News

CLE SKI Set for Jan. 22-27 in Snowmass

Mark your calendar for the 32nd Annual TBA CLE SKI, being held Jan. 22-27, 2017, at the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass, Colorado. Participants will be able to attend CLE sessions each morning and afternoon with plenty of time to hit the slopes in between programs. Topics will cover entertainment law, social security disability, updates on labor and employment law, ethics and a U.S. Supreme Court case review.

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Kingsport Lawyer Gets Probation for SSI Scheme

Kingsport attorney Everett Mechem, who was convicted earlier on 30 counts of fraud in connection to a Social Security payment scheme, has been sentenced to four years of probation, the Times Free Press reports. He also must pay $34,280 in restitution and a $3,300 fine, and perform 200 hours of community service. According to evidence presented at trial, Mechem, acting as the attorney and representative payee for his wife, schemed to defraud the government of nearly $37,000 in SSI payments for which she was not entitled. He previously was suspended from the practice of law by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

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Case to Continue Against Memphis Prosecutor

Disciplinary proceedings will continue against Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Stephen P. Jones on two charges he violated rules of professional conduct in the prosecution of Noura Jackson, according to an order released yesterday. The disciplinary hearing panel did grant summary judgment on a third charge involving fairness to the opposing party, the Commercial Appeal reports. The Board of Professional Responsibility accuses Jones of failing to provide a witness statement to the defense. Jones argues he made an inadvertent mistake and did not knowingly withhold the document. The panel will now conduct an investigation.

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Lawyer Calls ADA’s Oversight ‘Inadvertent Mistake’

Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Stephen P. Jones is facing misconduct charges before the Board of Professional Responsibility, with the board alleging that as co-counsel in the prosecution of Noura Jackson he failed to disclose to the defense a third statement from one of the prosecution witnesses. The board is also pursuing a separate proceeding alleging that lead counsel and District Attorney Amy Weirich improperly commented on Jackson’s right to remain silent. The Tennessee Supreme Court threw out Jackson’s murder conviction. After Jones did not agree to a public censure, the board filed a petition for discipline against him. Jones’ lawyer argued this week that Jones is entitled to summary judgment because the record demonstrates only an inadvertent mistake and no ethical misconduct, The Commercial Appeal reports.

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Ethics Opinion: Judges Must Hear Cases to Sign Orders

The chair of the Judicial Ethics Committee says that conduct rules do not allow judges to retroactively sign orders without hearing evidence, and that such practices could violate a person’s right to be heard in court and could appear to be an impropriety. Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Alan Glenn issued the informal opinion in response to a request from Nashville General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland, who sought the guidance after news broke that General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell retroactively signed orders committing dozens of people to mental health institutions without hearing the cases herself. Glenn said he will not write a formal ethics opinion, which would require approval of the other judges on the committee, the Tennessean reports. He did not address the specific case involving Bell.

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Court Seeking Comments on Proposed Amendments

The Tennessee Supreme Court is considering amending Rule 7, section 16.01, and Rule 9, section 30.3, which deal with reinstatement of a law license after a disciplinary or administrative suspension, disbarment or inactive status designation. The court also is seeking comments on proposed amendments to Rule 19 that are designed to eliminate a potential conflict between Rule 7, section 5.01(g)(8) and Rule 19, which deals with pro hac vice appearances before Tennessee courts and agencies. Comments on both proposals are due by Oct. 10.

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Moreland Seeks Ethics Opinion on Bell’s Conduct

Nashville General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland has asked the Judicial Ethics Committee to weigh in on whether it is ethical for judges to sign orders in cases they do not hear. The move from the court's presiding judge comes after reports that Judge Rachel Bell signed orders committing 53 individuals to mental health facilities after their cases were heard by a substitute judge. Moreland took over as presiding judge from Bell this week. Asking for the ethics opinion was one of his first acts, the Tennessean reports.

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ABA Seeks Professional Responsibility Center Director

The American Bar Association is seeking a director for its Center for Professional Responsibility. Responsibilities include strategic planning, policy development, financial management and personnel administration. Candidates should have 15 years of professional legal experience with executive responsibilities, 10 years of legal experience in the field of professional responsibility or legal/judicial regulation, five years of experience leading an organization and supervising a team, and an active law degree.

