News

McNally Seeks Re-election, Outlines Legislative Priorities

Oak Ridge Republican Randy McNally, first elected to the state Senate in 1986, says he has decided to seek re-election to another four-year term, believing “there are a number of things sort of left undone” including “reform of our state judiciary.” Humphrey on the Hill reports today that McNally says the system is “more for the protection of criminals and the enrichment of trial lawyers and not for protection of the public.” With respect to particular issues, McNally previously proposed drug testing of all judges. He now says he will revise his bill to allow either party in a case to request that the judge take a drug test before presiding. He also says he wants to push for new restrictions on state funding of criminal defense lawyers and hold attorneys financially responsible if a court later finds they provided inadequate counsel.

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AOC Makes Appointments for 2014

The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) recently released updated rosters for a variety of boards and commissions that fall under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Supreme Court. New appointments will take effect Jan. 1, 2014. New members named to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission are Mary Ann Zaha and Virginia Story, who replace Glenna Ramer and Edward Silva. At the Board of Law Examiners, the court appointed Rhynette Hurd and Jeffrey Ward to replace Jimmie Carpenter Miller and Ricky Wilkins. New members named to the CLE Commission are Cynthia Hall and Sarah Creekmore Woodall, who replace Thomas Clifton Greenholtz and John Stanley Rogers. The court also named Ed Lancaster as chair. At the Board of Professional Responsibility, the court appointed Odell Horton to replace Clarence Halmon and named Russell Parkes as chair and Michael King as vice chair. New members named to the Tennessee Lawyers’ Fund For Client Protection are Rep. Vance Dennis, Jonathan Guthrie and Spencer Chinery, who replace Laura Keeton, Katherine Wilson Singleton and Mary Ann Zaha. Fund leaders include Chair Dawn Deaner, Vice Chair Marty McAfee and Secretary/Treasurer Kim Helper.

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Turner Decides to Remain in House Leadership

State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner has reversed course after announcing plans to quit his leadership post, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. He now says he will remain at the helm through the 2014 election. In early November, the Nashville lawmaker said he planned to step down, citing differences with Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron over political philosophy and campaign strategy. In making the announcement, Turner said colleagues in the House urged him to reconsider, while a talk with Herron cleared the air. “He's going to do what he does, and I'm going to do what I do and we're moving on,” Turner explained.

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Alexander Blocks Approval of Judicial Nominations

Knoxville lawyer Pamela Reeves’ nomination to become a federal judge for East Tennessee stalled Monday night after U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander blocked a vote on dozens of appointments, Knoxnews reports. Alexander’s objection did not appear to be directed at Reeves or any particular nominee, but instead at Democrats’ decision to change Senate rules to prevent Republicans from filibustering certain court appointments. Reid had attempted to move the nominations as a group. Now he has begun scheduling votes on individual nominees. Today, that strategy worked with the Senate approving the nomination of Patricia Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Blog of Legal Times has that story.

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Poll Finds Support Strong for Cohen

A new poll shows U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, with a large lead over potential challenger Ricky Wilkins. The poll, conducted by the Memphis polling firm Yacoubian Research, showed the incumbent receiving 76 percent of support among likely Democratic primary voters to 11 percent for Wilkins, who is an attorney in private practice. Thirteen percent were undecided. The poll, involving some 204 respondents in the 9th Congressional District, also found that Cohen led Wilkins in all age, race, gender and geographic groupings, with his greatest strength among African-American males and white females. The Memphis Flyer has more on the poll results.

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Cities Set to Hire Law Firm Lobbyists

Franklin and Brentwood are poised to have their own lobbyists when the General Assembly convenes in January. The Tennessean reports that the cities are reviewing a $35,000 contract to hire lobbyists at Frost Brown Todd who would track legislation and meet with leaders about issues pertaining to both cities. Since being selected by the cities through a bidding process, Frost Brown Todd has formed CivicPoint, a lobbying, government relations and public affairs entity, and has hired former state legislator and Republican Caucus Chair Debra Maggart as its senior vice president.

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Holleman Drops out of State Senate Race

Metro Nashville Councilman Jason Holleman announced today that he is dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination for a state Senate seat. The campaign has “given me the opportunity to take stock, to understand the demands that would be placed on me as senator and to recognize that those demands, while necessary for the progress of the state, would be shared by my children and family,” Holleman wrote in an email to supporters. Holleman, an attorney and second-term councilman representing the Sylvan Park area, had been expected to compete in Senate District 21 and face political activist Mary Mancini and attorney Jeff Yarbro for the Democratic nomination to succeed longtime state Sen. Douglas Henry, who plans to retire. The Tennesseean has more.

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Senate Rewrites Filibuster Rules to Move Judicial Nominees

The Democratic-controlled Senate today voted 52-48 to eliminate the use of the filibuster against most presidential nominees, the New York Times reports. Democrat leaders moved forward with this option over frustration that Republicans were blocking President Barack Obama's nominees. The most recent incident, according to Business Week, was the filibuster earlier this week that blocked a third nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The new rule will apply only to executive and lower court judicial nominees. Consideration of Supreme Court nominees will still require a 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster.

