News

Vandy Law Hosts 'Justice at Risk' Conference

Judicial selection and the role money plays in judicial elections will be the focus of a conference held at Vanderbilt Law School March 20-21. Titled “Justice at Risk: Research Opportunities and Policy Alternatives Regarding State Judicial Selection,” the conference will focus specifically on how the method of selecting state judges affects judicial decision making. It is jointly sponsored by the American Constitution Society, the American Judicature Society, and Vanderbilt Law.

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Bill Shifting AG Powers Headed to Full Senate Vote

A bill that would give state officials the power to direct the actions of the Attorney General passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. SB 2085 would allow the legislature, through joint resolution, or the governor, via executive order, to instruct the attorney general when to file legal actions. It would also allow the speakers of the House and Senate to direct the AG by joint agreement when the General Assembly is not in session. The TBA opposes this bill, as it raises constitutional questions that are untenable. Use TBAImpact to weigh in on this issue. Read more in the Chattanoogan.

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Minimum Wage Bill Voted Down

Legislation to raise the minimum wage in Tennessee was defeated 3-2 today in the Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee, the Tennessean reports. House Bill 1694, sponsored by Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, would have required employers to raise the hourly wage $1 to at least $8.25 starting July 1 for thousands of workers who have not been offered health insurance.

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Bill Would Give Legislature Power to Direct AG

A bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, would give the Tennessee General Assembly the power to direct the actions of the state attorney general. One of several pieces of legislation that aim to change the way the judicial branch operates in Tennessee, SB 2085/HB 2059 would allow the legislature to direct the AG to file or drop an action if directed by both houses or the governor. An article in the Times Free Press looks at the issue and includes a quote from TBA President Cindy Wyrick, who says the TBA opposes the bill over constitutional questions that make it "untenable." Visit TBAImpact to learn more about the bill and to contact your representatives.

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Lawmakers Postpone Bill to Eliminate Shelby Circuit Courts

The state House Civil Justice Subcommittee last week decided not to take up legislation that would have eliminated two divisions of Shelby County’s Circuit Court. Instead, the committee “rolled” the bill (HB 2209 / SB 1484) for two weeks. It is now scheduled to be considered on March 5.

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Contested Races Take Shape Across State

Thursday at noon was the deadline for all candidates to submit qualifying petitions to run in the May 6 county primaries. General elections are set for Aug. 7. Contenders -- including a “Saturday Night Live” cast member --  filled the ballots in counties throughout the state including in Davidson, Hamilton, Hawkins, Knox, Madison, Maury, Shelby, Sumner and Williamson counties. Watch for  information on additional races as it becomes available.

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AG Appointment Bill Taken Off Notice in Subcommittee

Legislative efforts to remove the Supreme Court’s power to select the state Attorney General appear to be stalled. A bill calling for popular election of the post (SJR 123) was rejected by the full Senate on Feb. 5 and Wednesday the House Civil Justice Subcommittee took off notice SJR 196, which called for appointment of the AG by the General Assembly. Gavel to Gavel looks back at similar bills that have failed to change the selection process over the past 17 years.

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Big Shrimp a Big Hit for Legislators, Lawyers

TBA leaders, legislators and their staff filled the Tennessee Bar Center Tuesday evening for the  Big Shrimp Legislative reception. The annual event provides and opportunity for legislators to meet with members of the Tennessee legal community in a casual atmosphere to learn their concerns and discuss policy issues. More than 200 peple attended the event, including the TBA Leadership Law class, which had spent the day learning about issues in policy and politics.

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Opinion: Bill Shielding Rape Information Goes Too Far

In her Sunday piece for The Tennessean, columnist Gail Kerr says a bill intended to shield rape victims’ identity and personal information would turn rape into an "invisible crime" and would hurt public safety. Kerr notes that the bill was filed only days after The Tennessean and other media outlets filed suit seeking information about a Vanderbilt rape case, which the Metro Police Department and the university have refused to turn over. In an earlier article, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur expressed concern about the proposal saying it could “compromise the right of the accused to confront the accuser and participate in their own defense.” Follow news regarding legislation through TBAImpact.

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Guns-in-Cars Bill Voted Down in Senate

A proposed amendment to add further protections for employees who bring their guns to work was defeated in the Tennessee Senate yesterday, the Memphis Business Journal reports. The so-called "guns-in-cars" law made it legal for employees to keep their guns locked in their vehicles while at work, but confusion remains over whether they can be legally fired for doing so. A proposed clarification by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, which would have prohibited employers from firing employees who were in compliance with the law, was defeated 23-8.

