News

ABA: Unethical for Prosecutors to Lend Letterheard to Debt Collectors

District attorneys should not contract out their letterhead to private debt collection companies, who then use that official letterhead to scare consumers into paying debts, according to a piece in the ABA Journal. The article says that ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 469 released today explains that this practice violates ABA Model Rules against lawyer conduct involving dishonesty or misrepresentation and aiding or assisting others in the unauthorized practice of law. The opinion says that the conduct involves misrepresentation because it conveys the impression that the prosecutor’s office has reviewed the facts of the individual debtor’s case and has concluded that a crime has been committed.

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Rare Saturday CLE Offers Coffee, Cake and Ethics

Don't have time during the week to get your ethics hours? We have a solution for you! Grab a cup of coffee and join us at our ethics seminar tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. at the Tennessee Bar Center. This freshly brewed seminar provides you with three hours of ethics programming. Speakers will spill the beans on tips and processes to help you with your practice and make sure you meet all ethical obligations.  Visit TBA CLE for more information.

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States Tackle Cloud Computing Rules

As states begin to adopt ethics rules requiring lawyers to be technologically competent and aware of the ethical implications of cloud computing, many practioners may be left wondering what it all means. The ABA Techshow presentation “Ethics 20/20, Security and Cloud Computing” walks users through recent rules changes, highlighting what state ethics authorities have ruled so far about lawyers' use of the cloud. The presentation explores what constitutes technological competence, and discusses how far a lawyer who stores data in the cloud must go to protect client confidences from inadvertent or unauthorized access or disclosure. The ABA Journal boils the presentation down to five key requirements.

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Report: Special Interest Money Increasing in Judicial Elections

Spending by special interest groups continues to rise in judicial elections, accounting for 27 percent of all the money spent on the races in 2011 and 2012, according to a new report by a Justice at Stake partner organization. This is a sharp increase from the 16 percent seen in the 2003 and 2004 elections, which held the previous high in outside spending. The report has detailed information about judges who raised the most money and donors who gave the most, and it also identifies funding trends. As an example, the report says that during his campaign for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2012, Roy Moore raised more out-of-state money than any other appeals court judge running in the country. Moore’s campaign took in $265,440 — or 41 percent of his total campaign contributions — from donors in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Australia and Canada. Gavel Grab has more.

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New Bill Would Upend State Judicial System

Legislation introduced this week by Senate Finance Committee Chair Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, would make sweeping changes to the way state courts are managed, judges are appointed and judicial discipline is administered, Gavel to Gavel reports. Specifically, the bill, SB 2322, would transfer the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to the comptroller of the treasury; replace the Judicial Nominating Commission with a body chosen by the governor and legislative leaders that would suggest replacements for vacancies due to death or resignation; disband the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, forcing judges to stand for contested elections; and disband the Board of Judicial Conduct in favor of a new body comprised of appointees from the governor and legislative leaders. The bill also would make all AOC and Board of Professional Responsibility documents open to public inspection.

Finally, it would prohibit judges from extending filing deadlines in death penalty cases and assess fines on government-appointed lawyers who later are found to have provided ineffective counsel in capital cases. Use TBAImpact, TBA's new legislative tool, to see the status of the bill and let the General Assembly know how this proposal negatively impacts the administration of justice.

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AOC Updates Commission, Board Rosters

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has released revised rosters for the Advisory Commission on the Rules of Practice and Procedure and the Board of Professional Responsibility to update member contact information and to add a term limit imposed as a result of a recent rule change.

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Sex Offender Seeks Admission to Kentucky Bar

Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith graduated in the top third of his law school class at the University of Kentucky, but the state Supreme Court has blocked him from taking the bar exam because he is a registered sex offender. The court said the nature of the crime shows that Hamilton-Smith lacks the "requisite character and fitness" to be a lawyer, the Associated Press reports. But the court also rejected a move by the state licensing board to create a blanket rule barring admission of all registered sex offenders. Explaining that decision, the court said each applicant deserves the opportunity to make his or her case on an individualized basis. Hamilton-Smith says he plans to ask the court to reconsider his case. WRCB TV has the AP story.

