News

Supreme Court Amends the Code of Judicial Conduct

Responding to suggestions from the TBA and a committee of judges , the Tennessee Supreme Court today amended the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct regarding judges and judicial candidates’ election campaign conduct. Among other changes, the rules now make it more clear that judges and judicial candidates are permitted to endorse other judges; explicitly allow judges to seek, accept or use endorsements from any person or organization; permit judges to speak on behalf of his or her candidacy through any medium, including but not limited to advertisements, websites, or other campaign literature; and, clarify the prohibition on judges simultaneously seeking judicial and non juridical office. The TBA made recommendations for four changes based upon the experience with the new rules during the 2014 election. As urged by the TBA, the Court did not change the standard for disqualification based on campaign contributions or support, and it turned back changes to the treatment of affiliation with organizations that practice invidious discrimination. Read the order here

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Criminal Justice Issues on the Forefront of Presidential Race

The Associated Press highlights how criminal justice issues are “intruding” on the 2016 presidential race. Policing, drug crimes, sentencing changes and prison costs are among topics on which candidates are seeking to differentiate themselves. "You don't have everyone saying they're tough on crime," Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice in New York said. "Instead, you have people offering different policy solutions."

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Rep. Wilburn to Resign from Legislature

Somerville lawyer and Republican state Rep. Leigh Wilburn said today that she will leave the Tennessee General Assembly on Dec. 31. Wilburn, a freshman who replaced Rep. Barrett Rich after he retired in 2014, said she is stepping down "due to unforeseen circumstances involving my immediate and extended family and my business." Humphrey on the Hill has the news.

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State Seeks to Dismiss Students’ Voter ID Lawsuit

A lawsuit brought by a group of students against the state’s voter identification law has stalled as a federal judge considers whether the case has merit. The students argue that state law discriminates based on age because it does not allow use of student IDs to vote. The state has asked U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger to dismiss the case. The Daily News Journal reports that Trauger has directed both sides to stop exchanging evidence or acting on subpoenas while she weighs the arguments.

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Administrative Med Mal Scheme Discussed

The Medical Malpractice Study Committee of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee met today to consider SB507 by Sen. Jack Johnson (HB546 by Rep. Glen Casada), which moves medical malpractice claims out of the court system into a Patients’ Compensation System, relieves physicians of personal malpractice liability, and sets up an independent medical review panel of physicians and medical experts to review plaintiffs' claims. Presenting the legislation were representatives of the group Patients For Fair Compensation. Those in opposition and raising concerns included the Tennessee Medical Association and State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Company. Legislators attending today’s meeting included Sen. Jack JohnsonSen. Mark GreenSen. Reginald TateRep. Glen CasadaRep. Dennis PowersRep. Joe PittsRep. David Shepard and Rep. Kelly Keisling. Check TBAImpact for updates on this issue.

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Haslam Wants to Strengthen Laws for Abortion Providers

In a letter issued last week to state lawmakers, Gov. Bill Haslam revealed, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Department of Health recently conducted unannounced inspections of the state’s four largest abortion providers to ensure they are in compliance with all laws and regulations. It is against Tennessee law to sell fetal tissues, but there are no laws in place requiring abortion providers to report on the disposal methods. In the letter, Haslam wrote that he intends to “prevent the abhorrent activities discussed in the Planned Parenthood videos from occurring in Tennessee.” The governor also wrote he would be proposing legislation in January "to strengthen accountability and transparency for surgery centers performing abortions."

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Haslam Ranked as One of Most Popular Governors

Gov. Bill Haslam recently received a 64 percent approval rating in a survey of 1,442 registered Tennessee voters, the Daily News Journal reports. Morning Consult, an online polling publication, says the Republican governor ranks 7th among all governors. “Haslam is one of the most popular governors in the country, which in this day and age is quite a feat for someone who's run twice for statewide office,” James Wyatt, Morning Consult's director of polling, said in a statement. 

