News

Services Thursday, Friday for Memphis Lawyer, Advocate for Domestic Violence Victims

Sonja White, managing attorney of Memphis Area Legal Services’ (MALS) Family Law/Domestic Violence Unit, died this past Saturday (May 4). She was 49. Visitation will be Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. Funeral services will take place at 11 a.m. on Friday. Both will be held at the East Side Baptist Church, 3232 Covington Pk., Memphis 38128 according to the Memphis Bar Association. White graduated from Hofstra University School of Law and was president of the Memphis Area Women’s Council and a member of the Memphis Bar Association. She previously chaired the Memphis & Shelby County Domestic Violence Council, and served on Shelby County Unified Family Court Task Force in 2007. She joined MALS in 2001. Last year, White sat down with the Memphis Commercial Appeal and talked about her work.

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Opinion: Federal PD Warns of Sequester Impact

Federal public defender Beth Ford writes in Knoxnews.com over the weekend that all federal defender offices have had their budgets cut by more than 10 percent and most will furlough staff from 13 to more than 30 days because of the sequester. She argues that the impact of the cuts on the courts and Americans’ constitutional rights are devastating. For the courts, she predicts the effect will include a delay in cases, new ineffective assistance of counsel claims, convictions set aside and creation of an uneven playing field between prosecutors and defenders, who no longer will be able to hire their own experts. While the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon vs. Wainwright, Ford warns that if these predictions prove true, Gideon “will become just another empty promise.”

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Pro Bono Night Set for June 27

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) will host its Annual Pro Bono Night on June 27 in Chattanooga. Judge Marie Williams will serve as master of ceremonies at the event, which honors local attorneys who provided pro bono legal assistance over the past year. Awards will be presented to outstanding volunteers and supporters of access to justice work, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Max Bahner of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel. The law firm of Miller & Martin and the Hamilton County Herald also will be honored at the event, which will be held at the Bessie Smith Hall, 200 East M.L. King Blvd. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Matt Smith at (423) 756-4013 x1105, msmith@laet.org or visit the event website.

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NY Implements Mandatory Pro Bono Reporting

As part of his Law Day address, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the implementation of mandatory reporting of pro bono service for all attorneys practicing in the state. The new reporting requirement took effect yesterday and includes both the number of hours of voluntary legal service performed as well as the amount of voluntary financial contributions made in support of poor and underserved clients.

Also becoming effective yesterday was an amendment to New York’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which increased the number of pro bono service hours that lawyers are “strongly encouraged to provide each year” from 20 hours to 50 hours. The Court specified, “pro bono service and financial contributions remain completely voluntary in New York.” View the full press release.

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Legal Aid Partners with HIV Charity

Legal Aid of East Tennessee – through its Erlanger Health Law Partnership and Pro Bono Project – recently hosted a clinic at Chattanooga CARES. This first-of-its-kind clinic helped HIV-positive individuals take control of the legal aspects of their health by drafting powers of attorney and wills. Pro Bono Project Director Charlie McDaniel said the event was the first in a series of “Health Empowerment Clinics” that will take place in the city. For more information contact Legal Aid at (423) 756-4013.

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California, New Jersey Consider Joining New York With 'Pro Bono Mandate'

Last year, the New York State court system announced its first-of-its-kind 50-hour pro bono requirement for new attorneys. Effective in 2015, every applicant must have completed 50 hours of pro bono legal work. The National Law Journal reports that leaders of the State Bar of California are now poised to adopt a similar rule this fall, while a task force of ­judges, legal educators and attorneys in New Jersey is weighing the merits. In Tennessee, there is no similar requirement for new lawyers or practicing lawyers; however 50 hours of pro bono per year is an aspirational goal outlined in Supreme Court Rule 6.1. Learn more about that in this issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal.

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LAET Launches New Online Program

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) has launched an innovative web-based system to improve access to applicants for civil legal services. The system allows persons seeking legal assistance to be able to apply for legal aid 24-hours a day, seven days a week. “Legal Aid of East Tennessee is very aware that eligible persons facing civil legal crisis cannot always contact us during normal business hours without risking loss of wages or even employment itself,” says David R. Yoder, LAET Executive Director. “Other personal conflicts they might have, as well as LAET’s constantly busy phones, can make it extremely difficult to apply for services.” To access the new system, users should visit www.laet.org

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Justices to Honor Pro Bono Volunteers in Johnson City

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary R. Wade and three other justices will be in Johnson City next month to honor pro bono volunteer attorneys at a “Dinner with the Tennessee Supreme Court” hosted by Legal Aid of East Tennessee. The event, scheduled for May 1, will take place at the Carnegie Hotel and is open to the public. Tickets are $50. Funds raised will benefit Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Project. A reception with justices Cornelia Clark, Janice Holder, Sharon Lee and Wade begins at 6:30 p.m. with dinner to follow. Guest emcee for the evening is Nate Morabito, a reporter with WJHL-TV in Johnson City. For reservations or more information call Christy Harris with Legal Aid at (423) 928-8311 or (800) 821-1312.