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Court Square Series: Sept. 8 in Kingsport

The 2016 Court Square series is heading to Kingsport. On Sept. 8, the course will be presented at the Higher Education Center. Mark Fulks, Parke Morris and Donald J. Farinato will address ethics in legal writing, privilege law in Tennessee and the revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.

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Court Seeks Comments on 2 Proposals, Sets Legal Aid Funding Ratios

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued three orders. The first amends Rule 11 Section VI(a)(1), which sets out the amounts that the state’s four legal aid organizations receive from the Civil Legal Representation of Indigents Fund. The order, which will take effect Sept. 1, changes the percentage of funding each organization receives based on the percent of poverty in their service areas. The second order seeks comments by Sept. 19 on a proposal by the Board of Professional Responsibility and Tennessee Bar Foundation to amend Rules 8 and 43 to allow attorneys to deposit trust funds in federally insured credit unions. The third order seeks comments by Nov. 17 on a proposal by theTBA to amend Rule 8 to make a number of changes recommended by the ABA's Commission on Ethics 20/20.

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Nashville Lawyer Gets Jail Time, 10 Years Probation

Nashville personal injury lawyer John L. Lowery will stay in jail until late October and then serve 10 years on probation for stealing more than $330,000 from his clients, the Tennessean reports. Prosecutors also said Lowery settled nine cases without his clients’ knowledge or consent, signed their names to settlement checks without their permission, misappropriated settlement funds, and made them think their cases were progressing. In imposing the sentence, Criminal Court Judge Steve Dozier said Lowery’s “deceit strikes at the very heart of our legal system, a system wherein a lawyer should be a guiding light steering clients through the process in pursuit of justice rather than a dark force deceiving those who have rightfully placed in the lawyer their trust..."

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Fee-Sharing Opinion May Signal Bad News for Avvo

A South Carolina ethics opinion on fee-sharing highlights a potential obstacle for services like Avvo, which match lawyers willing to provide defined legal services with clients who pay a fee up front. The July 14 advisory opinion targets variable marketing fees, saying such arrangements amount to a “contingency advertising fee” rather than a “cost that can be assessed for reasonableness.” Such services might also violate rules that ban lawyers from sharing fees with non-lawyers or paying for a referral, the opinion suggests. The ABA Journal looks at the issue.

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Bristol Lawyer Charged with Stealing from Estate

Bristol lawyer Don W. Cooper has been charged with stealing from an estate for which he was serving as executor, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The agency said it began investigating the 70-year-old in November 2015 and found that he stole more than $10,000 from an estate in which the beneficiary was supposed to be St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Cooper, who was indicted in April for stealing from another estate, turned himself in and was released on a $15,000 bond, the Greeneville Sun reports.

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New TBJ Looks at Clemency, Medical Battery

Nashville lawyer Ben Raybin researched recent clemency statistics in Tennessee and found some interesting trends. Read his article, “How Executive Clemency Works (and How It Doesn’t)” in the August Tennessee Bar Journal. Also in this issue, Hendersonville lawyer Clint Kelly details the rise of medical battery and informed consent and Tennessee Bar Association President Jason Long explains how meeting up with fellow lawyers helps with overall civil discourse and civility in the profession. Read the August TBJ.

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Law School Externships, Misconduct Rules on ABA Annual Meeting Agenda

The ABA House of Delegates will meet Aug. 8-9 in San Francisco for its annual meeting. Items on the agenda include a proposal that would permit law school students to earn academic credit and compensation for externships at the same time; an amendment to the model rules of conduct to add anti-discrimination and anti-harassment provisions; a proposal urging states to abolish probation systems supervised by private, for-profit firms; and initiatives that expand ABA efforts to diversify the legal profession and the judiciary.

