Tag Archives: u.s.

Sequester Creating Crisis in Federal Criminal Justice System

A crisis is brewing in the federal judiciary that experts say could jeopardize fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
“I’ve worked in all three branches of government and the private sector,” said U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice. “I have never been involved in any organization either public or private in which the workload has so far exceeded the resources that are allotted to do that job.”
Across-the-board budget cuts of 8 percent brought on by the sequester have meant hiring freezes, unfilled positions, training and travel expenses cut for what many call an already overworked portion of federal government.
The sequester is just the latest of decades-long trends of broadening federal courts’ responsibilities yet underfunding to carry out their congressional mandate, Mattice said.
But at stake are far more than layoffs, furloughs and heavier workloads, as important as those are to the people involved. The very heart of the American judicial system could be on the line, Mattice and others said.
…”Do I have to dismiss cases if we cannot pay for defender services?” Mattice said.
Though judges, court clerks and prosecutors all feel the pinch, public defenders have it worse.
Beth Ford is the federal community defender for the eastern district. Her office represents indigent criminal defendants in federal court. The task is a constitutionally-guranteed right of citizens accused of crimes.
The looming budget, due in September, looks like a “perfect storm” for defender services, she said.
“We will have a 23 percent decrease in proposed budget funding,” Ford said.
That means this year’s already reduced annual budget of $5.8 million would decline to $4.5 million. Ford avoided furloughs and layoffs this fiscal year by foregoing 401(k) contributions to her staff. That’s not likely next year, she said.
Other defender’s offices across the nation have already begun layoffs and furloughs, she said.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said he’d met recently with district judges and U.S. Attorney Bill Killian about the problems they’re facing.
“They are making do with less and I commend them,” Fleischmann.
…Killian is down three assistant U.S. attorneys in his criminal division. The 33 remaining attorneys resolved more than 900 cases in the district spanning from the Virgina-Tennessee border to Chattanooga.
The office handles more than 1,800 ongoing cases a year among its three branches in Greeneville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.
… The district comes in at the top of per capita caseloads and prosecutions when compared to others across the United States, he added.
His criminal division attorneys average 387 hours a year of unpaid overtime each. And the eight civil division attorneys average 295 such hours.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Comments on Lawsuit (sorta)

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes seriously the concerns of environmentalists that two East Tennessee mines are a threat to endangered fish, a spokesman says.
The Sierra Club and several other groups claim in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that Fish and Wildlife did not use the most up-to-date science when it agreed to allow surface mining at Zeb Mountain and Davis Creek. They say two endangered fish are threatened by the mining work because the runoff water from the sites is high in dissolved salts, making nearby streams too salty for the blackside dace and Cumberland darter to survive.
“We take very seriously our duty to protect endangered species, and we will look at all aspects of this lawsuit to ensure the best protection for the species involved,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Tom MacKenzie said in a phone interview from his Atlanta office. He said the service’s legal advisers will prepare an appropriate response to the suit.

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OBama Nominates Knoxville Lawyer as Federal Judge

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A longtime Knoxville lawyer and the first female president of the Tennessee Bar Association has been nominated by President Barack Obama to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
The White House announced Thursday that Obama had nominated Pamela L. Reeves for the post. The Knoxville News Sentinel said if confirmed by the Senate, Reeves would replace U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips, who retires this summer.
Reeves graduated from the University of Tennessee’s George C. Taylor College of Law in 1979 and received her bachelor’s with highest honors from UT in 1976.
She has been with the law firm of Reeves, Herbert & Anderson in Knoxville since 2002.
Reeves was bar association president from 1998 to 1999.

Judge Joe Brown Eyes Run For U.S. Senate

Former Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown, who recently lost his syndicated television courtroom over a contract dispute with CBS, may seek the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Lamar Alexander, reports The Commercial Appeal..
That’s what the flamboyant Brown, whose 15-year stint as a television judge ends next month, told The Hollywood Reporter recently. According to the publication, the judge “says he also is considering offers to get involved in politics, which could include a run for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee.”
A business partner responding to a text message at his newly created Milwaukee-based company Celebritunity, who identified himself as A-Sun Truth, said that Brown, 65, was not immediately available Tuesday.
Tennessee State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, said Brown told him Tuesday he was not ready to confirm a bid, but passed along this quote from the judge: “All aspects concerning the ‘Campaign For Justice’ will be revealed in due time.”
As a television judge, media reports indicate Brown was paid somewhere between $5 million and $20 million in recent years for his daytime arbitration-based reality show. That could mean a self-financed run for Brown against Alexander, 72, a former two-term governor and former U.S. Secretary of Education seeking his third six-year term in the senate.
Brown maintains an active Shelby County Election Commission voter registration with an address in Germantown. He should not be confused with the Memphis City Council member with the same first and last name.
Union University political science department chairman Dean F. Evans in Jackson. Tenn., said he had not heard of Brown as a potential Senate candidate, and suggested his campaign might be an uphill fight.


