News

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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Ethical Campaign Courses Online

Ethical campaign courses are now available online from the Tennessee Bar Association. The TBA CLE programs offer guidance for state and local lawmakers, judges, candidates for executive, judicial or legislative positions, and campaign chairs and their counsel. Topics include finance compliance, election law and ethics.

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Court Adopts Updates to Rule Governing Licensing of Attorneys

Out-of-state lawyers received an early Christmas present from the Tennessee Supreme Court when the Court today adopted new rules allowing practice pending admission for lawyers who are seeking Tennessee admission and are licensed in other jurisdictions. The new provisions, part of an over-all rewrite of the admissions rules in Tennessee, were largely backed by the TBA and Tennessee Board of Law Examiners.

The spouses of active-duty service members stationed in Tennessee also have a new pathway to a temporary license while their spouses are based in Tennessee. The two-year temporary military spouse license is subject to revocation if the military spouse relocates.

The rule change on practice pending admission is by far the most sweeping of the changes and could effect hundreds of lawyers who are licensed in other jurisdictions and have practiced for at least five years and seek a “comity” admission. Interpretations of a 2011 change in the rule had severely restricted practice pending admission. Such admissions will still require that the lawyer “associate” with a lawyer admitted in Tennessee during the one-year permission to provide legal services.  

The revised rule also:
• Clarifies various ways in which legal services can be provided including by fully licensed lawyers, by lawyers granted permission to engage in special or limited practice and through temporary practice.
• Permits for the first time the TBLE to permit lawyers with degrees from schools not accredited with the ABA in other U.S. jurisdictions and who have five years in practice to sit for the bar exam.
• Establishes a single deadline for future applications to sit for the exam of May 20 and Dec. 20.
• Eliminates negotiable instruments and bulk transfers from required exam topics.
• Establishes a new amnesty period for in-house counsel registration through July 1, 2016.
• Requires that applicants who attended law schools in foreign countries obtain an onsite LLM taught in English at an ABA accredited or Tennessee approved law school.

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Improving the Attorney-Client Relationship, 1 Hour of CLE

Improve business relationships with your clients with the Content, Clients and Counsel: Improving the Attorney-Client Relationship webcast. Topics include how to engage new clients, do’s and don’ts for engagement letters and navigating declination or termination of representation. The webcast is available now on-demand or on Dec. 30 from 3-4 p.m. CT. The course is approved for one CLE credit.

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BPR Issues Ethics Opinion Regarding Client Files

The Tennessee Supreme Court Board of Professional Responsibility issued a formal opinion Friday stating that lawyers have an ethical obligation to preserve client files and return them or permit access to them if requested by the client. The opinion notes there is no Rule of Professional Conduct in Tennessee that requires a lawyer to retain client files for more than five years following the end of representation. Read the opinion here.

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The Ethical Campaign, 3 Hours of CLE

The Ethical Campaign on Dec. 15 at the Tennessee Bar Center is an advanced level program for state and local lawmakers, judges and candidates for executive, judicial or legislative positions. The program will include ethical issues involved in compliance with election law provisions required by the ethics rules, compliance with campaign finance practices and conformity with the “Comprehensive Governmental Ethics Reform Act.” The course, scheduled from 8:30 a.m. – noon, is approved for three CLE credits.

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Last Minute Ethics CLE Available at 6 Convenient Locations

Visit one of our six locations across the state for your 2015 ethics CLE requirement. The annual Ethics Roadshow will be held in Memphis on Dec. 9, Nashville on Dec. 10, Johnson City on Dec. 15, Chattanooga on Dec. 16, and Knoxville and Cookeville on Dec. 17. Get more information or register at the links above.

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