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Hamilton County Candidates Submit Campaign Finance Reports

Candidates running in Hamilton County judicial races submitted campaign finance reports last Friday, the Chattanoogan reports. Attorney J.B. Bennett, who is vying for circuit court, division I, raised more than $100,000 in the two-month period covered by the report. Stuart James and Catherine White also are seeking the post. In the race for criminal court clerk, Republican Rep. Vince Dean was able to convert his state funds for use in the current race against longtime incumbent Gwen Tidwell, a Democrat. Others filing reports included County Commissioner Larry Henry, who is running for circuit court clerk, and General Sessions Court Judge Christie Mahn Sell.

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Chattanooga Rep. Floyd Announces Retirement

Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, announced today that he is retiring from the state House, the Chattanoogan reports. “The desire to spend more time with my family and the need to properly recover from recent surgery has prompted me to not seek re-election,” he stated. Signal Mountain resident Tommy F. Crangle has announced his intention to qualify as a Republican candidate to succeed Floyd. Crangle is a licensed professional engineer and a former senior executive with the Tennessee Valley Authority. He retired early in the late 90’s.

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Drug Testing of Judges Proposed in New Bill

A bill filed for introduction by Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, would allow for drug testing of judges in criminal trials on the motion and demand of either party. If the judge refuses, the judge would be deemed disabled for that trial and a new judge appointed. If neither party brings the motion for drug testing, the issue may not be asserted on appeal. Check out TBAImpact for the TBA take on this new legislation

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Conservative Group Backs Sen. Tracy in GOP Primary

GOPAC, a national group that works to elect what it considers promising conservatives, announced today that it is backing state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, in his GOP primary challenge of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Founded by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., the group says Tracy is one of four "proven and tested conservative state leaders" the group is backing nationwide in primary and general elections as part of its "Called-Up" program. Tracy is running against DesJarlais as he seeks a third term representing Tennessee's 4th Congressional District. Teacher John Anderson of Bell Buckle is also running in the GOP primary. Democrat Lenda Sherell of Monteagle officially launched her campaign on Monday. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has the story.

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Proposed Election of AG Defeated in Senate

A proposed constitutional amendment to allow for the statewide election of the Attorney General was narrowly defeated in the Senate today. The measure needed 17 votes to proceed but only received 15, with several senators not voting. Sen. Mae Beavers, who was its main supporter, indicated she would continue to press the issue in future sessions. A competing proposal to allow the legislature to appoint the AG continues to press forward. Nashville Public Radio has more. 

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More Pick Up Petitions for Williamson County Primary

Sixty-one candidates have picked up petitions to be on Williamson County’s May 6 primary ballot to contend for judgeships, county constitutional offices and numerous seats on the county commission. The last day to qualify for the election is Feb. 20. Voter registration is April 7. Candidates have also been picking up petitions to qualify in the Aug. 7 primary for state Senate and House seats and state executive committees. The qualifying deadline for the August election is April 3. Visit the Tennessean for a full list of candidates

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New PAC to Educate Public on Judicial Issues

Tennesseans for Independent Courts, a new nonprofit political action committee, has announced it will educate the public on the “dangers of partisan political pressures on judicial elections and appointments.” The group, formed Jan. 10 by former personnel commissioner Randy Camp, who served in Gov. Phil Bredesen’s cabinet, will also provide support to judicial candidates who want to run for office without political affiliations, and back legislative and gubernatorial candidates who want the same. Camp states that the non-profit corporation has filed for 501 (c) designation with the IRS, and will be dedicated to informing, educating, engaging and involving the citizens of Tennessee in ensuring that the judicial branch of Tennessee’s government remains free and independent of partisan political pressures from any group or organization. KnoxBlogs has more.

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Lawmakers Cautious About Free Prison Overhaul

It may be free, but state senators remain cautious about an offer to analyze and overhaul Tennessee’s criminal justice system, the Tennessean reports. The offer, made by the Vera Institute of Justice, would study all aspects of the state criminal justice system including sentencing, incarceration and post-release programs. The goal, according to supporters, is to reduce recidivism, reduce the prison population and improve public safety. Funding would come mostly from federal grants. The Senate State & Local Government Correction Subcommittee heard more about the proposal at a recent hearing but members asked for additional information.