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AOC Makes Appointments for 2014

The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) recently released updated rosters for a variety of boards and commissions that fall under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Supreme Court. New appointments will take effect Jan. 1, 2014. New members named to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission are Mary Ann Zaha and Virginia Story, who replace Glenna Ramer and Edward Silva. At the Board of Law Examiners, the court appointed Rhynette Hurd and Jeffrey Ward to replace Jimmie Carpenter Miller and Ricky Wilkins. New members named to the CLE Commission are Cynthia Hall and Sarah Creekmore Woodall, who replace Thomas Clifton Greenholtz and John Stanley Rogers. The court also named Ed Lancaster as chair. At the Board of Professional Responsibility, the court appointed Odell Horton to replace Clarence Halmon and named Russell Parkes as chair and Michael King as vice chair. New members named to the Tennessee Lawyers’ Fund For Client Protection are Rep. Vance Dennis, Jonathan Guthrie and Spencer Chinery, who replace Laura Keeton, Katherine Wilson Singleton and Mary Ann Zaha. Fund leaders include Chair Dawn Deaner, Vice Chair Marty McAfee and Secretary/Treasurer Kim Helper.

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Ethics Roadshow on Eastern Swing

The TBA Ethics Roadshow heads east this week, making stops in Knoxville on Tuesday, Chattanooga on Wednesday, Cookville on Thursday and Johnson City on Friday. Ethics expert Brian Faughnan of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell PLLC this year talks about bad habits, struggles and misconstrued meanings – activities that have produced 50 ways that lawyers in Tennessee and elsewhere have lost their practice due to ethical violations. Don’t miss this engaging three-hour, dual credit CLE program.

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BPR Issues Ethics Opinion on Guardian Ad Litem Roles

A formal ethics opinion released today by the Board of Professional Responsibility addresses the question of whether it is a conflict of interest for a lawyer who was appointed guardian ad litem to subsequently represent another interest in a matter regarding the child for whom the lawyer was appointed guardian ad litem. The opinion states in part that an attorney who was appointed guardian ad litem for a child may represent another party’s interest as long as it is consistent with the interests of the child and does not violate professional conduct rules. To insure that the subsequent representation of another interest is not inconsistent with the interest of the child, it would be advisable to secure consent or permission from the judge who had appointed the lawyer as GAL to represent the other party.

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Rule 9 Changes Explained at CLE Friday

New disciplinary rules adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court take effect Jan. 1. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn what the changes mean for you and your practice at a CLE this Friday in Nashville. Join Marisa Combs and Hugh Kendall, co-chairs of the TBA subcommittee that played a large role in putting together the “receiver attorney” provisions adopted by the court, and Brian S. Faughnan, chair of the TBA Ethics Committee, for a guided tour of what’s new, what’s unchanged and what may continue to be controversial going forward. The session starts at 12:30 p.m. and provides three dual hours of credit.

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TCA: Attorney Not Entitled to BPR Communications

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that a Brentwood attorney cannot see state documents related to disciplinary proceedings against her, the Nashville Post reports. Family and divorce lawyer Connie Reguli had petitioned the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) for documents related to complaints filed against her in 2009 and 2010. Reguli had been granted access to the documents by Chancellor Ellen Lyle, but the BPR appealed the ruling. The appellate court reversed the decision saying the documents were not subject to a public records request because they were prepared after the disciplinary proceeding against Reguli began. Read more from the Nashville Post or download the opinion.

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Get Details on New Disciplinary Rules

Don’t be caught unaware! New rules governing disciplinary enforcement of attorneys go into effect Jan.1. Learn how these new rules will impact your practice at a CLE on Nov. 15 in Nashville. The three-hour course offers dual credit and will cover issues such as a new ban on anonymous complaints against attorneys, new power for the courts to appoint receiver attorneys, new recusal standards for hearing panel members, and clarification about TLAP agreements, the role of practice monitors and the use of private discipline. Learn more or register now.

