News

Indigent Representation Task Force to Meet Friday

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force will meet at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow in Room LP12 of Legislative Plaza in Nashville. The panel will hear presentations from Vince Dean, Hamilton County criminal court clerk and president of the Tennessee Clerks of Court Conference; Jerry N. Estes, executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference; Charme Allen, Knox County district attorney general; Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn; and Justyna Garbaczewska Scalpone with the Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender. Get details about the meeting.

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Celebrate Pro Bono Month Kicks Off Saturday

Celebrate Pro Bono Month 2016 kicks off this weekend with more than 50 events planned across the state during the month of October. Tennessee lawyers help thousands of clients throughout the year by providing free legal advice, but this assistance is especially celebrated and emphasized during the month of October as part of a nationwide celebration. Now in its eighth year, the Tennessee initiative brings together bar associations, law schools, law firms, legal services providers and individual lawyers to offer free services to those unable to afford a lawyer, and to celebrate the good works of Tennessee lawyers. This year's celebration is expected to involve more than 300 volunteers -- including lawyers, law students, paralegals and language interpreters. A summary of events is posted online and will be updated throughout the month.

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McVeagh Named to LAET Board

Alex McVeagh, an attorney with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, has been named the newest member of the Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) board of directors, Chattanoogan.com reports. McVeagh previously chaired the group’s annual Campaign for Justice Committee and has coordinated numerous pro bono clinics in East Tennessee. The LAET board is comprised of attorneys and client-eligible members from Chattanooga, Knoxville and the Tri-Cities areas that make up the organization’s 26-county service area.

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New Online Legal Clinic Rolls Out Nationwide

The American Bar Association has rolled out the new ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org in eight states and plans to have it extended to the majority of states by year end. Modeled on Tennessee’s OnlineTNJustice.org, the new virtual legal advice clinic gives income-eligible users the ability to pose civil legal questions to volunteer attorneys. Joining Tennessee on the platform now are Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wyoming. Software developers at Baker Donelson in Memphis created the site, which also drew support from AT&T, FedEx, International Paper, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Pilot Travel Centers, Wal-Mart Stores, the ABA sections of Business Law and Litigation and others.

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75-Year Old Law Grad Wants to Serve Others

Jim Edwards of Murfreesboro decided to go to law school with the mission to help others who could not afford legal representation. Many choose the profession for the same reason, but what makes Edwards unique is that he decided to do it as a 75-year-old. Edwards recently earned a degree from Nashville School of Law and is awaiting results from the state bar exam. He says he became intrigued by the law in college and remained so during his career in insurance sales. He finally decided to pursue his dream after retiring. Edwards volunteered with legal aid while in law school and is ready to start helping those in need, the Daily News Journal reports.

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City Launches Website to Help with Expungement

The city of Chattanooga this week launched a website aimed at helping people with criminal histories regain the right to vote and expunge their records. The website, restoremyrights.com, provides information on the expungement and voting restoration processes. “This is a systemic issue that we can do something about,” said Chantelle Roberson, a local attorney who helped create the website. Mayor Andy Berke also pledged to help cover court costs for people who want to expunge their criminal records but cannot afford the $450 fee, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

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Agency Seeks Spanish Speaking Attorney

The Memphis Public Interest Law Center (MPILC) is seeking a staff attorney to provide civil legal representation to Latino and Hispanic victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and related crimes in the Memphis area. The position is grant funded for three years and is currently funded at 70 percent time. Additional funding is being sought to fund the position at 100 percent time. Visit the TBA Joblink listing to learn more.

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Knoxnews: Judge Jailing Poor Over Unpaid Fees

Knoxnews reports it has documented more than a half-dozen instances in the past few months in which Scott County General Sessions Judge James Cotton Jr. has sent poor people to jail because they fell behind in paying fees to a private electronic monitoring company. The investigation found that Cotton revoked defendants’ bonds after they showed up for court and then offered them freedom through use of the monitoring company; routinely placed poor and unemployed defendants on electronic monitoring without showing it was needed; and rejected plea agreements if the defendant owed outstanding fees.

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Court: States Cannot Require Proof of Citizenship for Federal Elections

State laws that require voters to show proof of citizenship before voting in federal elections were knocked down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the ABA Journal reports. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court opinion nixed a similar Arizona law that required proof of citizenship for federal voter registration applicants. The latest suit was filed by voting rights groups after the U.S. Election Assistance Commission allowed states to request citizenship information for residents who used federal forms for mail-in voter registration. The ruling does not impact state laws that require applicants to swear they are U.S. citizens but do not require proof. It also does not prohibit states from asking for proof of citizenship in state and local elections.

