News

Pair to Introduce Hemp Farming Bill

Following Kentucky's lead, Tennessee may be seeing the start of a pro-hemp farming contingent in the state legislature. According to the Associated Press, two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains and Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, are drafting legislation to legalize commercial farming of hemp. The duo plan to introduce the measure in the next legislative session. Kentucky and six other states have passed measures legalizing hemp though federal law prohibits it. Niceley, a farmer, said introducing the measure would "put pressure on Congress" to repeal the prohibition. The Clarion Ledger has a link to the story.

read more »

Carr Switches Races, Will Challenge Alexander

State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, has dropped out of the race to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and refocused his sites on the U.S. Senate and the seat of incumbent Lamar Alexander. Carr announced the move today but the campaign got off to a rocky start, The Tennessean reports. The word “Senate” was misspelled on the campaign website and Carr’s campaign director Chip Saltsman resigned. “I signed up to help you run for Congress, not the Senate,” Saltsman said in a letter announcing his departure. “It is because of Lamar Alexander that people like you have the honor of serving in the majority of the state legislature.” Saltsman went on to say he was supporting Alexander's reelection. Meanwhile, state tea party leaders welcomed Carr to the race but said others will likely step forward as well.

read more »

National Bar Leaders Focus on Judicial Merit Selection

Bar leaders from across the country learned about challenges to judicial merit selection and retention in Tennessee and other states at a presentation today during the National Conference of Bar President's annual meeting in San Francisco. TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur moderated the session, which featured TBA Immediate Past President Jacqueline Dixon, along with Iowa State Bar Immediate Past President Cynthia Moser and Gwynne Young, immediate past president of the Florida Bar. While much of the debate to date in Tennessee has taken place in the legislature, both Florida and Iowa were recently involved in extensive public campaigns leading up to elections.

read more »

Holleman Launches 70-Mile Walk for Senate Campaign

Nashville Metro Councilman Jason Holleman launched a 70-mile walking tour of Senate District 21, exactly one year from the democratic primary election. Holleman says he plans to spend the next seven days meeting with voters and visiting local businesses, the Tennessean reports. Holleman faces attorney Jeff Yarbro in the race to replace longtime state Sen. Doug Henry.

read more »

Opinion: Judicial Selection Proposal Creates ‘Politically Charged’ System

Former Sevierville judge Charles S. Sexton writes in Saturday’s issue of Knoxnews that the legislature’s current proposal for selecting appellate judges is a “politically charged system where a few powerful members…can exert their influence to ensure their preferred candidate is placed before the governor without regard to judicial temperament, legal abilities, peer review and an impeccable reputation for honesty and integrity…” Sexton also argues that while House and Senate leadership say the issue is about electing judges, the plan under consideration does not require direct elections.

read more »

Wyrick Urges Members to Call a Legislator

"Our legislators are not actually hearing from very many members of our profession," TBA President Cindy Wyrick writes in her August TBJ column. "On the other hand, they are hearing from a large number of doctors, dentists and business owners. … Life is about relationships, and those who influence us the most are those with whom we have built relationships of trust and respect. Your legislators are no different from the rest of us. … The time is now for our 12,000 members to take the steps necessary to become a powerful voice for our profession."

read more »

No Third Term for Finney

Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, will not run for re-election when his second term in the legislature ends, Nashville Public Radio reports. Finney, who chairs the chamber’s Democratic Caucus, said “change is good” in making the announcement. The 37 year-old lawyer praised those who serve for decades but said "there are other things in life to consider at this point" including spending more time with his family.

read more »

Legislators Tout Favorable Tennessee Rankings

Tennessee’s top rankings for everything from low debt to net job growth were showcased by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other Northeast Tennessee lawmakers at a Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Legislative Barbecue Tuesday night, the Times News reports. “Tennessee is getting award after award and recognition after recognition for the way we’ve run the state,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said at the event attended by about 150 business leaders at the Kingsport Farmers Market.

read more »

Funeral Arrangements Set for Late Rep. DeBerry

The family of the late Tennessee Rep. Lois DeBerry announced plans for her funeral today. Family members are invited to a graveside service at Elmwood Cemetery Saturday at 11 a.m. A public “legacy celebration” will follow at noon at First Baptist Church Broad, located at 2835 Broad Ave., Memphis 38112. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ Lois M. DeBerry Memorial Fund or Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church. The Commercial Appeal reported the details.

read more »

