News

April Issue Covers UPL, Postjudgment Interest and Sex Week

"Protecting the legal profession is only our secondary goal," Tennessee Bar Association President Cindy Wyrick writes in her Journal column this month where she takes on the war against unauthorized practice of law. "We are fighting this battle primarily to protect the public."  Also in this issue, the second-to-last column written by the late Don Paine is about postjudgment interest, and Bill Haltom writes what's on many Volunteers' minds about the legislature, Sex Week and free speech at UT.

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House, Senate Pass Haslam Budget

Gov. Bill Haslam’s $32 billion budget won House and Senate approval today, as amendments proposing pay raises for teachers and state employees were rejected by lawmakers, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The budget approved today mirrors changes introduced by Haslam’s administration last week, which eliminated previously proposed pay raises for teachers and state employees. The changes were aimed at closing a budget gap of around $160 million.

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Senate Votes to Protect Info in Sexual Assault Cases

The Senate voted unanimously today to keep personal information in sexual assault cases confidential after the cases have been closed, The Tennessean reports. Under House Bill 2361 by state Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, evidence presented during trials for rape or sexual assault that identifies the victim would be made confidential once a guilty sentence has been given. The legislation had previously come under fire for being to broad in restricting the media’s ability to report on rape cases. The bill that passed was scaled back from earlier versions.

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Bills Gives In-State Tuition for Kids of Undocumented Parents

Students whose parents entered the U.S. illegally will be allowed to pay in-state tuition at Tennessee colleges, under a bill now on its way to the governor. The bill passed the House 63 to 27, with little debate, according to Nashville Public Radio.

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Senate: Permit Not Needed to Carry Gun

The state Senate has passed a bill to allow Tennesseans to openly carry guns without a state-issued permit, the Tennessean reports. The chamber voted 25-2 in favor of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet. Before the Senate floor vote, the measure narrowly made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee with only five votes in favor.

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Editorial: Is Justice Being Served?

In an editorial, the Johnson City Press urges state lawmakers to increase funding for district attorneys and public defenders. It says that with caseloads surging and resources dwindling, "can we truly say justice is being served under these conditions?"

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Legislature Considers Return of Electric Chair; State Sets 2016 Execution Date

The Tennessee Supreme Court set a date of March 15, 2016, for Donald Wayne Strouth to be executed, the Tennessean reports. Strouth has been on death row since 1978. On Tuesday, a House committee approved a bill that would make electrocution the state's method for killing inmates sentenced to death if lethal injection were declared unconstitutional or the drugs needed to carry it out were unavailable. But, WBIR reports, a handful of members said they have reservations about the electric chair, which the state has used only once since 1960.

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Lawmakers to Review Judicial Evaluation Commission

Lawmakers Tuesday questioned whether the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) violates the Tennessee Constitution, the Tennessean reports. The House Government Operations Committee heard testimony from several people, including John Jay Hooker, who brought lawsuits against Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell last year contesting the constitutionality of the JPEC and retention election statutes. After hearing the testimony, the committee sent the constitutionality question to the Joint Subcommittee of Government Operations, Judiciary and Government, which will meet this summer. Gavel Grab has more.

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Memphis Candidates Line Up for Yesterday's Deadline

Following yesterday's noon deadline to submit qualifying papers, the Memphis Daily News has a roundup of uncertified political candidates for Shelby County races. Memphis City Council member Lee Harris is challenging Democratic state Sen. Ophelia Ford in the August primary for District 29 -- a seat that has held by a member of the Ford family since 1975. Statewide, Gov. Bill Haslam drew three challengers for the August Republican primary for governor, while the Democratic gubernatorial primary has seven candidates. In a separate article, the paper looks at the "filing frenzy" yesterday for several positions. The Commercial Appeal has more on Harris' challenge.

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Rep. Rich to Retire from House

State Rep. Barrett Rich says he will not run for another term representing his rural West Tennessee district, the Memphis Daily News reports. The Somerville Republican has served three terms in the lower chamber of the General Assembly. Other incumbents who aren't seeking re-election this year include Republican representatives Vince Dean of East Ridge and Eric Watson of Cleveland, and House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner of Nashville.