Note: For more, see Jackson Baker’s piece on Judge Joe.

Legislator Nomination of U.S. Senate Candidates Debated, Delayed

Sen. Frank Niceley has postponed a Senate floor vote on a bill that would let state legislators pick party nominees for the U.S. Senate after harsh criticism of the measure Monday from Tennessee’s Democratic chairman and a Republican colleague.
Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, requested the vote be rescheduled for the last day of the 2013 legislative session. As a practical matter, given the hectic nature of proceeding on a session’s last day, that likely means it will wind up being put off until next year.
The bill (SB471) calls for the Republican state legislators to meet in caucus to choose the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate and Democratic legislators to do the same for choosing a Democratic nominee. It would take effect on Nov. 30, 2014, meaning Sen. Lamar Alexander would be selected under the present system of contested primary elections.
State Democratic Chairman Roy Herron characterized the bill Monday as an effort by “reactionary and radical Republicans” to “steal the people’s right to vote to nominate our United States senators.” He called on legislators to amend the bill so it would not apply to Democrats, leaving the party to select its nominees by election.
When the bill came up on the floor Monday night, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, denounced the measure as “entirely self-interested” for legislators.
“This bill is anti-democratic. This bill smells of elitism and cronyism. It would open a system that could in the future be ripe for corruption,” said Kelsey.
Two other Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, urged Niceley to delay a vote so Tennesseans could become more familiar with the proposal and let their views be known.
Norris also questioned whether the measure could achieve Niceley’s stated goal — prodding the federal government, through the Senate, to show more respect for states’ rights — if Tennessee is the only state to pick Senate nominees via the Legislature. Niceley said three other states — Arizona, Louisiana and Wyoming — are considering the idea and Tennessee can be a leader.
He said the bill has already accomplished good by getting the attention of Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker.
“Our senators have called and talked to more House and Senate members in the last two weeks than they have in the last 20 years,” Niceley said.

Herron: Take Democrats Out of Bill on Legislators Picking U.S. Senate nominees

Tennessee Democratic Chairman Roy Herron today called for removing the Democratic party from a bill by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, that would have the party causes of the state Legislature nominate candidates for the U.S. Senate starting after the 2014 elections.
Here’s the text of Herron’s opening remarks at a news conference:
Democrats believe that the People should pick the Politicians, instead of the Politicians picking each other. But now the Radical Republicans want to steal the People’s right to vote to nominate our United States Senators.
The Republicans already have made it harder for People to vote by:
*new restrictions requiring big government ID cards
*cutting back days to early vote
*cut back voting locations
*purging law-abiding citizens from voting rolls (e.g., Rep. Lincoln Davis and Rep. Butch Borchert’s wife)
*even doing away with paper verification so you don’t know if your vote is counted.
Now they don’t want Tennesseans to vote at all, even in nominating our most important representatives in Washington, our U.S. Senators.
Once again, the Reactionary and Radical Republicans want to take us back a couple of centuries, to the 1800s when the legislature picked our senators until corruption and the people finally ended the practice by Constitutional Amendment in 1913. In fact, Tennessee ratified the 17th Amendment 100 years ago today on April 1st, 1913.
Now we know what Republicans mean when they claim to be for smaller government: they want to take the People out of elections and let a small number of Republican politicians grab the power.
On behalf of the Tennessee Democratic Party, I call on the General Assembly to take the Democratic Party out of this bill. Tennessee Democrats do not want to be part of this April Fool’s Joke on the People of Tennessee.

Committee Approves Letting Legislators Pick U.S. Senate Nominees

State legislators would pick nominees for Tennessee’s U.S. Senate seats under a bill approved by a state Senate committee with unanimous Republican support on Tuesday.
The bill by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, calls for the House and Senate Republican Caucuses, meeting jointly, to choose the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. The Democratic caucuses, in turn, would select the Democratic nominee.
The new system would not take effect until after the 2014 general election, meaning U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander would face reelection under the current system of voters picking nominees in contested primary elections. But if the bill (SB471) passes, senators would be chosen by the new process.
The bill (SB471) was appoved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee with all seven Republican members backing it. One Democrat, Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis, voted no and the other Democratic member abstained.
Niceley noted that, prior to passage of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913, state legislators directly picked U.S. senators. Senators have since been chosen by popular election, but Niceley said that Constitution does not say how candidates for the Senate must be chosen.
Most states have contested primaries for the Republican and Democratic nominations, but some have party caucus meetings instead. Under his plan, which Niceley said originated with the Goldwater Institute, legislators would basically act as a caucus picking nominees.
“That gets us back about half of what we lost in 1913, maybe a little bit more,” said Niceley.
He said “everybody agrees that Washington is broke” and his proposal is a step toward repair, selecting candidates while bypassing the Washington network of fundraising and lobbyists.
“This is sort of jerking their chain (in Washington),” he said. “If we don’t have the nerve to do this, we don’t deserve to be sitting here.”

UPDATE: The bill cleared its first hurdle in the House, the State Government Subcommittee, on a voice vote Wednesday with Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, as sponsor.

