courts

Voucher law ruled unconstitutional, Lee vows quick appeal

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A Nashville judge has ruled Tennessee’s school voucher law violated the Tennessee Constitution because it was written in a way to only apply to two of the state’s counties and passed without residents’ consent.

Debate over the the school voucher bill dominated the 2019 legislative session, with the Lee administration starting out with a bill applying to at least five counties. The bill was successively whittled down affect fewer and fewer counties, ending up with just Nashville and and Shelby County in order for the bill to be narrowly approved.

Chancellor Anne Martin found that based on “the legislative history detailing the extensive tweaking of the eligibility criteria in order to eliminate certain school districts to satisfy legislators (rather than tweaking to enhance the merits of the Act) that the legislation is local in form and effect.”

Gov. Bill Lee’s office is promising a prompt legal challenge.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s ruling and will swiftly appeal on behalf of Tennessee students who deserve more than a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson said in a statement.

In-person Tennessee court hearings suspended until April 1

Tennessee courts are suspending in-person judicial proceedings until April 1 in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Courts will continue to conduct business, Chief Justice Jeff Bivins announced.

Here’s the release from the Administrative Office of the Courts:

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued an Order stating all Tennessee courts will remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, but suspending all in-person judicial proceedings through March 31, 2020. Chief Justice Jeff Bivins declared a state of emergency for the judicial branch, which follows Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order and declaration of a state of emergency on March 12, 2020. The Order applies to state and local Tennessee courts, including appellate, trial, general sessions, juvenile, and municipal courts.

“Each day across the State of Tennessee, thousands of people attend court proceedings in-person when they come to the courthouse as jurors, witnesses, litigants, or in another capacity. Public spaces in courthouses tend to be small, tightly packed bench seats that provide the type of situations public health officials have encouraged people to avoid during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Chief Justice Jeff Bivins. “However, judges, court clerks, and others provide essential constitutional functions that must be carried on. In issuing this Order, the Court struck a balance in limiting the public’s exposure to the virus with continuing essential court functions judges must provide to ensure the administration of justice.”

The Order includes a substantial list of exceptions including proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, such as bond-related matters and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals; civil and criminal jury trials that are in progress as of March 13, 2020; proceedings relating to orders of protection; proceedings related to emergency child custody orders; Department of Children’s Services emergency matters related to child protection; proceedings related to petitions for temporary injunctive relief; proceedings related to emergency mental health orders; proceedings related to emergency protection of elderly or vulnerable persons; and proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. In addition, other exceptions to the suspension of in-person court proceedings may be approved by the Chief Justice. Any permitted in-court proceedings will be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and necessary persons as determined by the trial judge.  

“We are reducing the number of people physically in the courthouse each day while ensuring judges and court clerks have the ability to continue with their constitutionally required duties,” Chief Justice Bivins said.

The Court’s Order includes several other provisions to help alleviate hardships or unintended consequences caused by the suspension of non-essential, in-person proceedings. For example, deadlines set forth in court rules, statutes, and administrative rules, including statutes of limitations, that are set to expire between March 13 and April 6, 2020, are extended through April 6, 2020 and orders of protection that would expire between March 13 and April 6, 2020, are extended until April 6, 2020.

“This is new territory for everyone,” Chief Bivins said. “We encourage judges, court clerks, attorneys, law enforcement, and others to work together to develop creative solutions that work for their individual jurisdictions. The goal is to limit the number of people coming into court each day while continuing to meet our duty and administer justice. We may amend this Order as the situation evolves, and we understand more about the obstacles judges and court staff are facing.”

The order expressly does not prohibit court proceedings by telephone, video, teleconferencing, email, or other means that do not involve in-person contact. The Court’s Order also suspends any Tennessee rule, criminal or civil, that limits a judge’s or clerk’s ability to utilize available technologies, including telephone conferences, video conferences, and video arraignments, that can help limit in-person contact. The Order does not affect a court’s consideration of civil or criminal matters that can be resolved without oral argument. 

Read the Order

Feds charge intelligence analyst with leaking classified material

A Nashville man has been arrested on charges of illegally obtaining classified information and passing it along to a reporter.

Daniel Everette Hale was arrested Thursday morning and was scheduled to appear in federal court in Nashville later in the day. Hale was enlisted in the Air Force between 2009 and 2013, assigned to the National Security Agency and deployed to Afghanistan. After leaving active duty, he was employed by a defense contractor. Prosecutors allege Hale passed along confidential  material to a reporter whose outlet published at least 11 documents market secret or top secret.

Here’s the full release from the Justice Department:

WASHINGTON – An indictment was unsealed today charging a former intelligence analyst with illegally obtaining classified national defense information and disclosing it to a reporter.  Daniel Everette Hale, 31, of Nashville, Tennessee, was arrested this morning and will make his initial appearance today at the federal courthouse in Nashville.  Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia and Acting Special Agent in Charge Jennifer L. Moore of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office made the announcement after the charges were unsealed. 

