News

Law School Conference Takes on Pro Bono Issues

Representatives from all six Tennessee law schools gathered in Knoxville today with leaders from the access to justice community for the second Law School Pro Bono & Public Interest Conference, sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association's Access to Justice Committee. About 40 people are taking part in the program, including Supreme Court Justices Janice Holder and Sharon Lee, Access to Justice Commission Chair Buck Lewis, Commission Vice-Chair Dean Doug Blaze, and representatives from Legal Aid Dave Yoder and Chay Sengkhounmany. They are engaging in conversations about the needs, opportunity, challenges and possibilities surrounding pro bono work and related access to justice issues. Lewis, a former TBA president, delivered the keynote address, highlighting the historic collaborations that have produced outstanding developments, while issuing the clear call to action that much work still remains. TBA President Cindy Wyrick will present to the group tomorrow morning.

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DOJ Tackles Quality of Defense for Poor

In an unprecedented court filing, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) intervened in a case about the quality of indigent defense in Burlington and Mount Vernon, Washington. According to National Public Radio, plaintiffs in the suit against the two cities claim only two part-time lawyers were handling 2,000 misdemeanor cases. Should a judge find the city governments guilty of systematically depriving people of their Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel, the DOJ urged that an independent monitor be appointed to oversee public defender workloads.

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Legal Aid Adds New Grant Writer

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has announced that Nicole Sibilski has joined its Nashville office as the agency’s new grant writer. Sibilski previously was director of development for The Nashville Shakespeare Festival and did grant writing on a consulting basis. She also has worked as a legal assistant for Oyster Capital Associates in Franklin. Prior to moving to Nashville four years ago, Sibilski worked as in-house counsel for First National Assets and as an attorney at the office of the Cook County Public Defender, both in Chicago. She earned her law degree from DePaul University College of Law.

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Friday is Deadline for Public Service Award Nominations

Lawyers wishing to nominate colleagues for the 2014 public service awards presented by the TBA have until Friday to submit their recommendations. Each year, the TBA recognizes those who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to increasing access to justice for underserved individuals and communities. Awards are presented in three categories: work performed by an attorney employed by an organization primarily involved in providing legal representation to the indigent, work performed by a private attorney and work performed by a law student volunteer. Nominations should be submitted via the TBA website or to Liz Todaro.

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Article: More Human Trafficking in State than Gang Activity

In this alarming story about modern-day slavery, Memphis lawyer Ryan Dalton looks at the extent of human trafficking in our own state. A recent study says that 78 out of Tennessee's 95 counties reported at least one case of sex trafficking in the previous 24 months, and it is suspected that nearly all counties had trafficking activity, but law enforcement and social services are not adequately trained to identify and report it. Shelby, Davidson, Coffee and Knox counties are some of the worst offenders, Dalton writes, reporting more than 100 cases of minor sex trafficking and more than 100 cases of adult sex trafficking during the two-year study window. By comparison, the report indicates there is more human trafficking activity in Tennessee than gang activity. Read how lawyers have joined the fight in the new Tennessee Bar Journal.

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Donations Needed by Sept. 1 for MALS Auction

Memphis Area Legal Services is accepting donations through Sept. 1 for its “WE’RE ALL IN” online auction benefiting its work. All donations are tax-deductible and will be listed on a nationally viewed website thanking donors. Click here for more information or download a donor form. For more information contact MALSauction@alphareporting.com.

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Pro Bono, Public Interest Law Conference This Weekend

The TBA Access to Justice Committee's Pro Bono & Public Interest Law School Conference will be held Sept. 6-7 at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Law Students, faculty, staff and others interested in this issue are invited to attend any part of the event. The conference will feature presentations by TBA President Cindy Wyrick, Access to Justice Commission Chair Buck Lewis and representatives from law schools and legal aid programs. Participants will have the opportunity to engage in discussions on policy issues ranging from mandatory pro bono service for law school graduates to public interest career debt management strategies. Click here to register for this free conference and to view the full schedule. For more information, contact UT’s Access to Justice Coordinator Brad Morgan.

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Wills for Heroes Event Helps More Than 40 First Responders

More than 40 Clarksville area firefighters, police officers, paramedics/EMT's and their spouses received free will drafting and other basic estate planning documents on Monday as part of the TBA Young Lawyer Division’s Wills for Heroes program. A local contingent of attorneys donated their knowledge and expertise at the six-hour program, which took place at the Clarksville Police Department Headquarters. To date, more than 500 TBA lawyers have volunteered their time to serve more than 2,000 first responders. The Leaf Chronicle has the story.

