News

We're #1: Magazine Says Tenn. Legislature Worst of the Worst

Mother Jones magazine, the left of left publication best known for unearthing the videotape of Mitt Romney making the controversial “47 percent” remarks, has ranked Tennessee No. 1 -- for having the nation’s worst legislature, the Tennessean political blog reports. The magazine condemned lawmakers for encouraging abstinence-only sex education, among other laws.

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Opinion: Tort Law Likely to Get Day in Court Soon

Knoxville lawyer Deborah Stevens, president and managing shareholder of Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, writes in Knoxnews.com that the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 is likely headed for a courtroom soon as challenges to the law are winding their way through the system. She points to one specific case pending in the Middle District of Tennessee, which could expedite review of the law. In addition to asserting that the law is unconstitutional, the case asks the federal judge to “certify” the question to the Tennessee Supreme Court. If the judge were to do so, the case would be "fast-tracked" to the court.

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Rep. Hawk in Court for Arraignment

Tennessee Rep. David Hawk was in Greene County Criminal Court Friday to waive his arraignment. He was indicted by a grand jury last week and faces a felony reckless endangerment charge after an incident in March involving his estranged wife. "This has been a nightmare," Hawk said. "I strongly maintain my innocence in this situation." Judge John Duggar removed himself from the case because he knows Hawk and works with his wife. Hawk will be back in court on May 30, by which time the state Supreme Court will have decided which judge will hear the case. WCYB.com has the story

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Support Growing to End Campaign Donation Limits

Tom Humphrey writes in Knoxnews.com that legislators are moving toward repeal of campaign contribution limits while requiring more rapid and complete disclosure. House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said the concept is at the core of a "comprehensive" revision of state campaign finance law he and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron hope to introduce when the General Assembly reconvenes. On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle recently said the time has come to "re-think" past support of contribution limits because they are no longer effective. Even Common Cause of Tennessee, which has been a staunch advocate of contribution limits, has "almost come to the conclusion" that ending limits but providing fuller disclosure “would be appropriate.”

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Collateral Source Rule Examined in New TBJ

In the December Tennessee Bar Journal, Nashville lawyer Bill Walton writes why he believes the Collateral Source Rule should probably be reexamined. President Jackie Dixon talks with some former lawyer-legislators and studies the sacrifice a person makes to run for office, but also the need for more lawyers to serve. There is a lot more in this issue, including civil jury trials, banking and estate planning. Read it online or look in the stack of your weekend mail for the printed copy.

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6th Circuit Remands Third-Party Access Case

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered a lower court to reconsider whether Tennessee’s requirements for third parties to get on the ballot are still unconstitutionally restrictive in light of legislative changes made while the ruling was on appeal. The Memphis Daily News reports that earlier this year, a federal district court struck down state rules requiring third-party candidates to collect about 40,000 signatures and turn them in seven months before the election to qualify to run and then to be selected through a primary. After that ruling, the General Assembly changed the law to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot.

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Kyle Retains Leadership Post in Close Vote

Senate Democrats today narrowly agreed to renew Sen. Jim Kyle as head of its caucus, giving him a narrow victory over Memphis colleague Sen. Reginald Tate, the City Paper reports.

House GOP Elects Leaders

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell tentatively won a second two-year term as speaker, while Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga was unanimously re-elected as majority leader of the Republican Caucus yesterday. Other leaders elected include Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Brooks of Cleveland and Floor Leader Vance Dennis of Savannah. Though most members of the leadership did not face opposition, Tullahoma's Judd Matheny was defeated in his re-election bid for speaker pro tempore – the House's number two post – by Rep. Curtis Johnson of Clarksville. The full House will vote on several of the appointments in January. See a list of all leaders elected on Chattanoogan.com.

