News

Conservatorship Bill Passes House, Goes to Governor

The state House voted unanimously Monday for a bill designed to protect citizens targeted to have their lives placed under the control of conservators. In brief discussion before the 95-0 vote, Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, said the bill would require those petitioning to place someone in a conservatorship to disclose their relationship to the target of the petition and to disclose whether they had a criminal record. The bill already has passed the Senate and is expected to go to the governor later this week. Read more in the Tennessean

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Amendment Moving Forward Would End Merit Selection

In this final week of the 107th General Assembly, the legislature appears poised to pass a resolution to amend the state constitution to introduce a modified federal style of appointments to fill appellate and Supreme Court vacancies. SJR 710, by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, eliminates current language in the Constitution that contemplates elections, and replaces it with a process by which the governor will appoint a judge, subject to the confirmation by both houses of the General Assembly. Once in office, the judge would stand for a retention election. This change would end the current merit selection/retention election process in Tennessee

The resolution passed in the Senate on Monday and is set for consideration tomorrow in the House. If passed, the resolution would be before the 108th General Assembly, where it would require a two-thirds vote, in order to go on the ballot for public consideration in November 2014.

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Eligible to Run? Candidate's Property Straddles District Line

A woman who has filed to run to run as a Democrat for the new 89th District state House seat lives in a house that seems to be in Anderson County, although her driveway and mailbox are in Knox. The 89th District lies entirely in Knox County. On Monday, Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret asked Chancellor John Weaver for a declaratory judgment. State Election Coordinator Mark Goins has said it appears to him that Shelley Breeding is an Anderson County resident, but that the election commission should seek a court ruling. Breeding is registered to vote in Knox County, her vehicle has Knox County tags, and she was recently summoned for jury duty in Knox County. The News Sentinel has more

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Legislative Session May End This Week

Tennessee lawmakers say they hope to wrap up the 107th General Assembly this week, although there are about "60 to 70" unresolved issues. Among those are the budget, proposals on how to select Supreme Court justices and an effort to ban teaching about gay issues in schools. The News Sentinel has more

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Press Reports 'Robocalls' on Judicial Selection

The Tennessee Journal and other sources this afternoon reported that supporters of a constitutional amendment to end merit selection and institute legislative confirmation for Tennessee judges (SJR 710) are using an "artificial turf" campaign technique to try to generate the appearance of popular support for their viewpoint. The technique involves calls to voters who, if they agree with the position of the group making the calls, are then connected with their senator or representative's office to express their views. The campaign technique is referred to as artificial turf or Astroturf because it can give the appearance of real grassroots support.

TBA president Danny Van Horn said that personal calls from trusted Tennessee lawyers to lawmakers would go a long way to blunt the effect of these artificially generated calls. The latest scientific survey conducted by the TBA shows that 83 percent of Tennessee lawyers back the Tennessee Plan.

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TRA Reform Bill Moves Ahead

Despite a plea from the Republican chair of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and criticism from Democratic legislators, a Senate committee Thursday approved Gov. Bill Haslam's plans for transforming the agency. "Maybe it'll work. Maybe not," TRA Chair Kenneth Hill told the committee. "Why go there and inflict damage to the utilities of Tennessee and to the people of Tennessee … then have to come back and fix it?" he asked. Read more from Knoxnews.com

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Judicial Selection Deferred to Next Week

Legislative action this week on judicial selection issues ended in almost as big a muddle as it began.

Today, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, deferred action to Monday night on his constitutional amendment, SJR 710, which would remove merit panels from the process and replace it with Washington-style confirmation when selecting and retaining judges in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the House seems set to pass only the House counterpart to the Kelsey plan and not move forward with the two resolution strategy that seemed to be emerging at the end of last week. The House counterpart to Sen. Mark Norris’s resolution (SJR 183), which was successful in the Senate on Monday night, will not see consideration in the House Finance Committee until Tuesday at the earliest.

Lost in all of the mêlée is any consideration of how the next election for all judges -- which the constitution requires to be held in August 2014 -- will be conducted. The TBA and allies in the business, civic and legal communities remain committed to stability and consistency, which the current process offers while the debate on the need for and the best outline of future changes takes place.

Contact with lawmakers -- and as importantly, feedback with the TBA on that contact -- are important ways each lawyer can contribute to the future of a fair and impartial court system.