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Lawyers Observe Criminal Court with Eye to Reform

Earlier this week, lawyers who do not typically handle criminal defense work sat in Nashville courtrooms and watched how domestic violence and misdemeanor arrests were handled. The 15 lawyers fanned out among five courtrooms to observe whether defendants had lawyers and knew about their rights, and whether judges were asking about people’s financial status and ability to pay fines. The day was sponsored by ArchCity Defenders, a pro bono law firm in St. Louis. The Tennessean reports that the ABA is evaluating the program to see if it should be expanded to other cities.

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New Justice Center to Include Mental Health Unit

With demolition work being done at the former Davidson County Criminal Justice Center, the county sheriff is sharing plans to include a mental health unit in the new jail. “You wouldn’t be booked, you wouldn’t be charged criminally,” Daron Hall said. Plans call for a 64-bed facility to house those arrested for misdemeanor charges and flagged during a mental health evaluation, News Channel 5 reports. About $10 million from the project’s overall $113 million budget was set aside for the mental health unit. The center is expected to open in 2019.

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KBA Honors Supreme Court, Pro Bono Leaders

All five Tennessee Supreme Court justices were honored at the annual Knoxville Bar Association (KBA) Supreme Court Dinner last week. During the event, the court recognized 54 attorneys and 70 law students from the Knoxville area who provided at least 50 hours of pro bono service this past year. Guests also heard from G. Douglas Jones, a former U.S. attorney who led a team of prosecutors and investigators in the re-opened historic “cold case” of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Read more in a release from the AOC or see photos from the event.

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Nashville Funds Legal Aid’s Work Against Domestic Violence

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands will receive $186,500 from the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County for the current fiscal year. The grant will fund services to survivors of domestic violence, including legal representation, attendance at order of protection hearings, and community education. Last year, the group used similar funding to provide legal assistance to 279 domestic violence victims, attend 136 court dockets where order of protection petitions and related motions were heard, and publish more than 1,150 educational materials and self-help guides for domestic violence victims. The group announced the partnership in a recent newsletter to supporters.

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Students Earn Courtroom Experience with Children’s Clinic

The University of Memphis School of Law’s Children’s Defense Clinic is giving law students a unique opportunity to represent children in juvenile court and obtain real-world experience. The new program started this year under the direction of Lisa Geis, who moved to Memphis from Washington, D.C., to run the clinic. Almost a month into the semester, clinic students are handling 10 cases ranging from theft to vandalism to cases of aggravated assault, the Commercial Appeal reports. Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush praised the program saying it would be “an important engine” for reform in Shelby County's juvenile defense system.

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Deadline for Public Service Awards Extended to Sept.19

The deadline for submitting nominations for the TBA’s three annual Public Service Awards has been extended to Sept. 19. Submissions should include a narrative of the individual’s accomplishments, the nominator’s reasons for selecting the individual and a description of how the nominee meets the award criteria. Nominations may be submitted via the TBA website or by email to Liz Todaro. The awards recognize pro bono service in three categories: work performed by an attorney employed by an organization providing indigent legal representation, work performed by a private attorney and work performed by a law student volunteer. Awards will be presented at the Annual Public Service Awards Luncheon in January 2017.

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Missouri Ordered to Reveal Injection Drug Suppliers

Two Mississippi death-row inmates are entitled to learn the identity of Missouri’s lethal injection drug suppliers, according to a panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The inmates allege that Mississippi’s method of execution amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and are seeking to identify an alternative method, such as that used in Missouri. Officials in Missouri say they will ask the full Eighth Circuit to hear the case. The ABA Journal has more.

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TBA President Praises Lawyers' Contributions at EJU

TBA President Jason Long today voiced gratitude and admiration for the legal services professionals and pro bono volunteers gathered this week at the Equal Justice University, and emphasized that the Tennessee Bar Association’s initiative focused on the Evolving Legal Market has much to offer the access to justice community. Three Tennessee lawyers were recognized for their commitment to access to justice during an Awards Dinner Wednesday night. Craig Barnes with Memphis Area Legal Services and Russell Fowler from Legal Aid of East Tennessee both received the B. Riney Green Award for their work with their organizations and throughout the community. The award is named to honor Nashville attorney Green’s collaborative efforts to prevent cuts to legal aid funding in the late 1990s and is presented to individuals that promote inter-program cooperation and strengthen access to justice across the state. Zac Oswald with Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee & the Cumberlands also was honored with the New Advocate of the Year Award.