Memphis Lawmaker Dies from Cancer

Lois DeBerry, the longest serving member of the Tennessee House of Representatives died Sunday (July 28) from pancreatic cancer. DeBerry, 68, was the first black woman from Memphis to be elected to the House and climbed the ladder higher than any other African American woman in the chamber, earning the title of Speaker Pro Tempore. She served for more than 40 years. The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer have more on her life. Donations in DeBerry's honor may be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network at www.pancan.org. Funeral arrangements were pending at press time.

read more »

Tenn. Black Caucus Calls for Review of 'Stand Your Ground' Law

In response to the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the state legislature’s Black Caucus last week called for a review of the so-called “stand your ground” statute Tennessee has on the books. "Over the next few months, we will work with our fellow Representatives to review Tennessee’s ‘stand-your-ground’ law to determine whether portions of the law need to be repealed or replaced in order to ensure the safety of all Tennessee residents,” Rep. Larry Miller, a Democrat from Memphis and chairman of the Black Caucus, said in a July 17 statement. The Murfreesboro Post has the story.

read more »

Political Consultant Made Campfield ‘Robo Calls’

The head of a Knoxville political consulting firm has admitted responsibility for an automated telephone survey asking voters their opinion of state Sen. Stacey Campfield. But Ben Farmer, owner of Cyragon LLC, maintains that he had no intention of harassing voters or attacking Campfield, Knoxnews reports. In an interview with the TBI, Farmer explained that the survey was an internal test and a computer glitch caused 2,000 targeted voters to receive multiple calls. The TBI has been investigating the “robo poll” at the request of District Attorney General Randy Nichols. Campfield said the explanation for the calls was “ridiculous” since Farmer is a supporter of Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has declared himself an opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary.

read more »

Fitzhugh Will Not Challenge Haslam

The lone Democrat to voice interest in running against Gov. Bill Haslam for governor said he will not mount a gubernatorial challenge but stick to running for re-election to his West Tennessee House district instead. “I’m committed to continuing as leader and trying to run for my representative position again,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh told The City Paper. Fitzhugh also said he wanted to focus more of his energy on getting Democrats elected to the state House of Representatives.

read more »

TBA President Sets Record Staight on Judicial Selection

In a guest column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal today, TBA President Cindy Wyrick defends the state’s judicial selection system and corrects several mischaracterization made in a recent opinion piece from Washington, D.C., lawyer Stephen A. Vaden. Wyrick writes that the current system “provides a balance of accountability to the citizens and insulation from undue political influence and pressure, which are both very important to the selection of a well-qualified and diverse bench.” She also expresses opposition to a constitutional amendment that voters will consider in 2014. “If the … amendment … is adopted, a single individual — the governor — will be free to select whomever he wishes for the bench, without the input of anyone. The governor’s choice would then be subject to confirmation by the members of both houses of the General Assembly, which would certainly politicize the process.” Wyrick concludes by calling on readers to “contact their legislators and ask them to retain our merit selection system.”

read more »

Brush Up on Campaign Ethics with TennBarU

Interested in campaigning for a public office? “Running for Office 2013: Tennessee Campaign Ethics” is an advanced level CLE program for state and local lawmakers, judges, candidates for judicial or legislative positions, campaign chairs and campaign treasurers. It will include all aspects of the law and ethics of election for office in 2013. The July 22 program will begin at 8 a.m. and include an analysis of the election law, campaign finance compliance, and an analysis of the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct that touches on judicial elections. Register online at TennBarU or email CLE Director Mindy Fulks for more information.

read more »

Nashville Lawyer Dead at 61

Services were held today for Nashville lawyer David Bruce Lyons, who died Thursday (June 27) at 61. Lyons grew up in Lindenhurst, N.Y., but moved to Tennessee and attended the University of Tennessee. He worked for the Knoxville News Sentinel in the early 1980s as the state capitol correspondent. He later attended the Nashville School of Law at night. Lyons earned his law degree in 1994 and began practicing in the areas of juvenile and family law, civil rights, general civil litigation, and tort and personal injury cases. Lyons was a member of St. James the Less Episcopal Church in Madison and served on the board of 202 Friendship House, an alcohol recovery center. Visitation was held yesterday and this morning with a service at noon today. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The 202 Friendship House, 202 23rd Ave. N., Nashville, TN 37203. The Tennessean has more on his life.

read more »

Poll: Voters Want Tougher Judicial Campaign Disclosure Laws

Four out of five voters back stronger disclosure laws for judicial campaigns in state elections, according to the Center for American Progress, which commissioned a new poll. In 2012, a record-setting $29.7 million was spent on TV advertising to influence judicial contests across the nation, the Center said in relying on estimates from Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, and half of that came from non-candidate groups. The poll also showed that 68 percent of respondents voiced support for non-partisan judicial elections, and a clear majority of voters favor merit selection systems for picking judges. Gavel Grab has the story.

