Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Bivens succeds Lee as chief justice of TN Supreme Court

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts
Nashville, Tenn. – The Supreme Court has elected Justice Jeff Bivins to be the next chief justice of the Court. Justice Bivins was unanimously elected by the Court to a term that begins September 1.

Justice Bivins was appointed to the Court in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam. Prior to assuming that position, he was a judge on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals from August 2011 until July 2014. Continue reading

Almost no spending in this year’s TN Supreme campaign

Registry of Election Finance records show the three Republican Tennessee Supreme Court justices facing a retention election on Aug. 4 have all set up campaign accounts and raised modest amounts of money — mostly from lawyers — but spent almost nothing.

That’s a striking contrast with two years ago, when three incumbent justices appointed by Democratic governors were on the August ballot. They collectively raised and spent more than $1.1 million while being supported by a separate group that spent $345,000.

The successful 2014 campaigns by Justices Cornelia Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade came despite almost as much being spent on attacking them as liberals soft on crime and supportive of the federal Affordable Care Act through the attorney general they chose — contentions they vigorously denied.

Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey put $605,000 into the anti-incumbent effort through his political action committee and a national GOP group added about $200,000. The combined total of about $2.5 million made for the most expensive Supreme Court campaign in Tennessee history.

This year, there has been no visible organized anti-incumbent campaign facing the three justices appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam — Jeffrey Bivins, Holly Kirby and Roger Page. Apparently concerned about the possibility, however, all three set up re-election campaign finance accounts and sought donations. Their reports, reflecting account status as of July 1, show: Continue reading

Increased funding for legal representation of poor deemed DOA

The chairman of a state task force created in the wake of a failed effort to convince legislators to shell out more money for attorneys protecting the legal rights of the poor has already labeled as “dead on arrival” any future bid for funding, reports the News Sentinel.

“I mention this only to help you understand that there is no chance — no chance — that the General Assembly will agree to appropriate more money to fund the current system,” retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch wrote in a letter obtained by the News Sentinel. “Thus, any proposal to increase the current appropriation for the purpose of increasing the hourly rate paid to private attorneys appointed to represent indigent criminal defendants is and will continue to be dead on arrival.”

The letter prompted its recipient, attorney Christopher Seaton, on Friday to call a “listening tour” by the state Indigent Representation Task Force “a sham.”

Koch, now dean of the Nashville School of Law, readily admitted his assessment in an interview after a Friday stop of the task force at the University of Tennessee College of Law, but he countered the task force is no sham.

“The Legislature is not going to pay money for the same old thing,” Koch said. “We haven’t, in the last 30 years, looked at (the process of providing legal services for the poor) holistically.”

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee agreed.

“I think we are looking at the overall system,” Lee said. “I personally think the rates should be increased but … that’s a Band-Aid. We need to look at the overall system. How can we more efficiently and effectively provide this service?”

Tennessee’s pay for private attorneys to represent poor people accused of crimes — $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $50 in-court with caps ranging from $500 to $5,000 — is the lowest in the nation except Wisconsin. That state doesn’t impose caps, though. Even expert witnesses garner more hourly pay than do court-appointed lawyers. The rates haven’t been raised in more than two decades.

The Tennessee Bar Association has pushed in recent years for a boost, but the Legislature has spurned it while, at the same time, creating new criminal laws and increasing penalties for current laws. As speaker after speaker at Friday’s packed meeting and Koch himself noted, most legislators view poverty-stricken defendants as criminals, so boosting pay rates for their attorneys is a tough, if not impossible, sale.

Supreme ‘task force’ tours to hear about poor legal representation

A “task force” set up by the Tennessee Supreme Court — visits to Knoxville and Johnson City this week after stops in West Tennessee last week — as part of a “listening tour” to hear complaints from lawyers and others about the state’s system for providing legal representation to the poor.

The Indigent Representation Task Force, chaired by former state Supreme Court Justice William Koch, now dean of the Nashville School of Law, is widely seen as a prelude to the court asking the Legislature in 2017 for an increase in funding for the system. The group was established in October after the 2015 legislative session spurned an attempt — led by the Tennessee Bar Association — to increase fees paid attorneys appointed to represent the indigent in criminal cases.

The current rates, unchanged since 1994, provide for lawyers being paid $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $50 an hour for in-court work. There’s also a cap on the total amount that can be paid in a case, which varies depending on the type of crime involved but generally set at $1,000 in most felony cases. The ceiling ranges from $500 in some categories, including those involving juvenile defendants, to $5,000 when the defendant is charged with first-degree murder.
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TN Supreme Court building marked as historic place

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A new marker inside the doors of the Tennessee Supreme Court in Nashville celebrates the building’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

When it was completed in 1937, it marked the first time state’s highest court had its own building. The structure was funded through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration.

Today the building is used by the Supreme Court, the intermediate courts of criminal and civil appeals and a museum to state court history.

The building is designed in the stripped classicism style that was popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Architectural features include Doric capitals, a cornice embellished with classical images, multi-pane windows, marble interiors and historic lighting fixtures.

The building was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

Supremes reverse appeals court, defer to TDEC in pollution lawsuit

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts
Nashville, Tenn. ­– The Tennessee Supreme Court has reversed a Court of Appeals decision concerning the cleanup of a landfill that has been discharging pollutants into a Maury County lake.