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Governor Gets Reprieve from Indigent Defense Case

Missouri Gov. and lawyer Jay Nixon, who was ordered by the state’s public defender to provide legal aid to indigent defendants, has received a reprieve from a local judge who says the public defender does not have authority to appoint private counsel without approval by a judge. The director of the public defender system had utilized an obscure legal provision to assign the governor to cases after Nixon cut funding for indigent defense and vetoed a bill that would have provided caseload relief. Following his reprieve, Nixon named three new members to the commission that oversees the public defender’s office. The positions had been vacant for some time, the ABA Journal reports.

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Barry, Ryan Honored at Opening of EJU Conference

The annual Equal Justice University kicked off today in Murfreesboro with Jim Barry and Sharon Ryan of International Paper in Memphis being presented the Holder Award at the Welcome Luncheon. Programming continued through the afternoon and tonight more Tennessee attorneys will be honored for their good works at the annual Awards Dinner. TBA President Jason Long will address the gathering during tomorrow’s Leadership Luncheon, where newly elected Chief Justice Jeff Bivins will be given the oath of office by Justice Sharon Lee. The annual event is sponsored by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the Tennessee Bar Association.

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Lewis Named Chair of ABA Pro Bono Committee

Baker Donelson shareholder George T. “Buck” Lewis has been named chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, his law firm announced. The committee is responsible for developing and assessing pro bono programs and policies that affect lawyers’ ability to provide free legal services. Lewis, who practices in Memphis, is a past chair of the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. As president of the TBA, he spearheaded the “4ALL” campaign and development of a web-based legal advice platform. Most recently, he has been helping the ABA roll out a national online pro bono tool modeled on the Tennessee service. ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org will launch in 39 states between now and Nov. 11. In Tennessee, the site has been rebranded as TN.FreeLegalAnswers.org.

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Public Defender Sought in 19th District

The General Sessions Court in the 19th Judicial District is looking to fill an opening for an assistant district public defender. The assignment may be in either Robertson or Montgomery County. The start date will be Nov. 16. Interested candidates should send a recent writing sample, three employment references, three colleague references, a copy of their Tennessee law license, a statement of good standing from the Board of Professional Responsibility and information for a background check no later than Sept. 9. Learn more about the job on the TBA website.

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Chief Justice Highlights Court’s Accomplishments

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee recently spoke to chief justices from across the country at a national conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Lee focused her remarks on accomplishments achieved during her tenure as chief justice. She steps down from that role at the end of the month. Lee praised the state legislature for funding the court’s new electronic filing system and raises for staff. She also talked about efforts to ensure consistency of process and procedures in the state’s juvenile courts and highlighted the Access to Justice Initiative, civics education through the SCALES program, a new business court, a new human trafficking court and an indigent representation task force. Read her full remarks and see a photo gallery of her time as chief justice.

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Legal Aid Relocates Tullahoma Office

After 35 years in the same location, the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands’ Tullahoma office has moved to 281 Industrial Blvd. All phone numbers remain unchanged. Six employees work at the office providing free legal assistance to low-income individuals in Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Lincoln, Moore and Warren counties. The organization announced the move in a recent newsletter to supporters.

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Inaugural Veterans’ Clinic Coming in September

The Knoxville Bar Association’s inaugural Veterans’ Legal Advice Clinic will take place Sept. 7 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, 1101 Liberty St., Knoxville 37912. The clinic is a joint project of the Knoxville Barristers and their Access to Justice Committee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Knox County Public Defender’s Office, the University of Tennessee College of Law and the local VA office. Lawyers are needed to volunteer to help veterans with a wide variety of issues, including family, landlord/tenant, bankruptcy, criminal defense, consumer protection, contract disputes, child support and personal injury cases. WATE reports on the event.

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Legal Aid Reports $23M Impact on Middle Tennessee

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has tallied its annual impact on the region and found it provided $23.3 million worth of free legal assistance in 2015 – a 2.6 percent increase over 2014. The group also reported that it handled 7,022 cases across its 48-county service area; organized 76 free legal clinics, which served 1,447 attendees; coordinated 733 free legal educational seminars with almost 29,400 attendees; and distributed 64,607 self-help brochures. The agency this year also launched a re-entry program that helps people with criminal records deal with civil legal issues such as fairness in housing, employment and health care. Read more from the agency’s year-end report.

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