News

Commission to Consider Filling Armstrong Seat

Knox County Commission Chairman Dave Wright says he will wait until hearing from the state that the position held by outgoing state Rep. Joe Armstrong is vacant before calling a commission meeting to decide whether to fill the seat before the Nov. 8 election. Armstrong announced his departure last Thursday. Knox County Democrats have selected Rick Staples to replace Armstrong on the ballot. Armstrong faces a sentencing hearing Nov. 30, Knoxnews reports.

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Durham Blasts Accusers, House Leaders in Letter

Embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, sent an eight-page letter to his House colleagues yesterday in advance of possible action on his expulsion this week. In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Tennessean, he denies all accusations, defends himself, attacks the women who alleged sexual misconduct and blasts House leadership for its handling of the investigation. Durham also threatens to release a document that would name the 22 women who accused him of inappropriate conduct and release text messages he says could prove his innocence.

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Harwell’s Challenger to Miss Special Session

The Republican lawmaker who has announced plans to try to unseat Beth Harwell as speaker of the House will not be attending next week’s special session, the Tennessean reports. Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, informed his colleagues yesterday that he will be absent from the three-day session due to business commitments. “When I announced my run for Speaker, I began taking steps to transition the day-to-day operations of my business to my family. The business trip I will be attending next week has been planned for some time and is one of the final steps in this transition process,” he said.

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Rep. Armstrong Leaves Office Following Conviction

State Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, gave up his seat in the General Assembly yesterday following conviction for filing a false tax return, the Tennessean reports. A federal jury found Armstrong, a 28-year veteran of the legislature, guilty of hiding profits of roughly $321,000 from a 2007 cigarette tax-stamp sale. The conviction rendered him unable to hold public office. Armstrong won re-nomination for his seat while on trial. Local Democrats have nominated Rick Staples to seek the seat in his place.

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Pressure Growing on Garland Appointment

Increasing pressure for a vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, says he will object to committee meetings until the Judiciary Committee schedules a session to consider Garland. New Mexico lawyer Steven Michel is attacking on another front, filing in federal court to have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, be told that the Senate cannot ignore a Supreme Court nominee. Current Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is also speaking out, saying this week that lawmakers should “wake up and appreciate” that a president can appoint justices anytime during his term. She later said she thinks “cooler heads will prevail” in deciding whether to consider Garland’s appointment. The ABA Journal and CBS News have more.

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Harwell: Durham Expulsion Vote Will Happen

House Speaker Beth Harwell indicated today that there will be an effort to expel embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham when the legislature reconvenes in a special session next week. “Expulsion motions are procedural in nature, so it is permitted regardless of the call,” Harwell told The Tennessean. “There will be a motion and a vote on expulsion, and I welcome the opportunity to vote for it.” The legislature will reconvene Monday at 2 p.m. to deal with a DUI law that puts federal transportation funding in jeopardy.

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House Approves Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously Tuesday for legislation outlining a federal bill of rights for survivors of sexual assault. The legislation would ensure that survivors in federal criminal cases have a right to a sexual assault evidence collection kit, to be told of the results and to be notified in writing before the kit is destroyed. Lawmakers said they are troubled by the number of untested rape kits that remain in the country, despite efforts to reduce a national backlog. The bill now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation was approved this spring. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

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Procedure Set for Special Legislative Session

The special session called by Gov. Bill Haslam to fix an issue with the state’s drunken driving law will begin next Monday at 2 p.m. and end sometime on Wednesday, officials have announced. Haslam issued a proclamation Friday calling for the session. The proclamation limits action to revision of a bill passed earlier in the year that changed the punishment for persons aged 18-21 for drunken driving and any related matters. The “fix bill” is expected to be approved without opposition but must pass on three separate readings on different days to comply with the state constitution. A final vote is expected on  Wednesday. Knoxnews has more.