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Prosecutor Defends Himself at Ethics Hearing

Paul Rush, assistant district attorney in the 10th Judicial District, defended himself yesterday against three ethics allegations brought by the Board of Professional Responsibility. The board contends that during a 2010 murder trial that resulted in a mistrial, Rush hid information that would have been helpful to the defense and questioned a witness about an issue he was ordered not to pursue. The board also alleges that he disobeyed the trial judge’s order to turn himself in for possible discipline after the case. Rush’s lawyer addressed each charge and summed up his client’s defense saying he made "good-faith" decisions and, if he made mistakes, they were not willful violations of ethics rules. The Times Free Press reports the hearing panel expects to issue a ruling in 10 days.

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BPR Considers Action Against Assistant DA

The Board of Professional Responsibility will hear ethics charges this week against a prosecutor who triggered a mistrial against a triple-murder defendant. The case against Michael Younger crumbled when the presiding judge found that 10th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Paul Rush withheld evidence from the defense and asked witnesses questions he had been told not to bring up. In July 2012, the board filed a petition charging Rush with ethical misconduct. Today and tomorrow, a panel of three attorneys will hear testimony and view evidence. The review takes place as other investigations are looking at activities in the 10th Judicial District and its DA, Steve Bebb. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

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Changes to Disciplinary Rule Detailed

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday adopted a comprehensive amendment overhauling the rules governing disciplinary enforcement for attorneys. As the TBA stated in its comment filed in February in response to the court’s original proposal, the changes represent “a vast improvement of the organization, architecture and clarity” of the disciplinary process. The new rule, however, does not adopt a number of provisions the TBA advocated. The court rejected the TBA’s call for use of the same heightened standard of proof (clear and convincing evidence) that is used by 40 other states as the requirement for disciplining attorneys, and it did not move to limit ex parte communications between the Board of Professional Responsibility and potential hearing panel members. Learn more about the amended Rule 9 here, and at a CLE set for Nov. 15 that will provide a guided tour of what’s new, what’s unchanged and what may continue to be controversial going forward.

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Court Expands Payments to Client Protection Fund

The Tennessee Supreme Court late Friday adopted an order requiring all attorneys who practice in the state – regardless of the state in which they are licensed – to pay into the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. The fund, which was established three decades ago, reimburses individuals for financial losses suffered after entering into an attorney-client relationship. Previously, the rule applied only to those licensed by Tennessee. Also of note, the order extends from one to three years the amount of time a client has to make a claim. The court reports that these changes will go into effect Oct. 1. Read more from the AOC.

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Disciplinary Enforcement Rule Gets Overhaul

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued its much-anticipated rewrite of Rule 9 on disciplinary enforcement. The overhaul is the first comprehensive reordering and revamp of the rule since the original rule was adopted in the 1970s. Many of the suggestions proffered by the TBA were adopted including new provisions that clarify a lawyer's obligations when the lawyer is no longer able to practice. Perhaps the most significant change urged by the TBA— a change to a standard of clear and convincing evidence to prove lawyer misconduct – was omitted. Read the rule here and watch TBA Today next week for more analysis of the court’s 64 page order, including new provisions for license revocation for student loan default.

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Ethics Opinion: Fees Sharing OK in Some Cases

Can a lawyer working in a jurisdiction that has adopted the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct share fees with lawyers who aren’t bound by the no-fee-sharing restriction? In some cases, the answer is yes, according to an ABA ethics opinion. “Where there is a single billing to a client in such situations,” Formal Opinion 464 says, “a lawyer subject to the Model Rules may divide a legal fee with a lawyer or law firm in the other jurisdiction, even if the other lawyer or law firm might eventually distribute some portion of the fee to a nonlawyer, provided that there is no interference with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment.” ABAJournal.com has more.

