News

Senators Plan Hearing on Handling of Ethics Complaint

State Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, announced today that the Senate Government Operations Committee will hold a formal inquiry “sometime this month” into the Board of Judicial Conduct’s decision to dismiss a complaint against Chief Justice Gary Wade. That anonymous complaint questioned whether Wade broke ethics rules by commenting on judges subject to review by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. After the board dismissed the complaint, Bell came forward as the source of the complaint. Bell and McNally also said today they may also take up issues associated with the composition of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. A Davidson County judge ruled earlier this year that the commission’s makeup was illegal because it did not reflect the diversity of the state. The Tennessean has more.

read more »

House Candidate Arrested for Bad Checks

Kristopher Gore, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives, has been charged with two felonies for writing one bad check over $10,000 and another over $1,000 to a sign company. Gore, two other Democrats and a Republican are running in the Aug. 7 primaries for the open House District 43 seat. The Tennessean has more.

read more »

Editorial: State Should Keep a Nonpartisan Supreme Court

A Memphis Flyer editorial states three Democratic Supreme Court justices up for retention on Aug. 7 — Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee — deserve the endorsement of Shelby County voters, regardless of party affiliation. The publication denounces Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s plan to oust them from the state’s highest court, saying, “Interpreting the law is — or should be — non-political.” The editorial also says the justices have been "forced into a barnstorming tour of sorts to raise enough support and money to counter the well-funded purge efforts of Ramsey and his out-of-state allies."

read more »

Lawyers Push Back Against Effort to Oust Justices

Lawyers across the state have begun fighting back against Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s campaign to unseat Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee. The Nashville Bar Association Tuesday released a resolution supporting the judges’ retention in the Aug. 7 judicial election and urged its members to vote in favor to retain. On Wednesday, a group of attorneys including former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Drowota and former Appeals Court Judge Lew Conner met with the Tennessean to spell out their efforts to combat Ramsey, who Drowota said was using misinformation to unfairly criticize the justices in an effort to stack the court with partisan judges. “To have politics come into the courts makes absolutely no sense,” Drowota said. “You don’t want a politicized court. You want a fair, impartial court.”

read more »

Miller & Martin Adds 3 to Nashville Office

Miller & Martin has added three members to its Nashville office. They are Catie Lane Bailey, Douglas Berry and David Lewis. The Nashville Post reports that the “hirings are another sign that the Chattanooga-based firm is rebuilding its Nashville presence after losing the majority of its attorneys in 2012.” Bailey will serve in the firm’s government relations practice group as senior policy advisor. She previously was director of government affairs at the Tennessee Apartment Association. Berry, formerly of Berry & Harris in Nashville, will continue to represent cities in zoning, eminent domain and utility matters. Lewis previously was vice president and associate legal counsel at LifePoint Hospitals in Brentwood. He has worked in health care for 25 years and is a former chair of the TBA Health Law Section.

read more »

Barrett Named to State Election Commission

Former state Rep. Donna Rowland Barrett has been appointed to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee State Election Commission, the Memphis Daily News reports. The Murfreesboro Republican served in the state House for 10 years before retiring in 2010. She now runs the Barrett Group, which specializes in cost control strategies. Barrett fills the vacancy created by fellow former Republican state Rep. Tom DuBois of Columbia, who is running for circuit judge.

read more »

Haslam Won't Take Part in Campaign Against Justices

Gov. Bill Haslam said today he will not take part in efforts by Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey to unseat the three Supreme Court justices appointed by Democrats, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Haslam told reporters at a Lipscomb University event that he has a “good working relationship with all three” targeted justices. Haslam also said he has some concerns the campaign against the judges could hurt chances of passing the constitutional change on judicial selection that he is supporting.

read more »

General Election Races Take Shape

Candidates from across Tennessee won places on the Aug. 7 general election ballot in primary elections Tuesday. Results are now available from county election commissions and news organizations, which also provided analysis of trends. The TBA provides a listing of these sources.

read more »