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McNally Amendment Withdrawn

The appropriations amendment that threatened legal aid and funding for public defender and indigent representation was withdrawn by the sponsor Tuesday evening. Advocates credited swift, coordinated and effective response by the legal community in reaching many senators and representatives who argued against the proposal.

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TALS Names New Executive Director

The Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) named Ann Pruitt as the agency’s new executive director. Pruitt earned her undergraduate degree from Clemson University and law degree from University of Tennessee. After working several years in private practice, she joined Dell Inc. as senior managing counsel in 1999 and worked her way to become executive director of ethics investigations and operations. While at Dell, Pruitt served on the TALS Board of Directors for several years and organized pro bono events. “Because TALS is the voice and public face of the equal justice community in Tennessee, this is a critical position for Tennessee families and the advocates who represent them," TALS board chair Frank Cantrell said in a press release. "We are pleased to have found someone with Ann’s skills, experience and commitment to lead us in the coming years.” 

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TBJ: Learn the Details Behind Rule 6.1

Why should you do at least 50 hours of pro bono every year? In the current Tennessee Bar Journal, John T. Blankenship and Alexandra T. MacKay explore the origins and evolution of Tennessee Supreme Court Rule. 6.1. Also, this month marks the 148th anniversary of the explosion of the steamboat "Sultana," which caused more deaths than the Titanic. Jerry O. Potter and Donald F. Paine look into the legal aftermath.

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Legal Aid Lawyer to Receive Duncan Award

Deborah Herzel, a staff attorney with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, has earned this year’s Duncan Award for embodying the legacy of the late U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Sr., in the “professional” category. The award will be presented by Senior Citizens Information and Referral Service May 2. In this interview with the Metro Pulse, Herzel talks about her work at legal aid.

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Medical-Legal Partnership Marks First Anniversary

A medical-legal partnership between Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) and Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga recently marked its one-year anniversary. LAET reports that the program has served 100 low-income patients and provided $660,855 worth of legal services since its inception. Lawyers have helped clients with conservatorships, foreclosures, landlord/tenant issues and insurance benefits. Medical-legal partnerships focus on improving the health and wellbeing of vulnerable patients by addressing their unmet legal needs and removing legal barriers that impede health. For more information on the program, contact LAET’s Chattanooga office at (423) 756-4013.

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Gideon’s Promise Holds Nashville Event May 1

Atlanta-based Gideon’s Promise will host a “Law Day Soiree” May 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Nashville offices of Frost Brown Todd. During the event, the group's president will discuss the state of the nation’s public defense system and share about the mission of the organization. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean also will be honored and select outtakes from an upcoming HBO documentary, Gideon’s Army, will be shown. The event is sponsored by Nashville Public Defender Dawn Deaner; Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz; Bell Tennent & Frogge; Bone McAllester Norton; Dodson, Parker, Behm & Capparella; and Frost Brown Todd, located in the Pinnacle at Symphony Place, 150 3rd Ave. S., Suite 1900, Nashville 37201. RSVP for the event by April 24 to Roshonda Carter. Learn more about Gideon’s Promise, formerly known as the Southern Public Defender Training Center, by watching this recent New York Times video about a young prosecutor who graduated from its program.

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Philyaw Named Juvenile Court Judge

The Hamilton County Commission this morning selected Robert D. Philyaw as the county’s new juvenile judge. The Chattanoogan reports that he was one of 10 applicants seeking to replace retiring Judge Suzanne Bailey. Philyaw, a solo practioner and municipal judge in Graysville, will serve until the next general election set for August 2014. A 2001 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law, Philyaw has focused his practice on estate and probate cases, litigation and criminal defense. He is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association Access to Justice Committee and co-chair of its Hometown Support Subcommittee.

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Free Legal Advice Clinic Saturday in Memphis

Memphis lawyers will be hosting a free legal advice clinic on Saturday at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library, 3030 Poplar Avenue. Organized by Memphis Area Legal Services and the Memphis Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee, the clinic will run from 10 a.m. to noon, with attorneys and staff of Burch Porter & Johnson and the MBA Bankruptcy Section sponsoring the event.

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Committee Plans Activities to Aid in Access to Judicial System

More outreach to law schools and an increase in efforts to support and promote pro bono clinics were some of the projects members of the Tennessee Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee considered at a retreat this past weekend in Gatlinburg. The committee also talked about promoting the civil right to counsel, countering human trafficking and providing legal support for veterans and individuals serving in the military. All could be a part of the work plan for 2013-2014. The committee, which assists lawyers and legal organizations in providing access to justice system to the poor and marginalized, is led by Nashville attorney Alexandra MacKay.

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Proposal Would Move Civil Indigent Counsel Funding to PDs

Senate Finance Committee Chair Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, has proposed to roll civil legal representation funding in with the indigent counsel programs, strip Tennessee courts of funding for indigent representation and place the administration of both the civil and criminal indigent representation in the state district public defender’s office. The programs would then be funded with $3.3 million less for next year. The proposal comes by the way of a budget amendment that just surfaced. The proposal has already drawn wide interest. Advocates have already identified a number of "weaknesses" in the proposal:

Administration of the civil indigents representation fund, which provides $3.3 million to the state's four legal aid offices, would be transferred as part of the plan. Funding for the civil fund would be optional after the constitutionally mandated counsel for indigents, guardians ad litem and experts had been paid.

