News

ABA Issues Ethics Opinion on Limited-Scope Legal Services

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility today issued ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 472, "Communication with Person Receiving Limited-Scope Legal Services." In this opinion the committee addresses the obligations of a lawyer under ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2, "Communication with Person Represented by Counsel," commonly called the “no contact” rule, and ABA Model Rule 4.3, "Dealing with Unrepresented Person," when communicating with a person who is receiving or has received limited-scope representation under ABA Model Rule 1.2, "Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority Between Client and Lawyer." The opinion also provides recommendations for lawyers providing limited-scope representation.

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Annual Ethics Roadshow Coming to 6 Cities

Visit one of six locations across the state – Memphis, Nashville, Johnson City, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Cookeville – for the annual Ethics Roadshow to help you complete your 2015 CLE requirements. Courses start Dec. 9. See details on all dates and locations here.

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Judges’ Extramarital Affair Draws Ethics Charges

A pair of Illinois judges are awaiting a ruling on whether their extramarital affair and actions violated judicial ethics rules, the ABA Journal reports. Circuit judges Scott Drazewski and Rebecca Foley have been charged with engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and conduct that brought the judicial office into disrepute. Drazewski was also cited with failing to recuse himself from cases involving Foley’s husband, attorney Joseph Foley.

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Hooker Asks Supreme Court to Intervene in 'Aid-in-Dying' Case

John Jay Hooker is appealing to the state's highest court to allow his doctors to prescribe him life-ending medication without facing criminal consequences, the Tennessean reports. Hooker, who has said he is dying of cancer, says he does not have time to wait for the normal appeals process and wants the Tennessee Supreme Court to step in and take the case from the intermediate court, the Tennessee Court of Appeals. "This case involves the imminent death of a party (Hooker)," the appeal, filed Tuesday by Nashville attorneys Hal Hardin and Cynthia Chappell, reads. "A terminally ill Tennessee citizen's interest in his or her own manner of death is of utmost personal and public importance." 

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Governor Names Members to Law-Related Bodies

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced a series of appointments to state boards and commissions, including several law-related bodies, WRCBTV.com reports. Among the appointments are Chris Hodges of Nashville and Ward Phillips of Knoxville to the Board of Judicial Conduct; Niesha Wolfe of Clarksville and Mary Wagner of Memphis to the Post-Conviction Defender Oversight Commission; and Jason Denton of Lebanon, Lynn Lawyer of Nashville and Jerry Mayo of Brentwood to the Advisory Council on Workers' Compensation.

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Supreme Court Adopts Changes to Confidentiality of Ethics Opinions

In response to a BPR Petition, the Tennessee Supreme Court today adopted a revision to Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, Section 5.4(c) that is intended to confirm that communications between lawyers and disciplinary counsel related to obtaining informal ethics opinions are confidential and not public records. On behalf of the bar, the TBA had offered even stronger protections for those seeking guidance. Read a copy of the order here.

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TBA: Revision Needed to Guide Lawyer's Ethical Inquiries

In a comment filed today, the Tennessee Bar Association suggested clearer language could be used to revise Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 5.4, involving confidentiality guidelines for lawyers receiving ethical advice. The Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition on June 18 citing concern that there may not be sufficient confidentiality protection under the existing rules. In its comment, the TBA recommended a revision of the BPR’s petition so that the rule will still permit lawyers receiving ethical advice to disclose information while maintaining confidential treatment of inquiries.

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Lawyers, Judges Named to Judicial Boards

The Administrative Office of the Courts has released updated rosters for three boards and commissions. On the Tennessee Supreme Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission, William Wray was appointed to serve the remainder of James Lauderback’s term. On the Judicial Ethics Committee, Judges Timothy Irwin, Alan Glenn and Betty Thomas Moore were reappointed to an additional term. And on the Board of Judicial Conduct, all members were reappointed with the exception of David Wedekind, who was replaced by Edward Phillips. In addition, Judges Kenny Armstrong, Norma McGee Ogle and Dee Gay were appointed to fill vacancies created by the appointment of Justices Jeffrey Bivins and Holly Kirby to the Supreme Court and the appointment of Judge Timothy Easter to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

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Group Calls for Action Against General Sessions Judge

The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has filed a complaint with the Board of Judicial Conduct seeking sanctions against Nashville General Sessions Judge Allegra Walker, News Channel 5 reports. The issue arises from an e-mail Walker sent in June in which she told prosecutors what she won’t accept in her court pertaining to plea negotiations, such as agreed orders on domestics or multiple probation offers. TACDL argues the email reflects Walker’s bias against certain defendants, claiming the judge's actions could amount to "judicial interference."