read more »

Democrat Leaders Oppose New Teacher Salary Schedule

Democratic leaders oppose the proposal by the state Department of Education that seeks to change the minimum teacher salary schedule, the Memphis Daily News reports. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the proposal could deter individuals looking to teach in Tennessee. According to WATE, the new schedule increases base pay, but reduces incremental pay steps from 21 to four. It also eliminates pay increases for training higher than a Master's degree. The Tennessee Board of Education approved the proposal 6-3 today.

read more »

Paper: AG’s Independence, Influence Makes Him a Target

A string of high-profile opinions during this past legislative session has shown the influence the attorney general has on public policy debates, the Tennesseean reports, suggesting these opinions have made him a target for legislators. Citing opinions issued on topics from animal cruelty to guns in trunks to Vanderbilt University’s nondiscrimination policy, the article maintains that this clout has made Attorney General Robert Cooper a target for those who argue the post requires more public accountability. Seven separate bills were introduced this year seeking to change the way the AG is selected or to change his duties. After nearly seven years in office, Cooper says he is uncertain whether he will seek reappointment after his term ends Sept. 1, 2014.

read more »

Seersucker: It's Worth Fighting Over

In his column, Bill Haltom takes a poke at the Tennessee legislature -- Guns in Trunks, Don't Say Gay, livestock cruelty -- but what really riles him up is … seersucker.

read more »

Nominating Commission Expediting 3 Appointments

The Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission, which will cease to exist at the end of this month, is expediting its action on naming successors to three judges who have announced they will retire. Though the judges won’t step down for more than a year, the commission will hold hearings on their replacements and send recommendations to the governor before June 30. And in case the governor rejects the first list of candidates, the commission plans to submit two lists for each vacancy. Commenting on the situation, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur said, “The failure of the General Assembly to act and create some mechanism leaving nothing in place really is irresponsible.” Despite the situation though, he said it would be preferable for the governor not to act on the new nominees but instead urge the legislature to create a new commission. “That would resolve the uncertainty now surrounding several aspects of the situation,” he said in an interview with Knoxnews. It also would avoid litigation over the appointments. “The worst case is to have the judges appointed and there then to be some decision later that their appointment was irregular…”

read more »

AG: Employees Violating Company Gun Laws May Be Fired

State Attorney General Robert Cooper has said in an advisory opinion that the new “guns-in-trunks” law does not forbid employers from firing employees who bring a gun onto company parking lots in violation of company policy, the Commercial Appeal reports. The law, which goes into affect July 1, “only decriminalizes the carrying and storage of firearms and firearm ammunition in a permit holder’s privately owned motor vehicles in public and private parking areas” under the circumstances defined in the law but it “does not address and thus has no impact on the employment relationship between an employer and an employee,” the opinion says.

read more »

DesJarlais Fined for Inappropriate Interaction with Patients

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has been fined $500 by the state’s top medical disciplinary panel for sexual relationships with two female patients, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The congressman must pay the $500 fine -- $250 per patient, according to the order -- within 60 days. Documents also show he's responsible for up to $1,000 in costs for the state's investigation. In an interview with the Tennessean, DesJarlais stated, "I take responsibility for past mistakes and am happy to get this resolved."

read more »

Memorial Service Set for Nashville Lawyer

Nashville lawyer Alfred T. Adams Jr. died May 21 at the age of 85. A 1952 graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, Adams practiced law in Nashville and was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1953. He retired in 2002 and moved to Beersheba Springs where he took up residential construction, surveying, farming and beekeeping. Adams was a charter member of the Nashville City Club, director and general council of the Nashville Union Rescue Mission, and deacon and elder of the Downtown Presbyterian Church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the charity of one's choice. A memorial service honoring his life will be held June 20 at 11 a.m. at the Downtown Presbyterian Church. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m., The Tennessean reports.

read more »

Gov. Haslam Signs Conservatorship Bill

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law the first major revisions in more than a decade to the state law that governs the process of placing state residents under the control of a court-appointed conservator. The new statute, which will take effect July 1, was the product of a series of hearings held across the state by the TBA. Speaking about the legislation, House sponsor Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, said that the “intent of this law is to clarify the process, to make sure people aren’t being taken advantage of.” The Tennessean has the latest developments. TBA members will be able to learn more during a program at the 2013 TBA Convention in Nashville that focuses on changes in the law that came out of the last General Assembly session.

read more »