• Statutes and court rules, which are not amended by the proposal, place responsibility for administering these programs and allocations in the courts and the Administrative Office of the Courts.

• The state public defenders office has no expertise in several of the appointed matters which are civil - mental health commitments, appointments of guardians ad litem and counsel in parental termination cases and child support contempt matter or counsel in dependency and neglect and unruly matters.

• Counsel for criminally accused indigents are often appointed because of conflicts with public defenders, creating a dilemma when paired with public defender administration.

• The proposal transfers the responsibility for paying appointed counsel, but makes no provision for transferring the administrative costs associated with administering the funds, perhaps meaning program funds would be further eaten up by administrative costs.

The proposal could first be heard by the Senate Finance Committee Budget Subcommittee as early as Monday afternoon. The subcommittee members are senators "Bo” Watson, Chair; Mark Norris, R-Germantown; and Jim Kyle, D- Memphis.

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Pro Bono Hotline Helps Hundreds of Tennesseans

The new toll free hotline for pro bono legal assistance 1-888 aLEGALz has received nearly 800 calls during the first three months of its opening, reports the Memphis Daily News. Funded by the International Paper Co. and the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization, the hotline helps improve citizens' access to free legal assistance. Memphis attorney Tim Hughes, formerly of Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., was hired to man the line on weekdays and make the arrangements for legal representation. In addition to the hotline, the Access to Justice Commission also operates an online pro bono website, making Tennessee the first state to offer both options.

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Wills for Heroes Clinic Planned for Saturday

The TBA Young Lawyers Division will hold a Wills for Heroes clinic in Franklin this Saturday and additional lawyer volunteers are needed to draft wills and other end-of-life documents for first responders and their families. The event, coordinated by Franklin City attorney Shauna Billingsley, will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Franklin Police Department, 900 Columbia Ave. Contact Billingsley at shauna.billingsley@franklintn.gov or (615) 550-6603 to get involved. Since 2008, the YLD has provided wills for more than 1,800 first responders in the state.

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Race Judicata Scheduled for April 6

The Student Bar Association at the University of Memphis School of Law is sponsoring its annual Race Judicata April 6 at 5 p.m. The race will take place at Mississippi River Park, located at 51 North Riverside Dr. The race is open to the public, and runners, walkers and strollers are welcome. There will be food and live music following the race, the proceeds from which benefit Memphis Area Legal Services. For more information, or to sign up as a sponsor visit the event webpage.

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Alternative Spring Break Activities Underway

Students from the University of Tennessee College of Law, Belmont University College of Law and University of Memphis School of Law are working throughout the month of March to help victims of domestic abuse as part of this year’s Alternative Spring Break (ASP). The students are working with immigrants who qualify for the U-visa program, which gives legal status to those who have been victims of violent crime and cooperate with law enforcement to bring perpetrators to justice. In addition to the official ASP program, a group of UT Law students is traveling to Fort Campbell as part of Vols for Vets, to offer legal assistance to service members and their families, while another group is teaching at-risk youth about the judicial system. Read more about these activities on the UT Law website.

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6th Circuit Clarifies Test for Ineffective Counsel Claims

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently clarified the requirements for a successful claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The decision in the case of Howell v. Hodge found that a claimant must show that the deficient performance resulted in prejudice, and that, but for the counsel’s ineffectiveness, he or she would not have pled guilty and instead would have gone to trial. Writing for Chattanoogan.com, commentator Lee Davis says the test is a “demanding one that requires claimants to prove that the likelihood of a different result is substantial, not just conceivable.”

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Study: Tennessee Indigent Defense Fees Among Lowest

A study released by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers found that Tennessee pays court-appointed attorneys one of the lowest rates in the country. The study suggests that states with low compensation and pay caps discourage experienced attorneys from taking court-appointed cases and create an incentive for quick plea deals. Tennessee pays court-appointed attorneys $50 an hour for in-court work and $40 for office work compared to a national average of $65 an hour. Also in Tennessee, rates are capped at $1,500 for felony cases and $1,000 for misdemeanor cases. Defense attorneys say these rates allow for about a week’s worth of work when such cases can easily take several weeks or even months. The Administrative Office of the Courts told The Tennessean that it has increased payments but is limited by budget constraints and that criminal defense expenditures now represent nearly half of the entire court system's budget.

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Volunteers Needed for New Veterans’ Clinic

The Memphis Bar Association Veterans’ Committee, in conjunction with Memphis Area Legal Services, is starting a new monthly legal clinic to assist veterans with civil legal needs, including child support and visitation, landlord/tenant, employment and debtor/creditor issues. The first clinic will be held March 26 from noon until 2 p.m. at 1407 Union Ave., Suite 815. Anyone interested in volunteering for the clinic or helping plan for a future event should contact Anne Fritz at (901) 527-3575 or afritz@memphisbar.org.

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