Larry Crim Files as Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate

News release from Larry Crim campaign:
According to a Federal Election Commission Statement of Candidacy filed with the Secretary of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., Larry Crim of Nashville, Tennessee has officially announced his Democratic candidacy for United States Senate (TN) in 2014.
Records on file with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Public Records Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Senate reflect that Crim is the only Democratic Party candidate from Tennessee to file a FEC Statement of Candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2014 at this time.
Mr. Crim will seek the Democratic party’s nomination in August 2014. If Crim wins the Democratic primary, he will face the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in the November 2014 general election. The current republican incumbent in the U.S. Senate is Lamar Alexander, whose term is up in 2014. Alexander has announced he will run again.

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Cooper Backs Colin Powell for Speaker of the U.S. House

In something of a protest, Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper of Nashville voted for a Republican as Speaker of the House Thursday, but not John Boehner. He supported Colin Powell.
From WPLN:
In a written statement after the vote, Cooper points out that the speaker does not have to be a member of the House. He says the Republican and former Secretary of State has a “proven ability to work across the aisle and has supported President Obama.”
Cooper was the only Colin Powell supporter, however there were more than a dozen other protest votes. Cooper himself received two votes for speaker. Also an outgoing congressman and a former comptroller were named along the way.
The rest of Tennessee’s congressional delegation supported their party’s nominee.

Alexander, Corker Vote Yes as Tax Deal Clears Senate

Both of Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, voted yes on the tax deal that was approved by the Senate in the early on New Year;s day.
Here’s Alexander’s statement on the vote from his media office:
“This agreement rescues 99 percent of Americans from individual and estate tax increases in 2013, and then makes these lower rates permanent, providing certainty and creating jobs. But the Medicare fiscal cliff is still ahead of us, which is why Senator Corker and I have a proposal to deal with the out-of-control spending that will soon bankrupt the programs seniors rely on to pay their medical bills. If we don’t deal with this during the debt ceiling debate, we are on the road to becoming Greece.”
Here’s Corker’s statement on the vote from his media office:
WASHINGTON – After voting in favor of legislation to rescue 99 percent of the American people from a tax rate increase, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said “it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package.”
“I am disappointed we could not address our country’s fiscal issues all at once, but unfortunately, the president made it clear that he was only willing to do this in two steps and leveraged the country and the economy to force revenues to be dealt with first. Now that we’ve addressed the revenue part of the equation, it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package. Passing fundamental entitlement reform is the most important action we can take in ensuring our country’s solvency and now we must have the courage to finish the job and make the tough choices necessary to get these problems behind us once and for all,” said Corker.
Earlier this month, Corker offered legislation to raise the debt ceiling by roughly $1 trillion in exchange for roughly $1 trillion in reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Here’s the AP’s summary of what the bill does:
Highlights of a tentative agreement Monday between the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., aimed at averting wide tax increases and budget cuts scheduled to take effect in the new year. The measure would raise taxes by about $600 billion over 10 years compared with tax policies that expire at midnight Monday. It would also delay for two months across-the-board spending cuts otherwise set to begin slashing the budgets of the Pentagon and numerous domestic agencies.
Highlights include:
–Income tax rates: Extends decade-old tax cuts on incomes up to $400,000 for individuals, $450,000 for couples. Earnings above those amounts would be taxed at a rate of 39.6 percent, up from the current 35 percent. Extends Clinton-era caps on itemized deductions and the phase-out of the personal exemption for individuals making more than $250,000 and couples earning more than $300,000.
–Estate tax: Estates would be taxed at a top rate of 40 percent, with the first $5 million in value exempted for individual estates and $10 million for family estates. In 2012, such estates were subject to a top rate of 35 percent.
–Capital gains, dividends: Taxes on capital gains and dividend income exceeding $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families would increase from 15 percent to 20 percent.
–Alternative minimum tax: Permanently addresses the alternative minimum tax and indexes it for inflation to prevent nearly 30 million middle- and upper-middle income taxpayers from being hit with higher tax bills averaging almost $3,000. The tax was originally designed to ensure that the wealthy did not avoid owing taxes by using loopholes.
–Other tax changes: Extends for five years Obama-sought expansions of the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and an up to $2,500 tax credit for college tuition. Also extends for one year accelerated “bonus” depreciation of business investments in new property and equipment, a tax credit for research and development costs and a tax credit for renewable energy such as wind-generated electricity.
–Unemployment benefits: Extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year.
–Cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors: Blocks a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors for one year. The cut is the product of an obsolete 1997 budget formula.
–Social Security payroll tax cut: Allows a 2 percentage point cut in the payroll tax first enacted two years ago to lapse, which restores the payroll tax to 6.2 percent.
–Across-the-board cuts: Delays for two months $109 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts set to start striking the Pentagon and domestic agencies this week. Cost of $24 billion is divided between spending cuts and new revenues from rules changes on converting traditional individual retirement accounts into Roth IRAs.