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ABA Releases Ethics Opinion on Client File Materials

The American Bar Association today issued a new Formal Ethics Opinion addressing what file materials belong to client under the ABA Model Rules. The scenario examined for context details a client teminating sevices of a long-time lawyer. The opinion addresses the ethical duties of a lawyer when responding to a former client’s request for papers and property in the lawyer’s possession that are related to the representation. Read the opinion here.

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Map Illustrates Potential Risk of Judicial Corruption

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, upholding a Florida law that bans judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign donations. At issue was public confidence in the judiciary, given that lawyers and potential litigants are more likely than average citizens to donate to judges' campaigns. The Institute for Southern Studies created a map showing whether each U.S. state holds judicial elections and, if so, whether the state bans solicitation of campaign contributions by judges and to what degree.

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Outside Money Making Impact in Tennessee Policy, Politics

In a series on outside money in Tennessee politics, the Tennessee News Network reports focuses on the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Nearly two years ago the group, associated with conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, planted roots in the Volunteer State and hired what is now a staff of six. While Gov. Haslam says its influence is exaggerated when it comes to Insure Tennessee and other legislation, others, like political consultant Tom Ingram, disagree, and say the threat of such spending is especially problematic for Republican legislators, who dominate the General Assembly. Last year, the group reported spending $1.1 million in "lobby-related" expenses in Tennessee, including money used to try to defeat three state Supreme Court justices, then-Rep. Dennis Roach, R-Rutledge, Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and Common Core education standards.

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Rutherford DA to Investigate Alleged Misconduct in Sheriff's Office

The Rutherford County Ethics Committee has asked the District Attorney General's Office to launch an investigation into potential conflicts of interest and misconduct by Sheriff Robert Arnold, involving questionable contracts, purchases and vendor services at the county jail, the Murfreesboro Post reports. Committee members also asked the DA to determine possible conflicts of interest regarding Chief Deputy Administrator Joe Russell and Detective Maj. Bill Sharp.

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NCSC Relaunches Judicial Ethics Clearinghouse

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has taken over the Center for Judicial Ethics (CJE) following the dissolution of the American Judicature Society. The CJE, a national clearinghouse for information on judicial ethics and discipline, has a new online presence at ncsc.org/cje. NCSC also will take over the hosting of the National College on Judicial Conduct and Ethics. This year's event will take place Oct. 28-30 in Chicago.

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Court Adopts 30 Day Solicitation Ban in Divorce Matters

The Tennessee Supreme Court today adopted an amendment to the ethics rules that will ban written solicitation of potential divorce clients within 30 days of the filing of a divorce. Rule 8, the amendment to RPC 7.3, is effective May 1. The TBA filed a comment voicing strong objections to the proposal. The comment also cited serious reservations about the constitutionality of the ban.

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Webinar Looks at Florida Case Involving Judicial Fundraising

Justice at Stake will host an educational webinar on Jan. 15 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on the case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, which looks at whether states may place restrictions on how judges and judicial candidates raise money. The case will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 20. Register online for the presentation “Judging Under the Influence: Will the Supreme Court Protect Fair Courts?”

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Proposals Aim to Curb Lobbyist Influence on State AGs

Proposals to limit lobbyists’ influence over state attorneys general are being advanced on a number of fronts after a New York Times series found that lobbyists have tried to stop investigations or persuade attorneys general to hire contingency lawyers to sue on behalf of the state. In response, an executive committee of the National Association of Attorneys General voted to ban corporate sponsorship at an annual event focusing on emerging legal issues. Other efforts include those by University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who is proposing a model ethics rule barring attorneys general from discussing investigations or official matters at fundraising events. A number of states also are looking at new laws requiring attorneys general to disclose political contributions and refrain from lobbying for a period of time after leaving office.

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ABA Urges Court to Uphold Ban on Campaign Solicitation by Judicial Candidates

The ABA has filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a Florida judicial conduct rule that bars judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds. The issue in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar is whether the state ban violates the First Amendment, the ABA Journal reports. The ABA argues that the ban on personal solicitations is narrowly tailored to promote the state’s compelling interest in a fair and impartial judiciary free from corruption and the appearance of corruption. The case is scheduled for argument on Jan. 20, according to a press release from the group.

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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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