News

Pennsylvania High Court Says Governor Can Delay Executions

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the governor's constitutional authority to postpone executions in the state, The Associated Press reports. Gov. Tom Wolf issued the moratorium after taking office last January, saying the death penalty system was "riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive and anything but infallible." Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams challenged Wolf’s decision. "We extend our condolences to the victims of these horrendous crimes, who will not soon see the justice that was imposed by the jury and upheld by the courts," Williams said.

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Court Adopts Updates to Rule Governing Licensing of Attorneys

Out-of-state lawyers received an early Christmas present from the Tennessee Supreme Court when the Court today adopted new rules allowing practice pending admission for lawyers who are seeking Tennessee admission and are licensed in other jurisdictions. The new provisions, part of an over-all rewrite of the admissions rules in Tennessee, were largely backed by the TBA and Tennessee Board of Law Examiners.

The spouses of active-duty service members stationed in Tennessee also have a new pathway to a temporary license while their spouses are based in Tennessee. The two-year temporary military spouse license is subject to revocation if the military spouse relocates.

The rule change on practice pending admission is by far the most sweeping of the changes and could effect hundreds of lawyers who are licensed in other jurisdictions and have practiced for at least five years and seek a “comity” admission. Interpretations of a 2011 change in the rule had severely restricted practice pending admission. Such admissions will still require that the lawyer “associate” with a lawyer admitted in Tennessee during the one-year permission to provide legal services.  

The revised rule also:
• Clarifies various ways in which legal services can be provided including by fully licensed lawyers, by lawyers granted permission to engage in special or limited practice and through temporary practice.
• Permits for the first time the TBLE to permit lawyers with degrees from schools not accredited with the ABA in other U.S. jurisdictions and who have five years in practice to sit for the bar exam.
• Establishes a single deadline for future applications to sit for the exam of May 20 and Dec. 20.
• Eliminates negotiable instruments and bulk transfers from required exam topics.
• Establishes a new amnesty period for in-house counsel registration through July 1, 2016.
• Requires that applicants who attended law schools in foreign countries obtain an onsite LLM taught in English at an ABA accredited or Tennessee approved law school.

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Rep. Parkinson, SCS Fight State's Education Takeover

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said Achievement School District, Tennessee's school turnaround model, is “the new slave trade” and plans to introduce legislation on the issue in the upcoming session. The Commercial Appeal reports the Shelby County Schools board voted Tuesday to call for a moratorium on new ASD takeovers following a Vanderbilt study that revealed ASD’s impact has been minimal. "A local district does not have the authority to issue a moratorium but can certainly work to improve their schools to avoid ASD eligibility,” a statement from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s office said.

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Obama Grants 95 Christmastime Pardons and Commutations

President Obama shortened the sentences of 95 federal prisoners Friday, USA Today reports. The majority of the shorter sentences dealt with drug offenders given long mandatory minimum sentences, but also included 15 gun crimes. Obama issued complete pardons to two people involved in counterfeiting and bank fraud.

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Obama Signs into Law Government Funding Bill

President Barack Obama today signed a $1.8 trillion funding package that funds federal agencies through next fall, Reuters reports. According to the American Bar Association, the package includes $385 million for the Legal Services Corporation and $2 million for the John R. Justice Prosecutor and Defender loan repayment programs. As previously reported, the package also includes funding for a new federal courthouse in Nashville

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Tepro to Pay $600k to Settle EEOC Suit

Tepro Inc., a Tennessee manufacturer of rubber products for the automotive industry, was ordered Thursday to pay $600,000 and provide other relief to settle a class age discrimination lawsuit. The suit, filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, claims Tepro discriminated against a class of employees when it subjected employees to layoffs because of their age. “This resolution demonstrates EEOC’s continuing effort to ensure that older workers are protected in the workplace,” Faye A. Williams, regional attorney for EEOC’s Memphis District Office, said. Read more from The Chattanoogan

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House GOP Calls for Caucus to Discuss Durham

The Tennessean reports House Republicans are calling for a caucus to discuss Rep. Jeremy Durham’s future as majority whip. "We have had members reach out and say they are gathering the signatures to have that meeting. They have assured me they are working on that and that we should have that in my office today,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said no complaints have been filed against Durham, R-Franklin.