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State Budget Hearings Start Next Week

Gov. Bill Haslam will hold state budget hearings for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 starting Tuesday and running through Nov. 25, Chattanoogan.com reports. Hearings will be held in the Executive Conference Room on the ground floor of the Capitol. Haslam, Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin and State Budget Director David Thurman will preside. The proceedings also may be viewed on the state website. See a schedule online.

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Former State Senator Charged with Insurance Fraud

Former Democratic state senator Eric Stewart, who ran for Congress against Republican Scott DesJarlais last year, has been indicted on charges of theft and insurance fraud, WATE reports. He is accused of selling a worker's compensation policy to a contractor and using the $750 premium for his personal use. Stewart turned himself in Tuesday night at the Franklin County jail and posted $5,000 bond. His arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 15.

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Early Voting Opens in Memphis in Sales Tax Referendum

Early voting opened today in Memphis in the citywide referendum on a half-percent sales tax hike and the Tennessee House District 91 general elections. The citywide sales tax hike ballot question includes in its wording a provision for $30 million of the estimated $47 million in revenue the increase would generate to be used for an expansion of pre-kindergarten services in the city of Memphis. The general election for state House District 91 is a contest between Democratic nominee Raumesh Akbari, who won the October primary special election, and Libertarian candidate Jim Tomasik. The Memphis Daily News has more.

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GOP Blocks Obama Nominees, Hopes to Reduce D.C. Court Size

Senate Republicans yesterday blocked President Barack Obama’s picks of Patricia Millett to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Rep. Melvin Watt, D-North Carolina, to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, prompting Democrats to threaten curtailing the GOP's ability to derail nominations. The defeats immediately subjected Democratic leaders to pressure from liberal groups and newer Democratic senators to change Senate rules that let the minority — currently Republicans — force the majority to muster 60 votes on controversial nominations, instead of a simple majority. WKRN News 2 has more from the Associated Press. A Republican-sponsored bill would also eliminate three seats on the D.C. Circuit Court, reducing the total number of authorized judgeships from 11 to eight. Learn more from Gavel Grab.

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Wyatt to Run for General Sessions Judge

Nashville attorney Vince Wyatt announced he will run for General Sessions Court Division IV in the Democratic primary in May. He spent four years working as a prosecutor, nine years as a defense attorney and seved a four-year stint as a judge advocate general in the Navy. The son of long-time Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Randall Wyatt, the younger Wyatt also told the Tennessean, “It’s probably always been in my blood, so to speak.”

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State Rep. Granted Judicial Diversion in Domestic Dispute

State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, will receive no jail time after a jury found him guilty of reckless endangerment stemming from a domestic dispute with his ex-wife. Judge Paul Summers decided to grant Hawk judicial diversion and sentenced him to two years' probation and 150 hours of community service. The judge also ordered Hawk to pay $1,500 in restitution to his former wife and pay all court costs. Hawk told WJHL News Channel 11 he was glad to put the situation behind him and plans to run for re-election in 2014.

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Knoxville Attorney Announces Bid for U.S. Senate

Knoxville attorney and Navy veteran Terry Adams yesterday announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, Nooga.com reports. If successful, he will face the winner of the Republican primary, which pits incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander against state Rep. Joe Carr. Adams earned his law degree from the University of Memphis and is founder and managing attorney of Adams Law Firm and Admiral Title. He is backed by Bob Tuke – former chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party and the last Democrat to run against Alexander – who will serve as campaign treasurer.

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Haslam Names Commission for Judicial Appointments

Governor Bill Haslam today named members to the Governor's Commission for Judicial Appointments, which will consider applications from those seeking to fill court vacancies. Attorneys among the group are S. Leo Arnold of Dyersburg; Bradford Box of Jackson; Alberto Gonzales of Nashville; Olen Haynes Sr. of Johnson City; Thomas Lawless of Nashville; Gilbert McCarter II of Murfreesboro; Jimmie Carpenter Miller of Kingsport; J. Bartlett Quinn of Chattanooga; Cheryl G. Rice of Knoxville; W. Scott Sims of Nashville; Michael Spitzer of Hohenwald; and Charles Tuggle and Amy P. Weirich of Memphis. Community members are Miles Burdine, president of the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Jesse Cannon with Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar; David Golden with Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport; and victim advocate Verna Wyatt of Nashville. Haslam established the commission earlier this month to help guide his decisions in making judicial appointments.

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TBA Votes to Support Constitutional Amendment on Judicial Selection; Merit Selection to Be Made Part of the Process by Executive Order

Following a complete review of the TBA policy on judicial selection, the TBA Board of Governors on Oct. 12 reaffirmed its commitment to merit selection to fill judicial vacancies and voted to support the Constitutional amendment, which provides for gubernatorial appointment, legislative confirmation and retention elections for judges. The Board did so because of assurances that Governor Bill Haslam would include merit in the process via an Executive Order, if the amendment is adopted. The amendment will be on the ballot in the state’s November 2014 general election.

