News

TJC Welcomes New Executive Director

The Tennessee Justice Center has announced that managing attorney Michele Johnson will succeed Gordon Bonnyman as executive director at the end of 2013. Bonnyman and Johnson co-founded the organization 17 years ago to advocate for Tennessee’s vulnerable populations, particularly those struggling to find access to healthcare. “I am excited that Michele will assume full leadership of the organization that she has already helped make an effective voice for Tennesseans in need,” said Bonnyman, who will continue to serve clients as a TJC staff attorney. The TJC will host a reception Friday at Waller Law at 5 p.m. to welcome Johnson, and to celebrate the courage of TJC’s clients and generosity of law firms throughout Tennessee.

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AOC Seeks Proposals for Analyzing Indigent Claims Payment System

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts is seeking proposals from firms to analyze the indigent claims payment process and make recommendations that may lead to re-engineering the system. Proposals also should include the development and validation of requirements of any revised payment system.

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Free Legal Clinics Held in Murfreesboro

The Rutherford/Cannon County Bar Association hosts a free legal clinic at Greenhouse Ministries in Murfreesboro every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. The clinic is open to the public. The Legal Aid Society, in partnership with Higher Ground Worship Center, also offers clinics on every third Saturday of the month (excluding July and December). For more information about these clinics, contact Andrae Crismon at (615) 890-0905 acrismon@las.org.

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Free Legal Clinic in Memphis June 8

A free legal clinic will be held June 8 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library, 3030 Poplar Ave., in Memphis. This month’s clinic is sponsored by the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association and is open to all members of the public in need of legal advice. Initiated in October 2007, the Saturday Legal Clinic is sponsored by the Memphis Bar Association and Memphis Area Legal Services and is a project of the Access to Justice Committee, a collaborative effort of local bar associations and non-profit organizations to provide legal services to those in need. Volunteer attorneys provide free legal assistance to those in need on a first come, first served basis. For more information about the clinic or to volunteer, click here.

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Federal Public Defenders Facing More Furlough Days

The Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference announced in mid-April that federal defenders wouldn’t face more than 15 furlough days under mandatory budget cuts. Now, less than one month later, public defenders have been notified that the maximum furlough time has increased to 20 days. According to a May 10 memorandum sent by Chief Judge William Traxler Jr., chairman of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the committee reconsidered its April decision after getting new information on how defender offices were coping with the cuts, also known as sequestration. The Blog of the Legal Times has the story. 

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UT Law Students Spend Summer Helping Others

Five University of Tennessee College of Law students will spend their summer interning as law clerks at Legal Aid of East Tennessee. They will hone their legal skills while serving people who, without LAET, could not afford legal assistance. Student law clerks will work under the supervision of Legal Aid staff, and also provide support for volunteer attorneys participating in LAET’s Pro Bono Project. The internship is part of a long-running partnership between Legal Aid and the UT College of Law. Download the press release. 

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Justice Clark Praises Legal Aid

Justice Cornelia Clark addressed the Legal Aid Society staff at their bi-annual meeting last Thursday, calling the employees the “unsung and ‘unplayed’ heroes of the ongoing efforts to improve access to justice in Tennessee.” She compared the employees to members of a marching band, the real virtuosos, saying "whatever part in the band you play - answering phones, filing papers, preparing legal documents, etc. - your work keeps the music playing: your work matters." The Administrative Office of the Courts has the story.

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LSC Seeks Comments on Private Attorney Regulations

The Legal Services Corporation is seeking comments on whether it should revise its regulations covering private attorney involvement in legal services. Current rules require LSC grantees to expend an amount equivalent to 12.5 percent of their grant to encourage the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal assistance. Some have suggested that this requirement poses a number of challenges to grantees as they seek to expand pro bono resources and assistance. The agency is accepting written comments from those interested in contributing to the discussion. Comments should be submitted by Oct. 17.