From 1981 to 1993, ACC, LLC operated a landfill in Maury County, Tennessee, where it disposed of aluminum recycling wastes from a local aluminum smelting plant. Within a few years of becoming operational, the landfill began to discharge chlorides and ammonia into water that drained into a local lake. This discharge was in violation of the Water Quality Control Act and the Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Act.

Over several years, ACC worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) in an attempt to remedy the problem. After a number of efforts proved unsuccessful, ACC and TDEC agreed that the best solution would be to remove the waste causing the pollution from the landfill site. In 2011, ACC and TDEC entered into an administrative consent order requiring ACC to divert water from entering the landfill and, over a four-year period, remove the landfill waste. The order was filed in the Davidson County Chancery Court for approval.
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Erasure of criminal charges without conviction to become easier

by Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee courts are going to make it easier for people who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime to have their criminal records wiped clean.

A bipartisan group of legislators, judges and criminal justice officials gathered Tuesday to announce a statewide court initiative in which judges will ask eligible people if they want their records expunged.

Many people don’t know they have that right or face barriers to clearing their names, like taking time off work and going back to a courthouse to fill out paperwork, supporters of the initiative say.

The records can hurt people when they try to find a job, get a loan, find housing or get a professional license. Some lawmakers and others say people who are not guilty of crimes shouldn’t have to face hurdles when it comes to getting their records cleared.

“They’ve been found innocent, but they still have an arrest record haunting them,” said Rep. Harold Love, a Democrat from Nashville.
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Supremes pick a new ‘senior judge’

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts
Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has appointed former judge and Williamson County attorney Robert E. Lee Davies to the position of senior judge.

Davies practices family law, personal injury, and business litigation in Williamson County. He served from 2000-2008 as a circuit court judge in the 21st Judicial District, handling both civil and criminal cases. He also has served as special judge for the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

“The people of Williamson County have received the benefit of Judge Davies’ experience and expertise and now these resources will be available all across Tennessee,” Chief Justice Sharon Lee said. Davies replaces Judge Ben Cantrell, who has served as a senior judge for the past four years, following a 30-year career at the trial and appellate level
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State wins $13M tax fight with Verizon Wireless

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts
Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a decision by the Tennessee Department of Revenue to impose a tax variance on the parent company of Verizon Wireless. The Court held that the Commissioner of Revenue was within his authority to impose the variance, in order to keep the company from avoiding paying Tennessee franchise and excise taxes on over a billion dollars in revenue from sales to Tennessee customers.

The lawsuit was filed by Vodafone Americas Holdings, Inc., a multistate wireless telecommunications corporation, and its subsidiaries (Vodafone), doing business throughout the United States as Verizon Wireless.

From 2000-2006, Vodafone filed Tennessee franchise and excise tax returns and paid taxes totaling more than $13 million on the revenues Vodafone received for services provided to its Tennessee customers. In 2007, Vodafone filed a lawsuit asking the trial court to require the Department of Revenue to refund nearly all of the Tennessee franchise and excise taxes Vodafone had paid for the years 2002 through 2006. Vodafone claimed that, if the apportionment formula in Tennessee’s franchise and excise tax statutes were applied correctly, Vodafone would owe virtually no taxes on its sales receipts for cell phone services provided to Tennessee customers, receipts that totaled over a billion dollars in revenue to Vodafone.
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House votes thanks to Alexander, Corker for SCOTUS stance

A partisan debate topic on the House floor Thursday was a resolution by state Rep. Andy Holt offering thanks to Tennessee’s two U.S. senators for declaring they will not vote for anyone nominated by President Barack Obama as a U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

“We hereby thank Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Bob Corker for their position to not move forward on a nomination to the Supreme Court by the current administration and expect their decision to refrain from entertaining a nomination by the current administration be sustained regardless of any conditions,” declares HR178.

“It looks like to me like we’ve got more important things to do than compliment senators on not doing the job they’re supposed to do … or for doing the job they’re supposed to do, for that matter,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

But Holt said it was appropriate for legislators to back Alexander and Corker in refusing to consider Obama nominees when “his presidency is coming to a close, thank goodness.” Other Republicans, including Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin and Rep. William Lamberth of Gallatin, rallied to the cause in speeches.

Casada read quotations from Vice President Joe Biden, speaking when he was a Democratic U.S. senator, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York in opposition to Republican presidents submitting nominees to the Supreme Court late in their terms.

Lamberth noted the Legislature regularly passes resolutions honoring sports teams, couples celebrating wedding anniversaries, students chosen as class valedictorian and the like.

“We should recognize people when they’ve done something good,” he said, and the senators’ stance meets that standard.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death created the court vacancy at issue in Washington, as declaring senators should act promptly on court nominees and “would have been in opposition to what we’re complementing our senators for doing.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville complained about “engaging in these partisan games” and supporting U.S. Senate Republicans in “obstructionism that the public finds so abhorrent.”

The resolution was approved on a 70-24 vote. Only one Democrat, Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston, voted for it and no Republican voted against it, though four did not vote.

Holt filed the measure as a House-only resolution, so it does not go to the Senate and a copy will now be officially sent to Alexander and Corker.