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Bill Directs AOC to Study Special Vet Courts

Tennessee veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems stemming from military service could soon have their own special courts should they find themselves facing prosecution in the state’s criminal justice system. The state House unanimously passed a bill today, HB 3394/SB 3222, which directs the Administrative Office of the Courts to study whether it is feasible for the state to establish specialized courts for veterans. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on April 12. TN Report has more

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DUI Proposal Headed to Governor

A proposal that may increase the penalty for drunken driving when a child under 18 is a passenger in the vehicle is headed to the governor. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, was unanimously approved in the state House on Tuesday. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last month. Under current law, a person arrested for DUI with a minor in the vehicle is sentenced to a mandatory minimum incarceration of 30 days and a fine of $1,000. The new proposal requires the incarceration be served consecutively with any sentence for DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide. The Memphis Daily News has more

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Conservatorships Under Scrutiny

Concern over possible abuses in the conservatorship process is prompting some elderly advocates to call for reforms and model laws across the country that grant more rights to the individual and offer more protection. The Tennessean reports on one recent case where an 82-year-old Nashville woman lost all of her possessions in a conservatorship case. State Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, has filed a bill that would provide additional protection to people facing conservatorship, the newspaper reports. “We’ve got to make sure that people aren’t put into conservatorship without due process,” Odom says. His bill would set new notice requirements before a conservatorship could be imposed. It also would require additional medical proof, including sworn statements from three physicians, that an emergency conservatorship was justified.

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Judicial Selection Hits 'Stalemate'

Legislators have reached what Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris calls "the stalemate place" on how Tennessee's top judges should be selected and are now racing to delay a decision until next year. After a convoluted series of events, the Senate has before it two proposals for amending the state constitution. The two competing proposals are SJR183 by Norris, R-Collierville, and SJR710 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville. Norris's bill, as amended, would repeal the current constitutional provision declaring that top judges "shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state" and declare instead that the legislature is "authorized to establish, by law, a system of merit-based appointments with retention elections for the judges of the Supreme Court and for the judges of the intermediate appellate courts." Kelsey's measure would adopt a system similar to that used by the federal government. The governor would appoint the judges, subject to confirmation by the legislature. The News Sentinel has the story

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Editorial: Good Candidates Hard to Find, No Matter Who Picks Them

In an editorial, the Times Free Press discusses the differing views about how judges in our state should be selected. "In addition to character, judges should be chosen on the basis of their knowledge of the law, which is something that voters may have a hard time judging," the paper says. "Good candidates are understandably difficult to find -- and hard to choose between -- regardless of who picks them." Read the editorial

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Senate Takes 'Test Vote' on Judicial Selection

The state Senate took a test vote on Thursday to see who likes what method of appointing judges, WPLN reports. A proposal much like the current system got one vote more than a measure that would put a federal-type, appoint-and-confirm system in place. To be eligible to go on the next referendum ballot (November 2014) bills must pass both houses by a simple majority this year, then pass in the next General Assembly by a two-thirds vote. Although the resolutions have been “read” in the Senate, almost a ceremonial step, no votes on the measures themselves have been taken. The earliest that could happen is Monday.

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Judiciary Committees Wrap Up Work for Year

In what was expected to be the last meetings of the year for the House and Senate Judiciary committees, legislators dealt with several issues of interest to lawyers. The marathon sessions this week lasted more than a combined total of 22 hours. Among the items addressed were:

• Legislation to codify an end to joint and several liability (SB 2141, HB2810) and further limit punitive damages in vicarious liability cases (SB 2637, HB 3125) were both “taken off notice” -- signifying the sponsors’ intention not to pursue passage this year.

• Legislation to codify a duty of care to trespassers (SB 2719, HB 2983) was recommended for passage.

• A bill to require payment of up to $5,000 in costs to a prevailing party in certain limited cases in which a motion to dismiss is granted (SB 2638, HB 3124) will move forward for consideration.

• Legislation to change the rate of interest on judgments (SB 2705, HB 2982) was recommended in both houses but faces an uncertain future because of differences between the two versions.

• The TBA-backed bill to revise various provisions of probate law (SB 2948, HB 3237) received a favorable recommendation.

• A bill that would have significantly impacted conservatorship proceedings (SB 2519, HB 2648) was recommended after adoption of TBA amendments to limit is impact while agreeing to study the issues further.

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Contested Election Bill Fails; Eventful Judicial Selection Day

Legislation to abolish the Tennessee Plan and replace it with contested, partisan elections for all appellate judges in 2014 failed in what is expected to be the last meeting of the House Judiciary Committee late today. The vote was 7-7 on HB 173 by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin.

First thing this morning, the Senate held the first reading on two resolutions that cleared the Senate Finance Committee as reported in TBAToday yesterday. Early voting on those resolutions though is not considered to be indicative of the final outcome. SJR 183 by Mark Norris, R-Memphis, permits the General Assembly to adopt a merit appointment system with retention elections. SJR 710 by Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, forbids merit selection and provides for gubernatorial appointment and legislative confirmation before retention elections.

At midday, the House Finance Subcommittee recommended to the full committee adoption of HJR 830 by Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, as amended. This bill is considered the analog to Norris' SJR 183. The amendment requires merit-based selection "with the concurrence of the legislature” followed by retention elections. The analog to SJR 710, which is also sponsored by Rep. Lundberg was put over for consideration in the subcommittee until next week.