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Stanton Judicial Appointment Caught in Stalemate

With time running out in this congressional session, Senate Democrats say they will increase pressure on Republicans to hold confirmation votes on judicial nominees, including Edward Stanton III of Memphis. The Senate returns to work today after a seven-week break. Stanton, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, has waited almost a year for a floor vote on his nomination to be a U.S. district court judge. President Obama nominated him to fill a vacancy in May 2015 and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously last October to send his nomination to the Senate floor. The Commercial Appeal reports that 27 other nominees, including 18 district court judges, also are waiting for a vote.

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Durham Closes Title Company

Just days after state officials announced a $191,000 discrepancy between Rep. Jeremy Durham’s election finance reports and bank records, the outgoing Franklin Republican closed his business. Records show that Durham dissolved Battleground Title & Escrow on Aug. 15, according to the Tennessean. The paper previously reported that the state Registry of Election Finance launched an investigation into whether Durham used campaign funds for his business. Durham has denied the allegations.

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Haslam Calls Special Session over Highway Funds

Gov. Bill Haslam is calling a special legislative session to try to resolve an issue that could cost the state $60 million in federal highway funds, the Tennessean reports. The moves comes after lawmakers approved legislation to increase the allowable blood alcohol limit for 18- to 20-year-olds and increased penalties for violations. Federal authorities say the state’s law is not in compliance with its zero tolerance law, which forces states to set 0.02 as the allowable blood-alcohol level for drivers under 21. After weeks of discussion with federal authorities, Haslam announced the need for a special session.

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Court Square Series: Sept. 15 in Cookeville

The TBA’s 2016 Court Square series will head to Cookeville on Sept. 15. The three-hour course will be held at the Higher Education Campus. Parke Morris, Nathan Ridley and Donald J. Farinato will address privilege law in Tennessee, legislative updates and the revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.

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Poll: Majority Want Drug-Free School Zone Reform

A bi-partisan majority of Tennessee residents support reforming the state’s drug-free school zone law according to a recent poll conducted by icitizen and Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris. The poll found that more than eight in 10 support reform of the Tennessee Drug-Free School Zone Act, which enhances penalties for drug crimes that occur within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare, library, recreational center or park. “Although drug-free school zones may sound good on the surface, they seem to create some troubling inequities,” Harris told the Memphis Flyer. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk previously has said that the law is applied inconsistently with the legislation’s intent. While the intent “was to keep drugs away from schoolchildren … this enhancement puts … violations on par with second degree murder.”

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Democrats Blame Harwell for DUI Snafu

State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, is blaming Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, for creating an environment that put the state in jeopardy of losing $60 million in federal highway funds, Knoxnews Politics reports. “This was not an accident,” Stewart said Wednesday. “This was the direct result of specific policies put in place by Speaker Beth Harwell.” He went on to say that Harwell’s decision to accelerate the pace of legislative sessions, place a cap on the number of bills lawmakers can introduce, and ignore concerns about the state’s fiscal review process all have led to the current situation. The state is facing the loss of federal funding after increasing the blood alcohol level allowed for 18- to 20-year-olds found driving drunk.

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Feds Open Investigation of Rep. Durham

Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into campaign expenditures by Franklin Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham, the lawmaker’s lawyer confirmed to the Tennessean today. The U.S. attorney’s office reportedly has issued two subpoenas for records related to campaign finance issues and a possible tax violation. Durham’s lawyer Peter Strianse said his client was complying with those orders. The move comes in addition to an investigation by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which is looking at alleged discrepancies in Durham’s campaign records.

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New Family Law CLE Videos Online

If you missed the TBA Family Law Section's annual family law forum, the sessions are now available online. Speakers focused on legislative updates, criminal implications in divorce and using digital evidence to win your case.

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Haslam: Special Session May be Needed to Save Federal Funding

Gov. Bill Haslam says he does not want to call a special session of the legislature to fix the state’s drunk driving laws, but the possibility of losing $60 million might just force him to do so, WPLN reports. Haslam’s comments come in response to warnings from transportation officials that the state will lose $60 million in highway funds if it does not lower the blood alcohol limit for 18 to 20 year olds to 0.02. Lawmakers had increased the limit to 0.08 earlier this year but imposed tougher penalties, including jail time, for violations. They say they did not know the change would be a problem. Haslam hopes to convince federal authorities to hold off until lawmakers reconvene in January, but supports a special session if that is what is needed to retain the funding.