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Haslam Budget Focuses on Education, Workforce Readiness

In his “State of the State” speech last night, Gov. Bill Haslam laid out his priorities for state spending in the coming year. Programs targeted for increases include TennCare; teacher salaries; services for the disabled; new DCS field workers and child abuse investigators; and a variety of education programs aimed at helping high school students succeed in college, Knoxnews reports. New programs announced include a statewide residential drug court in Middle Tennessee modeled on a program in Morgan County; “Tennessee Promise,” which would allow all high school graduates to attend two years of community college or a technology school for free; and a new Director of Workforce Alignment who would work with state departments and local officials to close the “skills gap” across the state. Revenue would come from proposed cuts in payments to TennCare providers, increases in TennCare co-pays, elimination of 664 state jobs and a $302 million dip into state lottery reserves. Read the text of the speech in the Tennessean.

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TBA President Wyrick: AG Selection Should Not Change

Once again efforts to change the way Tennessee selects its attorney general are underway, writes TBA President Cindy Wyrick in her February Tennessee Bar Journal column. The state’s current method of naming the AG has led to the selection of some of Tennessee’s finest lawyers and keeps the office insulated from unnecessary politics, she argues in the piece. Read this month's issue to learn more about why Tennessee should not jump off the attorney selection cliff, but rather should maintain the current system. Then use TBAImpact to let your representatives know you do not want to see any changes in how Tennessee selects its top lawyer.

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Haslam Gives 4th ‘State of State’ Speech Tonight

Gov. Bill Haslam is giving his fourth State of the State address this evening at 6 p.m. Central time. The governor will unveil details of his annual state spending proposal and lay out some of his top legislative priorities for the year, the Times Free Press reports. Haslam has warned that flagging state revenues combined with growing health care costs will put the squeeze on programs. State lawmakers expect the governor to emphasize his “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to increase Tennessee's college graduate rate to 55 percent by 2025 and new requirements to limit the sale of cold medicines used to make methamphetamine.

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Senate Vote on AG Election Delayed a Week

A scheduled Senate vote on the proposal to elect Tennessee's Attorney General has been delayed to Feb. 3, WATE News reports. The constitutional amendment, proposed by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, would require popular election of the AG every four years. The attorney general is now appointed to an eight-year term by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The TBA supports the current system because it insulates the office from political pressures and personal aspirations, ensuring that opinions are grounded in law, not party politics. Use TBAImpact, TBA's new legislative tool, to learn more about the issue.

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Nashville Lawyer Named to Election Panel

The Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus has appointed Thomas W. Lawless to the state Registry of Election Finance, WDEF News 12 reports. He replaces Darlene McNeece who had been on the board since 2002. A former chairman of the Davidson County Republican Party, Lawless was a founding member of the Nashville Chapter of the Federalist Society and served as its first president. He is currently chair of Tennessee's Judicial Nominating Commission. The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance was created by the General Assembly in 1989 to oversee compliance with campaign finance laws and required disclosures.

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New Bill Would Upend State Judicial System

Legislation introduced this week by Senate Finance Committee Chair Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, would make sweeping changes to the way state courts are managed, judges are appointed and judicial discipline is administered, Gavel to Gavel reports. Specifically, the bill, SB 2322, would transfer the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to the comptroller of the treasury; replace the Judicial Nominating Commission with a body chosen by the governor and legislative leaders that would suggest replacements for vacancies due to death or resignation; disband the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, forcing judges to stand for contested elections; and disband the Board of Judicial Conduct in favor of a new body comprised of appointees from the governor and legislative leaders. The bill also would make all AOC and Board of Professional Responsibility documents open to public inspection.

Finally, it would prohibit judges from extending filing deadlines in death penalty cases and assess fines on government-appointed lawyers who later are found to have provided ineffective counsel in capital cases. Use TBAImpact, TBA's new legislative tool, to see the status of the bill and let the General Assembly know how this proposal negatively impacts the administration of justice.

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Judicial Candidates Face Special Challenges

As the judicial campaign season starts to heat up, candidates and their supporters are looking over the special challenges they face in trying to win over voters while still operating within  ethical guidelines. The Memphis Daily News looks over these challenges and how General Sessions candidate David Pool and Juvenile Court candidate Dan Michael are navigating them. “People need to pay more attention to the judicial elections,” Michael told the newspaper. "Educate yourself. Know who the judges are. Know what their experience is."

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