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Holder: Defendant’s Legal Rights Undermined by Budget Cuts

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder asserts that forced budget reductions, due largely to sequestration, are undermining defendants’ legal right to an attorney. Holder states that draconian cuts have forced layoffs in the federal public defenders office, furloughs and personnel reductions through attrition. Five decades after the Supreme Court affirmed that adequate legal representation is a basic right in Gideon v. Wainwright, Holder writes that sequestration is undermining our ability to realize this fundamental promise, and it is past time for our elected representatives to act.

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TBA Accepting Nominations for Public Service Awards

The TBA each year recognizes outstanding service by those who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to increasing access to justice for underserved individuals and communities. Awards are presented at the Annual Public Service Awards Luncheon in January. Awards recognize pro bono service in three categories: work performed by an attorney employed by an organization primarily involved in providing legal representation to the indigent, work performed by a private attorney and work performed by a law student volunteer. Nominations should be submitted via the TBA website or to Liz Todaro no later than Sept. 6. 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. Download details.

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Legal Clinics Happening Around Nashville Saturday

Five free legal clinics will take place in Nashville this Saturday. Attorneys will be on hand to provide legal advice in all areas of the law from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Locations are as follows: St. Luke's Community House, 5601 New York Ave.; Bethel AME Church, 1300 South St.; Northwest YMCA, 3700 Ashland City Hwy.; East Park Community Center, 700 Woodland St.; and Legal Aid Society, 300 Deaderick St. Debt-related matters will be handled at the Legal Aid Society and St. Luke's locations. The clinics are sponsored by The Legal Aid Society, Nashville Pro Bono Program, Nashville Bar Association YLD, Napier-Looby Bar Association, Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and The Law Offices of James Flexer. For more information visit Flexer's Facebook page.

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Court Outlines Process for Honoring Pro Bono Work

The Tennessee Supreme Court has released details about its program to honor attorneys who volunteer at least 50 hours of pro bono service each year. Under the program, attorneys meeting the court’s minimum goal of 50 pro bono hours will be named “Attorneys for Justice” and will be honored at regional events throughout the state. Honorees will receive a certificate, presented by a Supreme Court justice, and have their names included on an honor roll published by the court. Finally, recipients will be able to use an “Attorneys for Justice” seal on firm websites and in marketing materials. Attorneys will be considered for recognition in 2014 based on pro bono hours performed in 2013. Law offices also may submit applications for the honor. Download the court’s nomination form. Learn more on the AOC website.

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New York Lawyer Takes Office as ABA President

Accepting the presidential gavel today at the ABA Annual Meeting, New York lawyer James Silkenat laid out a series of initiatives he intends to focus on during his year in office. These include a renewed effort to improve access to justice, creating employment opportunities for new lawyers and addressing the public policy issues of gun violence, immigration and election law reform. The ABA Journal reports.

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Justice Kennedy, ABA House Address Human Trafficking

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy spoke out against human trafficking on Saturday after attendees at the ABA Annual Meeting had heard from Minh Dang, a victim of human slavery. In his keynote address, Kennedy recounted statistics indicating there are 27 million people being held as slaves around the world, with at least 100,000 of them in the United States. "Let's stop human trafficking," he said. "I urge you to continue to bring this to the world's attention." On Monday, the ABA House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved model legislation for states to use in adopting new prohibitions against human trafficking. In related news, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission announced it has begun using civil actions -- which require a lesser burden of proof than criminal actions -- against those who traffic or abuse employees, while a federal judge struck down a New Jersey law aimed at fighting the sexual trafficking of minors. The ABA Journal has more on these developments.

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LAET Annual Campaign in Full Swing

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) is in the midst of its annual fundraising effort and this year’s Campaign for Justice includes a new opportunity for firms to support pro bono. The LAET Leadership Cabinet is open to all law firms whose annual combined firm and individual attorney giving averages at least $250 per firm lawyer. Leadership Cabinet member firms will be recognized in the agency’s annual report, newsletters and other publications. Class of 2013 members also will be recognized as charter members if they maintain Leadership Cabinet membership in successive years. Read more about the program in this article from the Knoxville Bar Association's magazine. For more information contact LAET Resource Development Director Bill Evans at bevans@laet.org or (865) 521-4948.

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Lewis Earns ABA Presidential Citation

Former TBA President and Memphis attorney George T. "Buck" Lewis today was awarded a Presidential Citation from ABA President Laurel Bellows at the ABA Pro Bono Publico Awards luncheon in San Francisco. The presidential citation is a new award that allows the ABA president to recognize lawyers who have made "noteworthy contributions to the legal profession and the ABA," and who exhibit "outstanding leadership qualities." The luncheon was being held in conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting. See a photo from the event on the TBA's homepage.

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NALS Raises $3,500 for Legal Aid

The Nashville Chapter of the National Association of Legal Professions (NALS) recently raised $3,350 for the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee at its first annual NALS After Hours Silent Auction. The event raised awareness as well as funding for legal aid programs. NALS President Tiffany Burford Taylor of Waller praised the work of Legal Aid and said the chapter felt it was important to give back to the community and to make legal representation available to all. The NALS leadership said it hopes to make the auction an annual event. The 2014 date is tentatively set for July 10. Read more from the group's press release.