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CBA Seeks Receiver to Handle Arrested Lawyer’s Cases

The Chattanooga Bar Association (CBA) has asked the local Circuit Court to appoint a receiver to close out the pending cases of Matthew Jack Fitzharris, a Chattanooga attorney who was shot and arrested in Catoosa County, Georgia, on July 12. The CBA says that Fitzharris is disabled and unable to practice law and has been unable to make arrangements for another attorney to handle his cases. Police reports say that Fitzharris was shot in the arm after breaking into a home, threatening a couple and refusing to leave. He was charged with aggravated assault, terroristic threats, entering an automobile or other motor vehicle with intent to commit theft or felony, burglary, simple assault and criminal damage to property. Chattanoogan.com has more.

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Court Seeks Comments on Proposed Amendments

The Tennessee Supreme Court has issued two orders soliciting comments on proposed amendments to its rules. The first order seeks comments now through July 25 on amendments to Rule 8.3(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Rule 10, RJC 2.15 and 2.16(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which deal with the disclosure of information about a judge's conduct. The second order seeks comments now through Sept. 21 on Rule 10B of the Tennessee Supreme Court Rules, which deals with disqualification or recusal of a judge.

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New Jersey Attorneys Given Direction on Accolade Advertising

The New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Lawyer Advertising has reminded state attorneys to check the credibility of awards like “Super Lawyers” and “Rising Stars” before referring to them in advertisements. The committee said lawyers may mention the awards in their advertising “only when the basis for comparison can be verified” and the group bestowing the accolade “has made adequate inquiry into the fitness of the individual lawyer.” Read more from the ABA Journal.

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ABA Opinion Addresses Referral Fees, Conflict of Interest

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued a formal ethics opinion this week that addresses the propriety of referral fees and explains that clients must consent to such arrangements. The opinion also provides examples of when a lawyer does or does not have a conflict of interest, according to the ABA Journal

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Lawyer Suspended for Using Email Information Client Obtained by Hacking

A Missouri lawyer was suspended from the practice of law this week for using information obtained by his divorce client by guessing his wife’s email password, the ABA Journal reports. The client obtained his wife’s payroll documents and a list of direct examination questions prepared by the wife’s lawyer for an upcoming divorce trial. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled the attorney, 70-year-old Joel B. Eisenstein, can apply for reinstatement in six months. 

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Rules Unclear for Firms Disclosing Data Breaches

It is unclear when law firms are legally required to reveal data breaches to the public or law enforcement. The Wall Street Journal explores guidelines outlined by 47 states, the American Bar Association and state bar associations following recent data breaches at several prestigious law firms. 

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Vogel Suspension Complicates Child Torture Case

Jessica Ann Cox, a stepmom accused of tortuous abuse of her stepsons, has requested new legal counsel be provided by the state following the Tennessee Supreme Court’s suspension of her former counsel, Robert Vogel. Cox says she cannot afford to hire new counsel. Vogel was suspended earlier this month for having sex with a client in a court-appointed case and the incident has repeatedly delayed Cox’s case. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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Ethics Programs Planned Across Tennessee

Live programs in The Business of Lawyering Series and other ethics credits programs are planned this month in Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville. The programs offer three hours of dual credit. Sessions include managing yourself and your support staff, engaging clients, ending the client relationship ethically and using social media to advertise. Online courses are also available on accounting basics, the state Department of Revenue and popular financial issues.

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Preventing Legal Malpractice Webcasts, 3 Hours of CLE

Protect yourself from malpractice by learning more about the impact of our changing legal world in these two online video courses. Preventing Legal Malpractice Part 1 and Part 2 address recent trends in legal ethics and malpractice and each is approved for 1.5 hours of dual credit.

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Last Meeting of House Ethics Committee Was in 2010

The House Ethics Committee has not met since the 106th General Assembly, which convened in 2009 and 2010, according to committee attorney Doug Himes. Its meetings are driven by when there is a complaint, and he says since it hasn't received a complaint in at least five years that's why it hasn't met. "There haven't been regular meetings, because of the fact that we haven't had any complaints," Himes told The Tennessean. He said there have been less than 10 complaints since 2003 and none have been deemed credible or substantiated by the committee.

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