army major general and served in numerous positions around the world including appellate judge, deputy staff judge advocate of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, staff judge advocate of the 101st Airborne Division, commandant of the JAG school, and assistant judge advocate general of the Army. He has been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Parachutist Badge. 

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Supreme Court Denies Review of Stem Cell, Abortion Suits

In a wrapup of Supreme Court activity over the past few days, ScotusBlog reports that the court denied review in several notable cases including Sherley v. Sebelius, in which the court said it will not stop the government’s funding of embryonic stem cell research. The court also refused to hear an appeal from anti-abortion group The Real Truth About Abortion, which wanted to stop the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department from enforcing fundraising and advertising regulations against it.

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State Searches for New Death Penalty Drug

The federal government has confiscated Tennessee’s entire stock of sodium thiopental, a key drug for lethal injection, amid questions of whether it was legally obtained overseas during a 2010 shortage in America. Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said the state is pursing alternative drugs in order to maintain its lethal injection protocol. Eighty-four inmates currently sit on Tennessee’s death row, 67 of whom have been there for more than 10 years. While death penalty opponents view the sodium thiopental shortage as a godsend, advocates think the state’s delay in finding an alternative drug is preventing justice from being carried out. The Tennessean has the story.

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Obama Renominates 33 to Federal Bench

President Barack Obama renominated 33 people for federal judgeships today, including seven to the federal appeals courts, 24 to federal district courts, and two to the Court of International Trade. The Legal Times reports that he chastised Congress for failing to act on nominations before they expired at the end of 2012. Obama said in a statement that several candidates had been awaiting a vote for more than six months despite having bipartisan support. View the full list of renominated candidates.

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Federal Courts Hold Line on Spending

Chief Justice John G. Roberts is defending the federal courts’ cost-containment strategy, stating in his year-end report that the Supreme Court will seek $75 million in the upcoming fiscal year, a 3.7 percent decrease from three years ago. Nationwide, federal courts spent about $6.9 billion last fiscal year, a “miniscule portion” of the overall federal budget Roberts said. In the report, Roberts also urged executive and legislative branches to fill open seats on the U.S. District and appellate courts which he said constitute “judicial emergencies.”

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Court Asks Law Professor to Argue DOMA Procedural Issues

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday chose Harvard constitutional law professor Vicki C. Jackson to argue that it does not have the authority to rule on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Jackson will file a brief and appear to argue two procedural issues that the court itself raised in agreeing to consider the law’s validity. Those issues are whether the court has jurisdiction to rule on the law and whether Republican members of the House of Representatives have a right to appear in the case. SCOTUSblog explores the issues.

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Summers Appointed Senior Judge

Former Attorney General Paul G. Summers, a partner in the Waller law firm in Nashville, has been appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court to a four-year term as a senior judge. He will depart the firm to replace Walter C. Kurtz on Jan. 1, 2013. Four senior judges serve the state at any one time and are assigned on a temporary basis to state courts as needed. Summers said serving as a senior judge will be the “ultimate professional challenge” and that while “working at Waller has been an absolute pleasure… I couldn’t resist the urge to return to public service and complete the circle of my legal career.” The Nashville Post reports

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Supreme Court OKs Library Cards for Voter ID

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that photo ID cards issued by the Memphis public library qualify as a valid and acceptable form of identification required to vote, the Tennessean reports. State election officials announced that only residents of Shelby County will be allowed to use library-issued IDs in next week’s Presidential election, after which the court will take up the question of whether the state’s new voter ID law is constitutional.

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Court Hears Arguments Over Police Dog Use

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about the use of drug-sniffing dogs in investigations following complaints of illegal searches and insufficient proof of the dogs’ reliability, the Times News reports. The arguments revolved around cases involving two Florida police dogs. Confiscation of 179 marijuana plants came after one dog sniffed the odor from outside the front door, but a trial judge threw out the evidence claiming the dog’s sniff was an unconstitutional intrusion into the defendant’s home. Another dog alerted his officer to the scent of drugs during a traffic stop which resulted in an arrest, but the dog’s training and certification to detect narcotics did not hold up in court. The state of Florida appealed both cases to the Supreme Court which will rule in the cases sometime next year.

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Former MTSU Student Denied New Murder Trial

Former MTSU student Shanterrica Madden, who was convicted in May of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence in the killing of her college roommate, will ask a higher court for a new trial after Circuit Court Judge Don Ash denied her request Monday afternoon. Madden’s attorney Joe Brandon argued that the first trial was unfair, her 25 year sentence was too harsh, and her rights were infringed upon when the judge allowed jurors to ask witnesses questions. Brandon says they will be filing a brief with the appeals court within 30 days and plans to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. Read more at the Tennessean.

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Court Seeks Comments on Federal PD Performance

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is seeking comments on the performance of Henry A. Martin, Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Tennessee. All comments must be received by Nov. 16.

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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