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Feds Urge High Court to Reject Colorado Marijuana Suit

The Obama administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to refuse to hear a challenge to Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, USA Today reports. Nebraska and Colorado claim Colorado’s marijuana system has created “modern-day bootleggers” who are selling marijuana illegally across state lines. “Entertaining the type of dispute at issue here — essentially that one state’s laws make it more likely that third parties will violate federal and state law in another state — would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of this court’s original jurisdiction,” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said.

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Department of Labor Files Suit Against Convergys

The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Convergys Customer Management Group Inc., which employs more than 900 people in Chattanooga. Department of Labor officials are seeking information about the company's affirmative action plan at facilities in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. “Convergys knew when it became a federal contractor that it would be held to equal employment standards," Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Patricia A. Shiu said. Read more from Nooga

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Tennessee Agency Using Federal Money for Anti-DUI Campaign

The Governor’s Highway Safety Office will use $9 million in federal funds over five years to pay for a new media campaign, The Tennessean reports. The announcement comes after the department’s previous anti-DUI campaign was criticized as being sexist. “We’ve strengthened our internal review process and are happy with it now and will move forward,” Amanda Brown, a spokeswoman for the Governor's Highway Safety Office, said.

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TBA Joins Rep. Cooper in Praising Leadership in Nashville Courthouse Funding

U.S. Rep Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., praised Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and former Rep. Bob Clement for their leadership in acquiring funds for the new federal courthouse in Nashville. The Nashville Post reports Congress included the funding for the $182 million project in its appropriations bill. "For safety reasons, Nashville has to have a new courthouse, and we've needed one for more than 20 years. This is a huge win for our city,” Cooper said.

TBA President Bill Harbison and Executive Director Allan Ramsaur together today released the following comment: “We join Rep. Cooper who has been generous with his praise for Senator Alexander and Rep. Fleishman for their leadership in making this project a reality. Jim also deserves a great deal of appreciation for helping to assure the safety and security of those who will use then new courthouse.”

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Judge Binkley Defends Rep. Durham on Facebook

Circuit Court Judge Michael W. Binkley is defending a request by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, in which he asked for leniency for a former pastor convicted of child porn possession, The Tennessean reports. Binkley said in a Facebook post that the decision showed “moral courage” and “guts.” The post has since been deleted.

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Hawkins County Commissioner Seeks House Seat

A Hawkins County Commission meeting on Dec. 21 will decide who will complete the final year of Rep. Mike Harrison's term. Harrison, R-Rogersville, announced his resignation in October. Hawkins County Commissioner Gary Hicks resigned from the commission earlier this month in anticipation of being appointed to succeed Harrison. Hicks has served as Budget Committee chair for the past six years. A new chair will be appointed to his position in February 2016. Read more from the Kingsport Times-News.

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Ramsey Offers Presidential Predictions

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey predicts Ted Cruz will win the the Republican nomination for presidency, Nashville Scene reports. While he admits that the race will likely come down to two candidates, Cruz and Donald Trump, Ramsey says he is unsure if the primary season will produce a clear winner. “I could see a case where nobody gets a majority and it goes to a brokered convention for the first time in years. I think that’s a real possibility. It’ll be interesting. I suppose I’ll be there.” 

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Legislation Would Increase Time for Especially Aggravated Burglary

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, introduced on Monday legislation to increase the amount of time served for those convicted of especially aggravated burglary. Those convicted of the crime would be ineligible for parole to ensure no less than 85 percent of the sentence is served. “This is when someone breaks into your home and beats you," Kelsey said. "The idea that these violent offenders could be eligible for release after a few years for a crime that will affect his or her victims for the rest of their lives is astounding." Read more from The Chattanoogan.