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U.S. Attorney Bill Killian to Resign

William C. Killian, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, announced today he is resigning and plans to join a national law firm, the Times Free Press reports. "I am humbled by the honor and experience of serving with my fellow U.S. district attorneys throughout the country," Killian said in a statement. "None of the accomplishments would have been possible without the cooperation and coordination of various local, state and federal agencies." Killian’s last day will be Dec. 5.

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Top GOP Lawmaker Wants Syrian Refugees Out of Tennessee

House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, wants to activate the Tennessee National Guard to round up any Syrian refugees who have recently settled in the state and block any other additional Syrians from entering Tennessee, The Tennessean reports. "I’m not worried about what a bureaucrat in D.C. or an unelected judge thinks. ... We need to gather (Syrian refugees) up and politely take them back to the ICE center and say, 'They’re not coming to Tennessee, they’re yours’,” Casada said. Some lawmakers are seeking a special legislative session to look at the issue. Read more on Tennessee lawmakers and the resettlement debate

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Mothers Share Experiences With State's Fetal Assault Law

NPR reports on Tennessee’s new “fetal assault” law, which punishes pregnant women who abuse drugs. The article features two mothers: one who sought help for her addiction because of the law and another who says the law scared her away from seeking pre-natal care.

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Sen. Corker Receives History Makers Award in Chattanooga

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker today received the Chattanooga History Center’s 2015 History Makers Award, Nooga reports. The award included a portrait bust of the Republican senator. "I loved my days at Chattanooga City High School … and being mayor of this city was the greatest honor of my life. I loved it more than you can imagine,” Corker said.

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Haslam Wants to Suspend Placement of Syrian Refugees in Tennessee

Gov. Bill Haslam says he is asking the federal government to “suspend” the placement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee, The Times Free Press reports. "We are currently working to get specifics from the U.S. Department of State on the status of any Syrian refugees currently slated to come to Tennessee," Haslam said in a statement issued following Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, request to block placements of Syrian refugees in Tennessee. However, USA Today reports governors have little power to stop refugees from entering states.

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Federal Authorities Still Looking into Alleged Vote Buying

Federal authorities are still deciding on whether they will take over the investigation and possible prosecution in alleged vote buying cases from the 2014 elections in Monroe and Polk counties, The Advocate & Democrat reports. District Attorney General Steve Crump said he does not believe the Polk and Monroe County cases are directly related, but noted that the investigation is incomplete.

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Report Criticizes State Forfeiture Laws

Tennessee forfeiture laws contributed to the Institute for Justice’s grading the state a D- in its recent report. The Times Free Press reports law enforcement agencies seized almost $86 million in cash from 2009-2014 through use of state civil forfeiture laws that allow money to be confiscated without criminal charges. "Research has shown that the financial incentives baked into civil forfeiture laws influence law enforcement behavior," said Dr. Dick M. Carpenter II, one of the report's co-authors. "When laws make taking property relatively easy and lucrative for law enforcement, it should be no surprise to see agencies take advantage."

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State Rep Proposing September Legislative Session

WJHL reports Greene County State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greenville, is introducing a bill proposing a September legislative session, saying the four-month window to make laws is not enough time. “We want to get to Nashville, do our business, pass our budget and get home as quickly as possible, but in this fast-paced world in which we live, there are lots of issues that come up outside the constraints of our regular session that really need to be addressed legislatively,” Hawk said. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he does not support the proposal.

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DA Wants Fetal Assault Law Strengthened

Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus, who championed a new state law that allows drug-addicted mothers to be charged with assault to a fetus if they refuse treatment, said the law should be reworked to include meth. The statute currently only applies to narcotics like prescription pain pills, heroin and crack. Statewide, roughly 100 women have been prosecuted under the law, Nashville Public Radio reports.