General Assembly Adjourns

The 108th Tennessee General Assembly has adjourned for the year. Legislation passing this session included measures to allow wine sales in grocery stores, fight methamphetamine production and give high school graduates free tuition at community colleges, which was a signature proposal of the governor, Knoxnews reports.

read more »

TBA Leaders Lobby Legislators During D.C. Event

Tennessee Bar Association leaders joined more than 350 of their colleagues from across the country for 2014 ABA Lobby Days in Washington, D.C., April 8-10. The annual event provides legal leaders the opportunity to meet individually with legislators and their staffs to cut through the noise of other special interests on Capitol Hill and successfully educate Congress on issues of importance to lawyers. In addition to urging the legislators to support funding for the Legal Services Corp., TBA leaders urged lawmakers to reject tax reform legislation that would tax certain law firms using accrual rather than cash accounting. TBA President Cindy Wyrick, President-elect Jonathan Steen and Executive Director Allan Ramsaur made up the delegation. See photos from the visit.

read more »

Governor Signs 3 TBA Bills; Others on the Way

All of the TBA's legislative initiatives have passed both houses of the General Assembly, and three have been signed by the governor. The statute of repose for legal malpractice was signed by Gov. Haslam and will take effect July 1, as will TBA's family law bill enhancing parental rights concerning custody orders and a bill clarifying liability obligations in a limited liability partnership. Two more measures, the revision to the nonprofit corporations act and changes to the probate law are headed to the governor's desk for signature. Check TBAImpact for other bills we are tracking this session.

read more »

April Issue Covers UPL, Postjudgment Interest and Sex Week

"Protecting the legal profession is only our secondary goal," Tennessee Bar Association President Cindy Wyrick writes in her Journal column this month where she takes on the war against unauthorized practice of law. "We are fighting this battle primarily to protect the public."  Also in this issue, the second-to-last column written by the late Don Paine is about postjudgment interest, and Bill Haltom writes what's on many Volunteers' minds about the legislature, Sex Week and free speech at UT.

read more »

House, Senate Pass Haslam Budget

Gov. Bill Haslam’s $32 billion budget won House and Senate approval today, as amendments proposing pay raises for teachers and state employees were rejected by lawmakers, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The budget approved today mirrors changes introduced by Haslam’s administration last week, which eliminated previously proposed pay raises for teachers and state employees. The changes were aimed at closing a budget gap of around $160 million.

read more »

Senate Votes to Protect Info in Sexual Assault Cases

The Senate voted unanimously today to keep personal information in sexual assault cases confidential after the cases have been closed, The Tennessean reports. Under House Bill 2361 by state Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, evidence presented during trials for rape or sexual assault that identifies the victim would be made confidential once a guilty sentence has been given. The legislation had previously come under fire for being to broad in restricting the media’s ability to report on rape cases. The bill that passed was scaled back from earlier versions.

read more »

Bills Gives In-State Tuition for Kids of Undocumented Parents

Students whose parents entered the U.S. illegally will be allowed to pay in-state tuition at Tennessee colleges, under a bill now on its way to the governor. The bill passed the House 63 to 27, with little debate, according to Nashville Public Radio.

read more »

Senate: Permit Not Needed to Carry Gun

The state Senate has passed a bill to allow Tennesseans to openly carry guns without a state-issued permit, the Tennessean reports. The chamber voted 25-2 in favor of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet. Before the Senate floor vote, the measure narrowly made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee with only five votes in favor.

read more »

Editorial: Is Justice Being Served?

In an editorial, the Johnson City Press urges state lawmakers to increase funding for district attorneys and public defenders. It says that with caseloads surging and resources dwindling, "can we truly say justice is being served under these conditions?"

read more »

Legislature Considers Return of Electric Chair; State Sets 2016 Execution Date

The Tennessee Supreme Court set a date of March 15, 2016, for Donald Wayne Strouth to be executed, the Tennessean reports. Strouth has been on death row since 1978. On Tuesday, a House committee approved a bill that would make electrocution the state's method for killing inmates sentenced to death if lethal injection were declared unconstitutional or the drugs needed to carry it out were unavailable. But, WBIR reports, a handful of members said they have reservations about the electric chair, which the state has used only once since 1960.