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Senate Bills Present Judicial Pay Plans

The Senate Judiciary Committee today set the stage for revealing judicial salaries for the next eight years. Sen. Mark Norris presented SB 2598, which will address state court judicial salaries, and SB 1747 by Sen. Ken Yager will be amended to make adjustments to the salaries of general sessions judges. Constitutionally,  judicial salaries must be fixed and can only be adjusted according to law for an entire term.

In keeping with the cancellation of all raises for state employees, no judges will see any increase in their $165,000 base salary or cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the first nine months of the term, beginning Sept. 1, 2014. Effective July 1, 2015, the COLA would be reinstituted. After that, $5,800 per year raises would be granted effective Sept. 1, 2016; Sept. 1, 2018, and Sept. 1, 2020. General Sessions judges would see their pay increase delayed and adjusted in the same fashion, with rate adjustments scaled by population of their jurisdictions.

Scheduled salary adjustments for district attorneys, public defenders, assistants and related offices were originally part of the bill, but will also be delayed. Salaries for those positions do not have the same constitutional protection.

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Opinion: Ag Gag Bill Returns

In an editorial released today, the Memphis Flyer criticizes the return of the whistleblower legislation nicknamed the “Ag Gag” bill. Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the bill last year, which mandated that anyone observing animal cruelty report it to law authorities within 48 hours or be liable for arrest and penalty. "Ostensibly designed to bring swift attention to animal cruelty, the effect of such bills is nearly the opposite one, to discourage anyone from attempting to document such cruelty," the paper argues. The new bill, HB 2258/SB 2406, is sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville. The newspaper claims the new bills are just as “constitutionally suspect” as previous versions, and urges the legislature to oppose them.

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Bill Limiting Employment Discrimination Actions, Whistleblower Protections Advances

Legislation making significant changes in protections for whistleblowers, placing caps on non-economic damages for discrimination and retaliatory discharge, and limiting disability discrimination provisions advanced in both houses this week. The bill could be heard in the House Consumer and Human Resource Committee and on the Senate floor as early as next Tuesday. Let your voice be heard about this and other legislation using TBAImpact.

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Ramsey Backs Judicial Selection Amendment

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Friday repeated his support for a November ballot measure that would change the way Supreme Court and appeals court judges in the state are selected, the Kingsport Times News reports. Ramsey encouraged judges and others attending the Tennessee Judicial Conference to get behind the measure, which would give the governor the power to appoint the judges, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. "It's the best way of doing this," Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the constitutional amendment, which will be put to voters this fall.

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Incumbent Endorses Jones for DA

District Attorney General Bill Whitesell announced he would not seek re-election and has endorsed Assistant District Attorney Jennings Jones to be his replacement. Jones is running in the May 6 Republican Primary for District Attorney General, 16th Judicial District, which includes Rutherford and Cannon counties. The Murfreesboro Post has more.

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AAA Opposes Weakening Helmet Law

AAA/The Auto Club Group today announced its opposition to a bill that would weaken Tennessee’s motorcycle helmet law, the Memphis Business Journal reports. The proposed bill will allow riders older than 25 years to ride without a helmet. Currently, all readers are required to wear a helmet, regardless of age. Senate and House subcommittees are slated to hear the bill next week.

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Proposed Election of AG Fails a Second Time

An attempt to change the selection process for Tennessee's attorney general failed again on the Senate floor Thursday. Brought by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, the proposed constitutional amendment sought popular election of the AG. Currently, the AG is appointed to an eight-year term by the state Supreme Court. This was the second vote on the measure, and the AP reports Senate rules prohibit Beavers from bringing the measure to the floor again this session.