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State Officials Attend Summit on Juvenile Jailing

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) led a team of state officials, including Supreme Court Justice Holly Kirby, to a summit in Austin aimed at reducing the likelihood youth will be rearrested and end up in the adult criminal justice system. Humphrey on the Hill reports the summit is sponsored by the Council of State Government’s Justice Center and the MacArthur Foundation. “If we can get to the root causes of juvenile justice, we can intervene before it’s too late,” Sen. Norris said.

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Tennessee Receives a Low Grade for Integrity

Tennessee scored a D in a new analysis of each state’s laws and practices aimed at deterring corruption and promoting transparency, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Despite the low grade, the state still ranked 15th in the nation in the report by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. The top rated state -- Alaska -- only recorded a C rating.

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Indigent Task Force Holds First Meeting in Nashville

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force had its first meeting today at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. Chief Justice Sharon Lee highlighted three focus areas for the task force: (1) how indigency is determined; (2) the quality of legal services provided; and (3) the administration or delivery of the compensation and rates. Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Steve Dozier shared the 2011 AOC report on the Indigent Defense Fund, and staff presented on the administration and mechanics of the fund. The task force’s next meeting is planned for early 2016. Check TBA Impact for more information.

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Indigent Representation Task Force Meeting at New Time

The the Supreme Court-appointed Indigent Representation Task Force has pushed back the start time of their Friday meeting in Nashville to noon due to the public funeral for former U.S. senator Fed Thompson. This is adjusted from the original start time of 9:30 a.m. 

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Murfreesboro Attorney Seeks House Seat

Jimmy Turner, an attorney with Wilson, Howser & Oliver, will challenge state Rep. Rick Wormick in the Republican primary for Ruthferford County’s 34th District House Street, the Murfreesboro Post reports. "If you are looking for a candidate that is beholden to the political establishment, then I'm not your guy. As a political outsider, I am looking to bring positive and effective leadership to Nashville for our district and county,” Turner said. The GOP primary is scheduled for Aug. 4, 2016.

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GOP Executive Director Lawsuit Dismissal Upheld

The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a defamation suit filed by former state GOP Executive Director Mark Winslow against U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and his campaign manager, John "Chip" Saltsman, The Times Free Press reports. Winslow claimed in the lawsuit filed in 2011 that he had been defamed by Fleischmann’s campaign ads and Saltsman’s public comments. “[The case was dismissed] because Mr. Fleischman and Mr. Saltsman demonstrated that the undisputed facts negate the element of actual malice which is essential to the defamation and false light claims,” Appellate Judge Richard H. Dinkins wrote in the opinion issued on Oct. 22

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Poll: Voters Oppose Interference With Courts

A new DRI poll shows that a large majority of Americans oppose legislative or executive interference intended to influence the decisions of the courts. The study found that the opposition is bipartisan and diverse with opposition consistent across more than 10 demographic categories. The study found that a majority of Americans oppose any attempt to reduce court funding, limit the court’s ability to rule on certain issues or remove judges due to unhappiness over decisions. The fourth annual National Poll on the Civil Justice System is based on national, random-sample telephone interviews of 1,006 adults.

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Rep. Harrison Leaving Legislature to Lead County Mayors Group

Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, is exiting the legislature to become the executive director of the County Mayors Association, The Chattanoogan reports. “I could not be more proud of what we have been able to do during my tenure in the Tennessee General Assembly,” Harrison said. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, announced she will appoint Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson to serve as Interim Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee chair to fill Harrison's post on that committee.

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Sen. Beavers Plans Push for Expanded Carry Permits

Following the deadly shootings at an Oregon community college, WKRN reports that Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, plans to re-introduce to the Tennessee General Assembly a re-worked measure of the Constitution Carry Bill. The legislation would allow those with handgun permits to take their weapons openly anywhere. “Would I mind teachers being armed in school? No. I think we need the protection nowadays. They have got to have the back-up in case something like this happens,” she said.

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