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Harwell Wins Second Term as Speaker

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell tentatively won a second two-year term as speaker today, but her Republican colleagues dumped Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny, who championed anti-Islam legislation in the House, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Voter ID Problems Few, But Critics Continue Fight

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins says the voter hotline received hundreds of calls on election day, but that only two were related to photo IDs. There are skeptics, however, who believe that the state's 2011 law requiring a photo ID to vote discouraged some people from voting. Nashville attorney Doug Johnston, whose firm is challenging the law in Tennessee's Supreme Court, says even a few is too many. In Hamilton County, 13 voters had to cast provisional ballots because they lacked photo ID, according to the county election commission. The Times Free Press reports

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Burke Takes Step Toward Mayoral Race

State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, moved a step closer to running for mayor today, picking up official papers to qualify for the Chattanooga mayoral election, the Times Free Press reports. Berke had previously announced his intention to give up his senate seat and run for mayor. He’s since raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the campaign.

Montana Voters: Citizens United Ruling Was Wrong

Montana residents used their votes to protest a U.S. Supreme Court decision that had overturned that state’s 1912 campaign finance law, the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog reports. Voters in Montana gave 75 percent of their vote to support an initiative disputing the high court’s constitutional analysis and directing the state’s congressional delegation to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the court’s 2010 Citizens United campaign finance ruling.

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Tennessee Faces Deadline on Health Exchanges

State officials appear divided on whether to create a Tennessee health insurance exchange program or leave the job to the federal government. With a deadline for the decision approaching next week, Gov. Bill Haslam tells WPLN News that he’d rather the state run its own program, but GOP leaders in the legislature may have other ideas.

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Election Puts Fewer Lawyers In Senate, More In House

When the Tennessee General Assembly convenes in January, the State Senate will have eight lawyers, five fewer than the last session. The only lawyer winning in a seriously contested general election race was John Stevens (R - Huntingdon) who will take over the District 24 seat vacated by lawyer Roy Herron (D - Dresden). The 33-member body numbered 13 lawyers among its membership when the session opened in 2010. Following the early-session resignation of Jamie Woodson (R - Knoxville) and the retirement of Andy Berke (D - Chattanooga), Mike Faulk (R - Church Hill) and Joe Haynes (D - Goodlettsville), only two incumbent lawyers faced election during this cycle. Jim Kyle (D - Memphis) was unopposed in the general election, and Tim Barnes (D - Clarksville) was defeated by physician Mark Green (R - Clarksville). Nashville lawyer Phillip North made a bid for Haynes' substantially-redrawn seat, but was defeated by physician Steve Dickerson (R - Nashville).

In the State House, wins by Andrew Farmer (R - Sevierville) , Mike Carter (R - Chattanooga), William Lamberth (R - Portland) and Jeremy Durham (R - Franklin) mean that the House will have a net gain of three lawyers. Along with Vance Dennis, lawyers in the Republican Caucus will increase from two to five. Three Democrats, Craig Fitzhugh (D - Ripley), Mike Stewart (D - Nashville) and John Mark Windle (D - Livingston), round out the eight lawyers who will service in the House this session. Get full election results from the Tennessee Secretary of State.

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Voters Affirm Merit Selection in High-Dollar Contests

Voters across the country rejected changes to judicial merit selection plans and gave their support to sitting justices who faced expensive ouster attempts. Ballot measures in Florida, New Hampshire, Missouri and Arizona that would have changed judicial selection procedures all went down in defeat, the Wall Street Journal reports in its Law Blog. And in Florida and Iowa, where well financed campaigns were launched to defeat sitting justices in retention elections, all survived, the Pew Center reports on its Stateline website.  In both states, lawyers and legal groups were actively involved in the campaigns.

Two other states had closely watched judicial elections. In Michigan, the GOP held on to control of the state’s Supreme Court, with Republican candidates holding on to two contested seats in partisan elections, Michigan Live reports. And in Alabama, the state’s former chief justice – Roy Moore – was returned to office, Alabama.com reports. He had been ousted from the position in 2003 after refusing to remove a monument of the 10 commandments from the state judicial building in Montgomery. You can find additional judicial election results from the National Center for State Courts.