What does it all mean? It is always hazardous to predict legislative matters, particularly in the fluid, chaotic state of affairs at the end of a legislative session. However it does appear that some of the options for advocates of changing our system are narrowing, as are the options for renewing the current plan. Stay tuned for further developments.

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Campaign Seeks End to 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

At an event at the National Press Club today, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and leaders of African American organizations announced a national campaign against "stand your ground" self-defense laws. Bloomberg said the campaign would be a grassroots effort that would include outreach to lawmakers in all 50 states and creation of model legislation. New York Daily News has the story and a press release from the mayor's office.

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Judicial Election Bills Rocket to Senate Floor

Resolutions to amend the state constitution regarding selection and election of appellate court judges rocketed out of the  Senate Finance Committee today and are set for consideration as the first and second items on Wednesday's Senate floor calendar. Tennessee Bar Association President Danny Van Horn said that removing merit selection and instituting legislative confirmation in Tennessee's judicial selection system, as SJR 710 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, would do, is  “dangerous experimentation” with our Constitution and will increase the role that politics plays in the selection of our appellate judiciary and possibly their functioning. At present the Tennessee Constitution does not provide for any state office to be subject to legislative confirmation.

The other proposal, SJR 183, sponsored by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, would amend the Constitution to permit the legislature to enact a system of merit selection and retention elections like our current system. While the TBA would prefer that the Constitutional amendment, if there must be one, prescribe more clearly the system to be created, the Norris resolution at least clearly authorizes the current system, which the bar supports.
 
Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and House Speaker Beth Harwell have previously affirmed unequivocally their support for the current system, saying that they favor extension of the present plan past the August 2014 judicial elections and adopting legislation to specify the outline of the present plan into the constitution. The TBA has been clear in its support for the present merit selection, performance evaluation and retention election system known at the Tennessee Plan, last amended in 2009, and continues to indicate that no amendment to the constitution is needed.

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New System for Disciplining Judges Passes Legislature

Legislation that puts into place a new system for disciplining judges won House approval Monday night on an 88-5 vote without any debate. The Senate had earlier approved SB2671 unanimously, so the bill now goes to the governor. The bill abolishes the Court of the Judiciary and replaces it with a new 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct. Read more from the Knoxville New Sentinel.

Editorial: Governor Should Sign Diversion Bill

In an editorial, the Jackson Sun urges Gov. Bill Haslam to sign legislation on his desk that makes state public officials ineligible for pretrial diversion for criminal acts committed in their official capacity. "Gov. Haslam can raise the ethics bar and improve the image and the reputation of Tennessee public officials by signing this legislation into law," the paper says.

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Editorial: Judicial Selection Process Works, Support It

The Knoxville News Sentinel is calling for legislators to support the proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam that would affirm by constitutional amendment the state's method of selecting justices for the Tennessee Supreme Court and appeals courts. In an editorial, the newspaper says  that some lawmakers who "can't resist trying to fix things that are not really broken" should listen to the proposal's top supporters: Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell. "There are good reasons the Founding Fathers of our nation and the writers of many state constitutions focused on separation of powers and checks and balances to make republican government work," the editorial says. "In making decisions from the bench, justices must consider the law before them, not the special interests that bankrolled their election."

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Elizabethton Lawyer To Run for House

Thom Gray has formally announced his candidacy for State Representative from the Fourth District, representing Carter and Unicoi counties. The Elizabethton lawyer will seek the Republican nomination in the Aug. 2 primary election. The Elizabethton Star has more

Moore Won't Run for Re-election

State Rep. Gary Moore, D-Nashville, announced today he will not run for re-election this fall. Moore served eight years in the House and recently was elected president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council. He becomes the seventh Democratic member to retire this year. Metro Councilman Bo Mitchell, a Democrat, filed papers today to run for the seat. WPLN reports

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Bill Allowing Governor to Appoint AG Gets Committee OK

The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow the governor to appoint the state attorney general for a four-year term, subject to legislative confirmation. The measure also requires the attorney general be at least 30 years old, a licensed Tennessee attorney, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the state for at least seven years. The legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 693, is sponsored by committee chair Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, who argues a change is needed to bring more accountability to the position. The resolution requires a simple majority vote by the current General Assembly and a two-thirds vote by the next assembly. If approved, the question would then be put to voters in a November 2014 statewide referendum. Chattanoogan.com has the story

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House Majority Leader to Seek Re-Election

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, majority leader of the Tennessee House of Representatives, announced today he will seek re-election to House District 26 this fall. After redistricting, the district is now the heart of Hamilton County, with new precincts in the Hixson, Riverview, Stuart Heights and North Chattanooga areas. McCormick was first elected in 2004, and was chosen by his colleagues to serve as the majority leader of the Tennessee House in 2010. Chattanoogan.com has more

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Rep. Todd Tells Panel He Has Cancer

State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, informed colleagues that he has cancer during a House Commerce Committee hearing today on a proposal to require insurance companies to pay for oral chemotherapy treatments. Todd later told reporters that he has a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The News Sentinel has more

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