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DOJ Offers 2 Victim Assistance Fellowships

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) is seeking applicants for two fellowship programs. The first is open to lawyers who have experience working on legal or policy issues related to pro bono legal assistance, crime victim legal issues or victims’ legal rights. The candidate selected will assist OVC build capacity for the provision of free legal assistance to victims of crime. The second fellowship will focus on developing communication strategies to reach victims, service providers and other professionals, and proposing ways to better leverage OVC’s existing resources for victims. Each fellowship is designed to span a four-year period with funding of $135,000 provided in the first year. Applications must be submitted by June 10.

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Justice Holder Featured in ABA Blog

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder is featured in a recent post on Exchange, the blog of the ABA Center for Pro Bono. Holder shares her insights about the role of the judiciary in promoting pro bono service and reflects on Tennessee’s access to justice initiatives. When asked about the challenges of promoting pro bono service, Holder acknowledged the volume of cases as well as the need to help employers create an environment and culture that encourages pro bono work. And for those who think they are too busy to volunteer, Holder has this advice: “The response that you get from someone who truly needs legal services … is something you cannot replicate in any other aspect of your professional life. So once you do it, even though you think you don’t have the time, you tend to get pretty hooked. That’s when you start to remember why you went to law school — to help other people.”

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LSC Seeks $16 Million Budget Hike

The Legal Services Corporation has submitted to Congress a 2014 budget request for $486 million, saying the increase is essential to meeting the overwhelming need for legal services and to fulfill the nation’s promise of “justice for all.” The request, which is $16 million more than requested last year, includes $5 million for a new grant program to encourage innovations in pro bono legal services. Read a summary of the budget request or download the full submission on the LSC's website.

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Presenters Sought for 2013 Equal Justice University

The Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) is currently seeking presenters for its 2013 Equal Justice University, scheduled for Oct. 9-11 at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville. Areas of interest include health, benefits, employment, family, housing, consumer, immigration, special education and juvenile law. The group also is interested in ethics and professionalism sessions. Perspective speakers should submit proposals by June 30 to afox@tals.org.

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Tennessee Access to Justice Innovations Featured at National Conference

Attorneys from across the counry learned about Tennessee's access to justice initiatives and how to implement them during a series of sessions at the national Equal Justice Conference, sponsored last week in St. Louis by the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid & Defender’s Association. Justice Janice Holder and Access to Justice Commission Chair Buck Lewis led an in-depth meeting for representatives from 10 organizations interested in implementing versions of OnlineTNJustice.org in their communities. Joining them in the presentation were TBA Access to Justice Coordinator Liz Todaro and representatives from the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS). TBA Vice President Jonathan Steen was also part of the delegation of more than 20 Tennessee attorneys attending the conference. In all, Tennessee’s access to justice initiatives were featured in four panel presentations and workshops, reaching an audience of more than 100. See photos from the conference.

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Legal Aid Names New Managing Attorney, Staff

The Legal Aid Society has named Iska Hoole as managing attorney of its Tullahoma office. Prior to joining the agency, Hoole was a solo law practitioner. She also previously worked for legal aid from 1998 to 2003, served as a human rights representative for the Tennessee Human Rights Commission and as an attorney for the Tennessee General Assembly. The agency also recently announced that Joshua Thomas joined its Columbia office as a staff attorney. Thomas previously was an assistant district attorney in Gulfport, Miss., worked for the general counsel at The University of Southern Mississippi; and was a summer associate at Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada and a law clerk at Barrett Johnston.

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Richard III Was Unlikely Champion of Equal Access to Justice

King Richard III had a soft side? Well, maybe not exactly, but Russell Fowler explains in this issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal how Richard's actions were among the first to acknowledge a need for equal access to justice.

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Tennessee Delegation Heads to Equal Justice Conference

Members of Tennessee’s Access to Justice community will gather in St. Louis this week for the 2013 Equal Justice Conference, sponsored by the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. The annual event draws lawyers, law students, members of the judiciary and other supporters of access to justice work from across the country. The conference will include sessions on innovations in technology, collaborations, research and resource management, and tangible ways to increase the capacity of pro bono programs and those supporting pro se litigants.

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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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