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Judge Releases Most of DesJarlais Divorce Records

Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Bolton has ruled that most of the records from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ messy divorce could be made public, The Tennessean reports, but the release of a potentially embarrassing transcript will be delayed until Election Day or later. DesJarlais has been fighting allegations that he slept with at least two patients before his 2001 divorce was finalized.

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Lawyer Defends Privacy for PAC Donations

Knoxville lawyer William S. Rose has been facing heavy media scrutiny after campaign finance reports filed last month show that the super political action committee FreedomWorks for America received seven donations totaling $5.28 million from Knoxville-based Specialty Group Inc. Rose is CEO, president and general counsel of Specialty Group, and in an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel he defends his right to not disclose private information regarding his political activity.

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Editorial: Create Library Cards to Meet ID Requirements Statewide

Now that the state Supreme Court has ordered state and local election officials to accept Memphis' library photo identification cards for voting purposes, the Commercial Appeal says in an editorial that it's a good time to update that part of the system. The paper calls on the General Assembly "to work with local mayors across the state to create library cards that meet the identification requirements in the state law."

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Supreme Court OKs Library Cards for Voter ID

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that photo ID cards issued by the Memphis public library qualify as a valid and acceptable form of identification required to vote, the Tennessean reports. State election officials announced that only residents of Shelby County will be allowed to use library-issued IDs in next week’s Presidential election, after which the court will take up the question of whether the state’s new voter ID law is constitutional.

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Vandy Law Grad First African American to Lead Arkansas House

Vanderbilt Law grad Darrin Williams will make history in January when he becomes the first African American speaker of the Arkansas General Assembly. He will also be the first black person to hold a statewide elected office in Arkansas since the early 1870s. Vanderbilt Law School has more about the accomplishments of this 1993 graduate.

Candidates Reportedly Pre-Positioning Lawyers

With one week to go in the presidential campaign, Inside Counsel Magazine is reporting that President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney are lining up several high-powered lawyers to handle any post-election disputes. Obama has reached out to his former White House Counsel Robert Bauer, a former partner at Perkins Coie. Romney has tapped Benjamin Ginsberg, a partner at Patton Boggs, who served as chief legal counsel for George W. Bush's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. According to the article, the two lawyers already have been “quiet players” in the respective campaigns. Among other tasks, they negotiated deals for all four of the election debates. Read more

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Democratic Party Chair to Step Down

After four years of controversial leadership, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester will not seek re-election to the party's top post, he told The Tennessean today. The move opens the door to new leadership for the party, which has suffered deep losses in both the statehouse and among the state's congressional delegation in recent years. Democrats will elect a new party chair in January. Forrester said he believes the chair should serve a four-year term, not two years, and is proposing a bylaws change to that effect.

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Voter ID Laws to Remain Intact for Now

Attorneys representing two Memphis residents whose votes were not counted because they lacked proper photo identification, on Thursday asked a three-judge Appeals Court panel to throw out the state’s voter ID law, claiming it is unconstitutional. A decision is expected in the coming weeks, but meanwhile, early voting is underway with the ID requirement still in place, the Tennessean reports.

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Early Voting Opens; Lawyers in Contested Races

Early voting begins across the state today and continues through Nov. 1. All counties in the state are required to maintain an early voting location at least three consecutive hours each weekday and Saturday during this time. As you consider your choices, remember that there are a number of Tennessee lawyers running for seats in the state House and Senate.

Ethics Complaint Filed Against DesJarlais

The D.C. based organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, alleging that he engaged in a sexual relationship with a female patient he was treating for a medical condition. The group filed the complaint after a news story suggested that DesJarlais pressured a patient with whom he was involved to seek an abortion. According to the Nashville City Paper, the congressman says he knew the woman was not pregnant and was using "strong language" in hopes she would admit the truth.

In related news, the Chattanooga Times Free Press is reporting that the Tennessee Conservative Union (TCU) is debating whether to ask DesJarlais to resign his seat. It also indicates that TCU Chairman Lloyd Daugherty is talking with other Republican-leaning groups to see if a coalition can be built to demand the doctor’s resignation from Congress.

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