read more »

Lawmakers to Review Judicial Evaluation Commission

Lawmakers Tuesday questioned whether the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) violates the Tennessee Constitution, the Tennessean reports. The House Government Operations Committee heard testimony from several people, including John Jay Hooker, who brought lawsuits against Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell last year contesting the constitutionality of the JPEC and retention election statutes. After hearing the testimony, the committee sent the constitutionality question to the Joint Subcommittee of Government Operations, Judiciary and Government, which will meet this summer. Gavel Grab has more.

read more »

Memphis Candidates Line Up for Yesterday's Deadline

Following yesterday's noon deadline to submit qualifying papers, the Memphis Daily News has a roundup of uncertified political candidates for Shelby County races. Memphis City Council member Lee Harris is challenging Democratic state Sen. Ophelia Ford in the August primary for District 29 -- a seat that has held by a member of the Ford family since 1975. Statewide, Gov. Bill Haslam drew three challengers for the August Republican primary for governor, while the Democratic gubernatorial primary has seven candidates. In a separate article, the paper looks at the "filing frenzy" yesterday for several positions. The Commercial Appeal has more on Harris' challenge.

read more »

Rep. Rich to Retire from House

State Rep. Barrett Rich says he will not run for another term representing his rural West Tennessee district, the Memphis Daily News reports. The Somerville Republican has served three terms in the lower chamber of the General Assembly. Other incumbents who aren't seeking re-election this year include Republican representatives Vince Dean of East Ridge and Eric Watson of Cleveland, and House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner of Nashville.

read more »

Senate Bills Present Judicial Pay Plans

The Senate Judiciary Committee today set the stage for revealing judicial salaries for the next eight years. Sen. Mark Norris presented SB 2598, which will address state court judicial salaries, and SB 1747 by Sen. Ken Yager will be amended to make adjustments to the salaries of general sessions judges. Constitutionally,  judicial salaries must be fixed and can only be adjusted according to law for an entire term.

In keeping with the cancellation of all raises for state employees, no judges will see any increase in their $165,000 base salary or cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the first nine months of the term, beginning Sept. 1, 2014. Effective July 1, 2015, the COLA would be reinstituted. After that, $5,800 per year raises would be granted effective Sept. 1, 2016; Sept. 1, 2018, and Sept. 1, 2020. General Sessions judges would see their pay increase delayed and adjusted in the same fashion, with rate adjustments scaled by population of their jurisdictions.

Scheduled salary adjustments for district attorneys, public defenders, assistants and related offices were originally part of the bill, but will also be delayed. Salaries for those positions do not have the same constitutional protection.

read more »

Opinion: Ag Gag Bill Returns

In an editorial released today, the Memphis Flyer criticizes the return of the whistleblower legislation nicknamed the “Ag Gag” bill. Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the bill last year, which mandated that anyone observing animal cruelty report it to law authorities within 48 hours or be liable for arrest and penalty. "Ostensibly designed to bring swift attention to animal cruelty, the effect of such bills is nearly the opposite one, to discourage anyone from attempting to document such cruelty," the paper argues. The new bill, HB 2258/SB 2406, is sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville. The newspaper claims the new bills are just as “constitutionally suspect” as previous versions, and urges the legislature to oppose them.

read more »

Bill Limiting Employment Discrimination Actions, Whistleblower Protections Advances

Legislation making significant changes in protections for whistleblowers, placing caps on non-economic damages for discrimination and retaliatory discharge, and limiting disability discrimination provisions advanced in both houses this week. The bill could be heard in the House Consumer and Human Resource Committee and on the Senate floor as early as next Tuesday. Let your voice be heard about this and other legislation using TBAImpact.

read more »

Ramsey Backs Judicial Selection Amendment

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Friday repeated his support for a November ballot measure that would change the way Supreme Court and appeals court judges in the state are selected, the Kingsport Times News reports. Ramsey encouraged judges and others attending the Tennessee Judicial Conference to get behind the measure, which would give the governor the power to appoint the judges, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. "It's the best way of doing this," Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the constitutional amendment, which will be put to voters this fall.

read more »