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LAET Receives $20,000 Grant for Women In Crisis Project

Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s (LAET) Chattanooga office has been awarded a $20,000 grant to fund their “Women in Crisis Project" by the Community Foundation of Chattanooga. According to an announcement today, the project will screen, advise and assist victims of domestic violence in obtaining public benefits for which they may be eligible. The goal of the project is to break the cycle of domestic violence by creating financial independence. “Grants, especially private foundation grants, dealing with public benefits are exceedingly rare,” said Russell Fowler, LAET's associate director. "The Community Foundation should be commended for their foresight in recognizing the link between domestic violence and a victim’s financial dependence on their abuser.”

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TBA Joins Military Pro Bono Campaign

The TBA has joined a nationwide effort to increase the number of lawyers committed to providing needed legal support to servicemembers, veterans and their families. Organized by Army OneSource, the Military Legal Assistance Campaign is focused on identifying and training volunteers who can assist families while a servicemember is deployed and help servicemembers when they return from overseas duty. Through its Access to Justice Committee, the TBA is recruiting lawyers to provide pro bono legal assistance to these groups. “The sacrifices made by our servicemembers, as well as their families, are hard to fathom,” said TBA President Cindy Wyrick. “When legal issues add to these challenges, lawyers have a unique opportunity to provide assistance. I urge my colleagues to participate in this important program.” Learn more or sign up to help.

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Report: Small Towns Doing Without Courthouse

A story from National Public Radio today highlights the challenges small towns face as courthouses close due to shrinking budgets. In the town of Coalinga, Calif., for example, traffic court is conducted by video streaming but for small claims cases and criminal arraignments, everyone — including police officers — has to travel more than an hour to Fresno. Last year, travel expenses cost the police department about $25,000. Even residents without business before the court bemoan its closure. As one mother reflected on the fact that her sons would not be able to observe court in action, she said “It's like they are missing out on an American experience because trial by jury, that's what we're all about.”

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Lipscomb Offers Training in Advance of Pro Bono Clinic

Nashville’s Lipscomb University will hold a pro bono clinic training session for lawyers on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Institute for Civic Leadership's conference room on the third floor of the Ezell Center. Dinner will be provided. Palmer Williams from the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission will explain the clinic process and attendees will receive reference material to prepare for upcoming legal clinics. The first clinic will be held Aug. 22 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information and to RSVP contact Randy Spivey, academic director for the school’s Institute for Law, Justice and Society, at (615) 966-2503 or randy.spivey@lipscomb.edu.

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Auto Race Benefits Pro Bono Work

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) will host "Solo in the Park" -- an auto competition and fundraiser -- on Aug. 17 and 18 at Chilhowee Park in Knoxville. Drivers will compete separately in a timed skill and handling competition. Registration is $35. Spectators are asked to make a $5 per family donation. Ride-alongs (helmets provided!) cost $10. Dave Yoder, executive director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee, has issued a challenge to area attorneys: beat his time and he will make a $250 to LAET. In addition, LAET lawyer Terry Woods has agreed to match the contribution if he is beaten. Proceeds from the event benefit LAET and the Knoxville Family Justice Center, which provides services to domestic violence victims. Download a flyer about the event. For more information contact Yoder at (865) 251-4961.

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Lewis to Receive ABA Presidential Citation

Former TBA President and Memphis attorney George T. "Buck" Lewis will receive a Presidential Citation from ABA President Laurel Bellows at the ABA Pro Bono Publico Awards luncheon Aug. 12 in San Francisco. The presidential citation is a new award that allows the ABA president to recognize lawyers who have made "noteworthy contributions to the legal profession and the ABA," and who exhibit "outstanding leadership qualities." The luncheon is being held in conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting. Representatives from the Tennessee legal community will be in attendance to celebrate Lewis' recognition.

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TBJ: When She Lies About Paternity

What are the consequences of lying about who the father of a child is? Lacy A. Daniel explores intentional misrepresentation of paternity, in the August Tennessee Bar Journal, out today. It comes with a pretty sweet picture on the cover, too. (This baby, whose paternity is not in question, is the child of former TBA Access to Justice Coordinator Sarah Hayman.)

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Deadline Extended for NLADA Nominations

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) has extended the nomination period for positions on its board of directors and civil and defender policy groups until Aug. 16. A description of positions that are open for nomination as well as criteria for each is available for download from the group's website. Nominations should be sent to Leadership Development Committee, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 900, Washington, D.C. 20036. NLADA is a national membership organization devoted to equal justice for all. It represents legal aid and public defender programs as well as individual advocates in public policy and legislative debates.

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