The TBA leadership has worked closely with Governor Haslam’s Administration in the weeks prior to the release of the Governor’s executive order of Oct. 17, which, when viewed in conjunction with the notice and application instructions, sets in place a commission and protocol for judicial appointments very much like the former Judicial Nominating Commission.

TBA President Cindy Wyrick, in announcing the TBA’s support for the constitutional amendment, said “the TBA will support the constitutional amendment because we have been assured that the Governor will implement a merit selection process to appoint qualified judges. We applaud Governor Haslam for his recent executive order, which demonstrates his continuing commitment to filling vacancies with qualified judges through use of a merit selection process.”

TBA support for merit selection and retention elections goes back almost 50 years. This year’s policy review began with discussions and votes in the association's Governmental Affairs committee and its policy making House of Delegates. Final approval came as the Board met for its quarterly meeting.

“The advantage to the constitutional amendment, from our perspective, is that it puts retention elections squarely in the constitution,“ said Wyrick. The TBA maintains that retention elections, under current law, are constitutional as decided by three separate courts. “The combination of merit selection and retention elections is the best way to bring fairness, impartiality, stability, consistency, and clarity to our legal system. These are the values we believe in,” said Wyrick.

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Prosecutor: No Charges in Campfield 'Robo Call' Case

Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols has determined that no criminal charges are warranted against Ben Farmer, who has acknowledged responsibility for a telephone “robo call” poll about state Sen. Stacey Campfield. Farmer’s attorney said in an email Monday that his client has been embarrassed by the episode, which previously was characterized as a “computer glitch” during testing of polling operations by Cyragon LLC, a company owned by Farmer. Campfield also had questioned whether Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, who is opposing his re-election and previously was employed by Cyragon, was involved in the robo calls. Briggs has denied any involvement, Knoxnews reports.

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Moncier Challenges Governor’s Judicial Selection Order

Knoxville lawyer Herbert S. Moncier filed a federal lawsuit Friday accusing Gov. Bill Haslam and state elections chief Mark Goins of violating his constitutional rights, Knoxnews reports. He claims that by creating a new commission to appoint appellate judges in the absence of a legislatively constituted body, the state has infringed on his rights under the first and 14th amendments. Moncier says he wants to run next year to replace Judge Joseph Tipton, who is retiring from the Court of Criminal Appeals.

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Knoxville Lawyer Considering Senate Run

Knoxville lawyer Terry Adams may be testing the water to run as a Democrat for U.S. Senate, the Tennessean's political blog reports. Adams sent an email yesterday to Democrats statewide introducing himself and stating he began considering a run after attending last months’ Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville and the Truman Day Dinner in Knoxville. He concludes the email by asking recipients to share their thoughts on whether he should run and promised to make a decision soon.

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Rep. Curtiss to Step Down at End of Term

State Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, says he will step down from his seat when the current term ends, News Channel 5 reports. The 66-year-old did not give a specific reason for his decision, but said he wanted to give other candidates plenty of time to run for his District 43 seat. Curtiss will have served 20 years when his term ends. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh called Curtiss a leader on workers’ compensation, insurance and utility matters who was "always looking out for the regular working people."

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Election Panel Dismisses Complaint Against Haslam

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance voted today to dismiss a complaint against Gov. Bill Haslam for failing to disclose how much he paid outside adviser Tom Ingram. The panel voted 3-1 to throw out the complaint filed by former state Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester. Ingram was Haslam’s top campaign adviser during his successful 2010 bid for governor. After his election, Haslam paid Ingram out of his own pocket for political and policy advice. Forrester argued that Ingram's political advice was inherently related to Haslam’ re-election effort and should have been disclosed. The Memphis Daily News has the story from the Associated Press.

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Memphis Lawyer Wins Primary for Deberry Seat

Memphis lawyer Raumesh Akbari has won the Democratic primary special election for Tennessee House District 91 – the seat held by Lois Deberry until her death this past summer – the Memphis Daily News reports. Akbari will face James Tomasik, an independent candidate and chairman of the Libertarian Party of Tennessee, in the general election Nov. 21. Akbari earned her law degree in 2009 from the Saint Louis University School of Law.

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Sen. Chambliss to Speak at UT Law Next Week

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a 1968 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, will speak at the school Oct. 4 at noon in the Baker Donelson Classroom (Room 132). Presented as part of the Joel A. Katz-Sun Trust Lecture Series, Chambliss will reflect on his 18 years on Capitol Hill, which included eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 10 years in the U.S. Senate where he has focused on homeland security, intelligence and agriculture issues. The event is free and open to the university community. Read more about the event and Chambliss’ background on the law school’s website.

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Sen. Norris Elected Chair of National Government Group

Tennessee state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, was elected chair of the Council of State Governments at the group’s annual meeting held recently in Kansas City. Norris, the Senate Republican majority leader, is the first Tennessean to chair the group, The Commercial Appeal reports. The council is a national bipartisan professional association composed of members of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state governments. “It is an honor to lead this organization and continue the tremendous work that it has done throughout the United States and North America,” Norris said. He will ascend to the position in December.

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