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Leadership Middle Tennessee Names New Class

Leadership Middle Tennessee has announced the members of its 2017 class. Among the group are Jay Ingrum, an attorney with Phillips & Ingrum Attorneys at Law in Gallatin, and Brenda Gadd, public policy coordinator at the TBA. The 10-month program, now operated through Cumberland University, features business, community and nonprofit leaders from 10 counties in the Nashville area. See the full list of class members in the Nashville Business Journal.

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Services This Week for Former Rep. George Fraley

Former state representative George Fraley died yesterday (Aug. 23) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, two days after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 85. Fraley served as a county commissioner and county executive in Franklin County before joining the Tennessee House of Representatives, where he served until 2010. Visitation will be Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Moore-Cortner Funeral Home, 300 1st Ave. NW, Winchester. Funeral services will take place Saturday at 2 p.m. at Winchester Church of Christ, 623 Colby Rd. The Winchester Herald Chronicle has more.

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Date Set for Todd Sign Theft Trial

An Oct. 11 trial date has been set in the case of state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who was charged earlier this month with stealing opponent Mark Lovell’s yard signs, the Commercial Appeal reports. Todd acknowledges taking the signs, but contends the landowner gave him exclusive rights to place signs at the property. According to police, the property owner says he never gave anyone access to the land. Regardless of how the legal case unfolds, Todd will not be returning to the House. He lost his primary election to Lovell earlier this month.

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Armstrong’s Lawyer: Verdict is Legally Inconsistent

Former state Rep. Joe Armstrong’s lawyer is arguing in a new motion that if his client was not found guilty of trying to evade taxes, then he cannot be found guilty of filing a false tax return, Knoxnews reports. The motion also argues that prosecutors were required to present evidence distinguishing the crime of tax evasion from that of filing a false tax return, which they did not do. Lawyers are asking the court to judicially acquit Armstrong of the felony charge or grant a new trial. Armstrong, a Knoxville Democrat who served 14 terms in the state legislature, was on trial earlier this month in connection with the handling of income taxes on a $321,000 windfall from a cigarette tax stamp deal he made with a Knoxville tobacco wholesaler in 2007.

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State Democrats Disband Shelby County Party

The Shelby County Democratic Party was forcibly disbanded Friday after years of bitter in-fighting that recently centered on former chairman Bryan Carson, the Commercial Appeal reports. Tennessee Democratic Party chairwoman Mary Mancini said she notified the county organization in a letter that she had chosen to “de-certify” it, effectively disbanding it. Among the reasons, Mancini said the group “was not supporting, engaging and encouraging all those good and active Democrats” in the area. However, she offered her assistance to Shelby County Democrats interested in rebuilding the organization.

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Knox Dems Select Staples to Replace Armstrong

Rick Staples has been chosen to replace state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, in the race for the 15th District House seat, Knoxnews reports. Armstrong had been nominated for re-election but was disqualified to run after a federal conviction for filing a false tax return. Party leaders met Thursday and held a public vote to replace him.

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Political Parties Choose Presidential Electors

The Tennessee Democratic and Republican parties have selected their representatives for the national Electoral College. Electors for the party that carries Tennessee’s presidential vote will cast the state’s ballots. Both parties choose 11 electors, one for each congressional district and the two U.S. Senate seats. The meeting of presidential electors will take place Dec. 19 in the House Chamber of the Tennessee Capitol. Humphrey on the Hill has the lists of Democractic members and Republican members.

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Rep. Daniel Booked on Assault Charge

State Rep. Martin Daniel was formally booked today on a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from an incident last month in which he allegedly shoved his Republican primary opponent Steve Hall during an on-air radio forum. Daniel went on to win the primary and faces Democrat Brandi Price in the general election. According to Knoxnews, Daniel says he offered Hall a “heartfelt and sincere” apology and was surprised by the assault charge.

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