News

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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Trespassing Charges Dropped in Case Against Reporter

Lawyers for Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, Nashville Scene reporter Cari Wade Gervin and the local district attorney’s office agreed yesterday to dismiss a trespassing charge Durham had brought against the reporter in May, the Tennessean reports. The parties declined to discuss details of the incident or how the case was resolved. Durham reportedly sat in the lobby of the courthouse with his wife and also declined to comment. The case stems from an incident at Durham's house where Gervin went for a comment on a story. 

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Durham Investigation Hints at Possible Financial Violations

A $191,000 discrepancy exists between bank records and financial disclosures for Rep. Jeremy Durham’s main campaign finance account, according to the Registry of Election Finance. But the state agency says it cannot make a firm determination about the accuracy of the records due to “investments, failure to report contributions and other transactions.” The agency, which was asked to review Durham’s finances based on allegations the lawmaker used campaign funds for his private business, said it will continue to gather facts. The Tennessean has more.

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Armstrong’s Wife Being Considered for Seat

LeTonia Armstrong, wife of state Rep. Joe Armstrong, is one of the top candidates being considered to replace the Democratic lawmaker following his conviction for filing a false tax return, according to Knoxnews. The other two are Knoxville councilman and former city mayor Daniel Brown and Rick Staples, a community advocate who has run several recent unsuccessful bids for local office. The Knox County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee will meet Thursday to choose a successor.

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Former Governor Honored by College of Dentistry

Former Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn, a dentist who served as Tennessee’s governor from 1971-1975, has been honored with a bronze bust in the lobby of the Dunn Dental Building on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Dunn, 89, graduated from the college in 1955 and served as honorary chairman of a capital campaign that once raised $19 million for the college, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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Task Force to Consider Juvenile Justice Department

Legislation approved in 2016 sets up a task force to study the feasibility of creating a Tennessee Department of Juvenile Justice, the Columbia Daily Herald reports. The task force will include legislators and members of the public who have experience or interest in children’s issues, as well as ex-officio members from different state departments. The law also calls on existing children’s services agencies to report on probation programs, recidivism rates, custodial data and system-wide information to guide the task force’s work.

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Shelby Party Leaders Say Former Chair ‘Not Fit’ to Run as Democrat

The Shelby County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee voted Thursday night to declare former chair Bryan Carson “not fit” to run for public office as a Democrat, the Commercial Appeal reports. The panel took the action based on accusations that Carson embezzled “at least $25,000” during his tenure as chair. Carson denies the allegations and says he will appeal the vote to the Tennessee Democratic Party.

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Court Square Series Coming in September

The TBA’s annual Court Square CLE Series is coming to a town near you! Throughout the month of September, programs will be offered in Columbia, Kingsport, Clarksville, Cookeville, Chattanooga, Dyersburg and Jackson. Each program will run three hours and provide attorneys with the latest developments in multiple areas of the law.

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Indigent Task Force Holds Final Hearing

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force held its final listening session today in Franklin, hearing from more than a dozen members of the private bar and parents of children in the child welfare system. The task force will meet in September to consider all comments and recommendations submitted during the tour and discuss the timing of presenting its own findings.

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