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Sen. Corker Earned Millions More than Previously Disclosed

The Tennessean reports Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn, earned millions more from investments than he previously disclosed. Corker’s office outlined “technical errors” in a letter sent Friday to the secretary of the Senate. The amended financial disclosures include new sources of income and higher minimum amounts for the potential value of the senator’s income and transactions. “I am extremely disappointed in the filing errors that were made in earlier financial disclosure reports, and after completing a full, third-party review, we have corrected this oversight,” Corker said in a statement.

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State Rep. Requested Leniency in Child Porn Case

House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, asked a federal judge for a lenient sentence for a former youth pastor convicted of possessing child porn. The Associated Press reports that Joseph Todd Neill, who previously worked at North Fork Baptist Church in Shelbyville, was sentenced to more than three years in prison. A grand jury last week declined to indict Durham on prescription fraud charges.

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Sen. Kelsey Questions Legality of Metro's Gun Show Ban

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is questioning the constitutionality of a recent decision by the Nashville Metropolitan Fair Commissioners Board to ban gun shows from publicly owned fairgrounds. Kelsey, who said the ban also violates Tennessee and Metro laws, requested an opinion on Thursday from Attorney General Herbert Slatery. Read more from The Collierville Independent

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Grand Jury Declines to Investigate Rep. Durham

A Williamson County grand jury declined to pursue an investigation of state House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, on prescription fraud charges, The Tennessean reports. A drug task force recommended last year indicting Durham after a 2013 incident in which agents alleged Durham tried to fill an outdated prescription. “This situation is from two and a half years ago and was fully vetted by 12 Williamson County citizens who quickly agreed that nothing illegal occurred,” Durham said Wednesday in a statement.

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New Tennessee Laws Set to Go Into Effect in 2016

On Jan. 1, 2016, a new batch of laws will take effect. Here is a list of all of the Public Chapters in Tennessee that take effect starting in the New Year.

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New Public Chapters Take Effect Jan. 1, 2016

Here's the list of new Public Chapters in Tennessee that will become effective on Jan. 1, 2016. 

Chapter 48, (SB0847): Taxes, Exemption and Credits - As enacted, for purposes of receiving a sales tax exemption, increases, from 15 days to 30 days, the period of time within which a helicopter, airplane, or related equipment purchased by a nonresident must be removed outside of Tennessee. - Amends TCA Section 67-6-313.

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McDonough Confirmed by Senate as U.S. District Judge

Travis Randall McDonough was confirmed 89-0 today by the U.S. Senate as U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee. McDonough was nominated to fill the vacancy created by Judge Curtis Collier, who took senior status on Oct. 31, 2014. He previously served as counselor and chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. Two other Tennessee District Court nominees – Edward Stanton III and Waverly Crenshaw Jr. – have won Judiciary Committee approval for the West and Middle Districts, respectively, but are still awaiting a Senate vote.

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Bill Would Require Candidates to Share Credit Scores

Two House Republicans are asking Tennessee candidates to demonstrate their budgeting abilites through a new piece of legislation that would require all candidates to publicly release their credit scores. The "Voter Accountability and Transparency Act," sponsored by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, would change state law to require financial statements filed by candidates to include credit scores. "Before an election, candidates constantly say how they are going to balance the budget and make sure government lives within its means," Sexton said. "How do voters verify whether the candidate means what they say? The only accurate answer is to know the person’s credit score." Read more from The Tennesean.

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State's 'Fetal Assault Law' to Expire in 2016

Tennessee’s “fetal assault law”, which charges pregnant mothers with assault for babies exposed to drugs, is set to expire next year. WCYB reports Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus is working to keep the law. "It is the incentive (mothers) need that otherwise they would not have gotten into a program, except for the fact if you don't get into a program, you could be charged,” he said. State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he expects lawmakers to renew the law.

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Ruling Could Alter the Division of Electoral Districts

Two voters in Texas are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to alter the way Texas and every other state divides electoral districts. The plaintiffs argue states should count only people who are eligible to vote and not include non-citizens and children in the population. The Associate Press reports that a ruling in their favor would shift more power to rural areas and away from urban areas where there is a higher population of immigrants and children. "The plaintiffs in Texas are interested in stemming the growth of Latino political power," argued Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund.

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