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Memphis Attorney Announces Bid for Congressional Seat

Attorney Ricky Wilkins formally announced his candidacy for the 9th district Congressional seat yesterday, backed by a roomful of enthusiastic supporters. Wilkins faces four-term incumbent Rep. Steve Cohen in the Democratic primary. “I know what it’s like to live off food stamps,” he said. “Who better to represent the people of the 9th Congressional district than one who has walked a mile in their shoes?” The Memphis Flyer has the story.

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Haslam Signs Wine-in-Grocery Stores Bill

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the bill allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Municipalities can now begin petitioning for referendums on allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores but it will be at least two years before wine could be on shelves. Because of a compromise to allow retailers to continue to compete with grocery stores, liquor stores will be able to sell beer and other items as soon as this summer without a referendum.

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Former Councilman to Run for Nashville Vice Mayor in 2015

Former Metro councilman David Briley announced he will run for vice mayor of Nashville next year. Incumbent Diane Neighbors will be stepping down in 2015 because of term limits. Vice mayor presides over the 40-member Metro Council and only votes when necessary to break a tie. "It's a hard job. It's thankless. It's not necessarily a stepping stone to anything else. This is something I want to do because I love Nashville,” Briley, an attorney with Bone McAllester Norton, told the Tennessean.

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NC Supreme Court Candidates Face Difficulties in Campaigns

Judges vying for North Carolina’s State Supreme Court face difficult and expensive challenges on the campaign trail ever since the state did away with public financing for judicial candidates last year, Gavel Grab reports. Judicial candidates can’t make promises or use traditional campaign tactics when trying to define their candidacies, which leads to an "awkward world of judges stumping for votes and money." North Carolina Supreme Court justice Cheri Beasley says the $1.2 to $2 million her consultants say she needs to raise for her reelection bid is outrageous. “We want judges that are focusing on doing their jobs and not focusing on being politicians,” she said.

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Senate Hopeful Launches ‘Backbone of Tennessee’ Tour

Knoxville attorney Terry Adams stopped in Nashville today during his two-day, six-city “Backbone of Tennessee” tour, part of his campaign to challenge Lamar Alexander for the U.S. Senate. The Democrat launched his tour yesterday with stops in Tri-Cities, Knoxville and Chattanooga, and planned to visit Jackson and Memphis today, as well. The Tennessean has the story.

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Gov. Christie to Keynote GOP Dinner

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will headline the Tennessee Republican Party Statesmen’s Dinner in May, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Christie, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, will give the keynote address at the annual event, the largest yearly gathering of Tennessee Republicans and a major fundraising event for the party.

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Next 2 Weeks Critical for Legislators

The next two weeks could be crucial for the General Assembly, the Tennessean suggests, as big issues such as meth abuse, school vouchers, free tuition for community college students and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants still face decisions in the House and Senate before they shut down. The TBA's package of bills continues to progress towards passage. The five-year statute of repose for legal malpractice passed the House Monday and is now headed to the Governor, as is the TBA's family law bill. However, the TBA has concerns about bills regarding patent litigation, employment discrimination, and confidentiality for victims of sexual offenses and has communicated these concerns to the legislature. These measures continue to move forward without changes. A bill on the issue of bad faith patent infringement (SB1967/HB2117) is ineffective, since any litigation would likely not survive a preemption challenge and existing case law effectively addresses these issues. Another bill (SB2126/HB1954) would gut protections for whistleblowers in employment discrimination cases, and only protects against retaliation if a report was in writing or email. Under the guise of keeping crime victim information confidential, SB2254/HB2361 would make it more difficult for defense attorneys to discuss identifying information about the victim with their client. TBAImpact has more.

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Senate Delays Vote on AG Election Bill

A proposal that would result in a constitutional amendment for the popular election of the Attorney General was delayed again today. The sponsor of SJR123, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, rolled it to next Thursday's Senate floor calendar. The resolution failed to gain support in the Senate last month when it fell two votes short of a majority. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, and Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, were considering putting their support behind the measure. Currently, the AG is appointed to an eight-year term by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The TBA supports the current selection process, and urges members to express their support through TBAImpact, the TBA's legislative advocacy tool.

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