According to the indictment, Hale was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force from July 2009 to July 2013, during which time he received language and intelligence training.  While serving on active duty, Hale was assigned to work at the National Security Agency (NSA) and deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst.  After leaving the U.S. Air Force, Hale was employed by a defense contractor and assigned to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), where he worked as a political geography analyst between December 2013 and August 2014.  In connection with his active duty service and work for the NSA, and during his time at NGA, Hale held a Top Secret//Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS//SCI) security clearance and was entrusted with access to classified national defense information.

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Former anchor Demetria Kalodimos sues WSMV-TV

(Handout photo.)

Former news anchor Demetria Kalodimos is suing WSMV-TV for gender and age discrimination in federal court.

Here’s the full release from the Lieff Cabraser law firm:

Nashville, Tenn. — The national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein announces the filing of a gender and age discrimination employment lawsuit in federal district court in Nashville on behalf of “Face of Channel 4” news anchor Demetria Kalodimos against Meredith Corporation d/b/a WSMV Channel 4 (NBC).

The action, filed under the Tennessee Human Rights Act and Disability Act, Tennessee common law, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 alleges a continuing policy, pattern, and practice of gender and age discrimination. After an extended campaign of biased treatment against her, Channel 4 terminated Ms. Kalodimos’s employment after nearly 34 years of award-winning journalism by leaving her a one-page letter at the Channel 4 reception desk.

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Norris confirmed for federal judgeship in Memphis

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R- Collierville) and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) attend a hearing on open records exemptions in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate on Thursday voted to confirm the long-delayed judicial nomination of state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. The Collierville Republican now heads to the federal court bench in Memphis. The confirmation vote was 51-44. The chamber also confirmed former federal prosecutor and FBI agent Eli Richardson to a federal judgeship in Nashville.

Here is some reaction to Norris’ confirmation:

I recommended Senator Norris to the president, and I strongly supported Mark’s nomination. He is respected by his peers around the country, having been elected chairman of the Council of State Governments, and has been an advocate and a champion for federalism and for the separation of powers. He is a citizen, a lawyer and a legislator. I have known him for many years — since I was the governor of Tennessee — and I am glad the Senate voted to confirm him today. — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville).

 

“Mark Norris has long been a devoted public servant in Tennessee, and I am pleased he will continue to serve our state as a federal district court judge,” said Corker. “I am confident Mark will faithfully uphold the Constitution and serve West Tennesseans with integrity as he has throughout his terms in the state legislature. — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga).

 

As our Senate Majority Leader, Mark has been an indispensable asset not just to the Senate but to state government as a whole. While we will all miss his keen mind, sound judgment and strong leadership in state government, we can take comfort in the fact our federal courts have gained an outstanding judge. — State Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge).

 

Congratulations to Mark Norris for being confirmed as a West Tennessee federal judge.  Mark’s many years of service have made him highly respected throughout the entire state of Tennessee, and I believe he will make an excellent addition to this court. — U.S. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Memphis).

Supreme Court declines to take up appeal of abortion amendment

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a ruling that upheld the outcome of 2014 vote on a constitutional amendment to give state lawmakers more power to restrict abortion rights in Tennessee, The Tennessean reports.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January upheld the state’s tabulating method. The Tennessee Constitution declares amendments require not just a simple majority, but a “majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor.”

Plaintiffs argued that only ballots cast by those who had voted in both the gubernatorial election and amendment referendum should be counted (rather than the state’s longtime standard of using the equivalent number of votes).

 

Former Chief Justice Anderson passes away at 85

Former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice E. Riley Anderson passed away last week at the age of 85. He served on the state’s highest court from 1990 to 2006.

“I guess other people are going to select how you’re going to be remembered,” Anderson once said. “But I’d like to be remembered as somebody who was fair and honest and worked hard at the job.”

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21 now charged in motorcycle gang case

Two more people have been charged in the federal case against members and associates of the Clarksville chapter of the Mongols Motorcycle gang.

The indictments returned by the federal grand jury in Nashville brings the total number of defendants in the case to 21.

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TN politicians praise Supreme Court decision on states collecting taxes from on Internet sales

Overturning older decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that states may require most online retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases made by their residents. The 5-4 decision came in a South Dakota case that had seen  Tennessee’s attorney general joining in support of South Dakota’s effort to begin requirement collection of the taxes.

Tennessee’s state Department of Revenue issued a new rule in 2016 requiring internet sellers to collect state and local sales taxes from their Tennessee customers. State legislators let the new rule stand, but implementation has been stalled awaiting court action.

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TN Court of Appeals rejects lawsuit brought by same-sex marriage opponents

The state Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by opponents of same-sex marriage with David Fowler, a former state senator and current chairman of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, acting as attorney for the plaintiffs.

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