News

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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Haslam Budget Update Adds Money for Local Jails

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday a budget amendment that includes funding for a more rapid decrease in a food tax cut and extra money for local jails. Increasing the state's daily payment to local jails by $2 a day is designed in part, Haslam says, to help break an impasse over his proposal to require incarceration for repeat domestic violence offenders. The $4 million jails reimbursement provision is the most expensive item in Haslam's budget plan. He also announced that weekend negotiations resulted in an agreement from the Tennessee State Employees Association to support his plan to overhaul state civil service rules. The Tennessean has this AP story

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Bill to Stop Pre-trial Diversion for Public Officials Goes to Governor

The House on Monday unanimously approved and sent to the governor a bill prohibiting any public official convicted of a crime related to his or her duties in office from receiving pretrial diversion. The measure has a direct connection to former Judge Richard Baumgartner, who received diversion last year on a charge of official misconduct. "We had an instance in Knox County where we had a judge who went out and committed crimes related to his office," sponsor Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, told colleagues who questioned the need for SB 2566. "He created a whole host of problems." The bill had already passed the Senate unanimously under the sponsorship of Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman. The News Sentinel reports

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Opinion: Fee for Diversion 'Bad Idea'

The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a new tax this week that will require people to pay to have their name cleared upon the completion of diversion. HB 2774, sponsored by Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, introduces the new tax, which includes $100 that must be paid to the court when requesting diversion. Chattanoogan columnist and lawyer Lee Davis calls the new measure “a bad idea.” Read more

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Campfield Blogs About Gingrich Diss

State Sen. Stacey Campfield responded on his blog to the Gingrich campaign’s request to not seat him at the Republican National Convention. It turns out, Campfield writes, it is up to the delegate, not the campaign, on whether or not a substitution can be made. “Not a good way to ingratiate yourself to the one person who can help you,” he writes. Humphrey on the Hill has more

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Senate Passes Bill to Replace Court of the Judiciary

Tennessee senators voted on Thursday 30-0 to replace the Court of the Judiciary with a new 16-member board called the Board of Judicial Conduct, which would be appointed by judges, legislative leaders and the governor. The board would be comprised of 10 judges and 6 non-judges. The measure, SB 2671, also sets up a procedure for investigating complaints against judges and requires the board to report regularly to the legislature on how grievances are resolved. A companion bill is being scheduled for a vote on the House floor. 
Get details on how the panel would be appointed
The Tennessean has more

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Track Legislation of Interest to Tennessee Attorneys

The 107th Tennessee General Assembly is now in session and the TBA has a number of tools to help you track the status of legislation. Watch TBA Today for regular news updates and follow the TBA Action List to track bills in the General Assembly that the TBA has a direct interest in -- those it has  initiated, taken a position on, or has a policy on. The TBA Watch List is a broader list of bills of interest to the Tennessee legal community. Find complete TBA legislative resources

TBA at Work on Emerging Judicial Election, Tort Bills

Another vehicle for addressing the manner of election for Supreme Court and appellate judges emerged this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted out its third conflicting proposal. The TBA remains deeply involved in the ongoing discussions to preserve the Tennessee Plan. Read more in TN Report

More Tort Changes – Bills which, as amended, require the loser to pay attorney’s fees when a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is granted (HB 3124) and limiting vicarious liability for punitive damages (HB 3125) advanced from a House Judiciary subcommittee today and could be voted on as early as next week in full committee. The TBA has worked to try to narrow and clarify these measures.

Conservatorship Law – The sponsor of a far-reaching restructuring of Tennessee's conservatorship law has agreed to a much more modest revision while the TBA undertakes a thorough review of the fiduciary and conservatorship statutes. Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, publicly expressed his appreciation for the TBA's cooperation in this matter. The TBA applauded Odom's willingness to undertake a thoughtful examination of the issues involved. The bill, HB 2648/SB 2519, should now proceed through the legislative process with the modest changes proposed.

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'Guns in Trunks' Bill Moves to Full Senate

A measure that would prevent employers and landowners from prohibiting individuals licensed to carry guns from storing them in locked, personal vehicles is headed for a full Senate vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 today (Tuesday) to advance the bill after Chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, refused a request to hear from representatives of FedEx Corp. or other large employers that oppose the bill. "I don't know that any more testimony is going to change anybody's mind," Beaver said. The News Sentinel has the story

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House Approves, Bills Now Ready for Governor's Signature

With approval by the House on Monday, legislation now headed to Gov. Haslam's desk for his signature include an anti-crime package, a bill that would allow public buildings to display "historically significant documents" including the 10 Commandments, and a bill that would encourage classroom debate over evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning.

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Carter to Run for New House District 29

Mike Carter announced Monday he will run for Tennessee's newly redrawn House District 29. JoAnne Favor, who is now running for the newly redrawn District 28, held the seat before. News 12 reports

Former State Rep Edwin Arnold Dies

Edwin Arnold, who served in the Tennessee House of Representatives and was also an assistant prosecutor, has died after being struck by a car on Saturday, March 24. He was 77. A graduate of Cumberland University School of Law, he was in the Tennessee General Assembly from 1963-67. Arnold also served Blount, Loudon and Roane counties as an assistant district attorney. His funeral was Monday at First Baptist Church in Loudon. The News Sentinel has his obituary.

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