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TBA Comments on Student Loan Default Rule

The TBA today filed a comment with the Tennessee Supreme Court on a proposal to establish a show cause procedure to suspend lawyers who become seriously delinquent or in default in payment of their federally-insured student loan obligations. In it's comment, the TBA points out that it fought legislation to encourage the establishment of such sanctions for such unrelated activities. In the comment the TBA presses for more thorough due process protections if the court moves forward to adopting the rule.

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The King of Legal Advertising?

Lots of lawyers know Lucian Pera as an expert on the rights and wrongs of legal advertising, but the Memphis attorney was also singled out this week for his skills in marketing. In the ABA Journal piece “50 simple ways you can market your practice,” the author notes Pera’s practice of skipping the traditional holiday card at Christmas to send out cards celebrating Elvis’ birthday. "For a number of people I do business with, my connection to Memphis is important,” Pera says. “I want them to think about Memphis and think about me, and I don't want there to be more than a half second between those two thoughts.” The Adams and Reese attorney was also featured this week in a podcast on legal advertising ethics from The Life of the Law. Also joining that discussion was Nashville lawyer Matt Hardin of Rudy, Wood, Winstead, Williams & Hardin.

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Guardian Challenges Firm’s Fee Waiver Practice

A guardian ad litem appointed to protect the legal interests of an 80-year-old woman is challenging the fee arrangement her relatives signed with the Memphis law firm of Wilkes & McHugh. Although state law caps contingency fees at one-third of the recovery in medical malpractice cases, the firm had the woman’s relatives sign a waiver allowing a fee of up to 40 percent of any recovery, with an extra five percent allowed if the case was decided on appeal. The guardian, Robert Hutton, says he also wants to look into fee arrangements in 21 other medical malpractice cases the firm has filed since January 2009. The firm's lead attorney on the case did not return a telephone call from the Commercial Appeal, but said in court papers that he never intended to use contingency fee agreements to seek excessive fees.

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Discrimination Provisions Upheld

The Tennessee Supreme Court today denied a petition by the Board of Professional Responsibility which would have expanded the application of the prohibition on manifestations of invidivual bias and prejudice. In maintaining the current focus on the way in which the lawyer conduct impacts the administration of justice, the Court preserved the rule advocated and defended by the TBA. The Court noted that more than 300 pages of comments were received during the comment period and commented on the "scope and clarity” of the present rule. Download a copy of the court order. For a look at the TBA comments, click here

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Court Denies Advertising Rules Changes

A petition proposing several rules changes restricting lawyer advertising was denied today in a per curiam order issued by the Tennessee Supreme Court. In taking the action, the court said, "We have determined that the continued enforcement of the existing rules is preferable to any of the changes sought by the petitioners."

The petition, which was filed last spring, would have required that lawyers have a "bona fide" office in Tennessee, prohibited actors from portraying clients, banned commenting on results and imposed requirements for pre-submission of ads to the Board of Professional Responsibility.

The petition drew comments from a wide array of organizations and individuals including the Tennessee Bar Association, Knoxville Bar Association, two law school professors from the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, the Federal Trade Commission and others. TBA Ethics and Professionalism Committee Chair Brian Faughnan authored the TBA comment.

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Drafter of ABA Model Code Dies

John F. Sutton, former dean of the University of Texas Austin School of Law and drafter of the ABA’s Model Code of Professional Conduct, died Friday at age 95, the ABA Journal reports. A Texas native and 1941 graduate of the law school, Sutton served with the FBI as a special agent at the start of World War II and then served in Judge Advocate General’s Corps during the Korean War. From 1950-1957 he was in private practice and from 1957-2003 he served on the law school faculty at his alma mater, serving as dean from 1979-1984. From 1965-1970, Sutton was one of the original draftsmen of the ABA's Model Code of Professional Responsibility, which replaced the 1908 Canons of Ethics. Later, he consulted on the drafting of the association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Visitation and funeral services will be held Friday and Saturday in San Angelo. In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations be made to the First Presbyterian Church of San Angelo, the San Angelo Area Foundation or a charity of one's choice.

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