News

Harwell Opposes TN For-Profit Charter Schools Bill

A bill that would have let for-profit companies operate charter schools in Tennessee was defeated today after House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, made a rare display of public opposition to the measure, the Tennessean reports. House Bill 1693 was quashed on a 10-7 vote at the urging of Harwell, who said turning charter schools over to private operators could sink the entire project. She also cited concerns about the bill raised by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a supporter of charter schools.

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Judge Upholds Requirement for Memphis-Shelby County Consolidation

The 2010 federal court lawsuit over the failed attempt at consolidating the city of Memphis and Shelby County governments has failed as well with an order Wednesday from U.S. District Judge Thomas Anderson granting a motion for summary judgment by defendants in the case. The proposal for consolidation lost by a large margin in the county outside Memphis, although it was approved by a narrow margin within Memphis. The lawsuit filed in 2010 challenged on constitutional grounds the state law requiring that such a charter must be approved by dual majorities in separate referendums for consolidation to take place. The Memphis Daily News has more.

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LAET to Hold Senior Handbook Event Thursday

The first of many events featuring the TBA’s new Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors will take place Thursday in Knoxville when Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) holds a training session at the John T. O’Connor Senior Center. The event will begin at 2 p.m. TBA President Cindy Wyrick and Public Education Committee Co-Chair Angelia Nystrom will be joined by representatives from LAET and the Knoxville/Knox County Office on Aging to present the new resource and answer questions. For more information about the event, contact LAET’s Knoxville office at (865) 637-0484. For information on the Handbook, contact TBA Public Education Coordinator Liz Todaro, (615) 383-7421.

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TBA Releases Senior Handbook for Lawyers, Public

The Tennessee Bar Association today released The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors to help Tennesseans better understand federal and state benefits, new health care laws and a wide range of other issues of importance to older citizens. It is available for download on the TBA website and will be the subject of presentations across the state starting this week and continuing during March. TBA members also may use the handbook in counseling their clients and may customize the front page to add their own firm’s logo and branding. In addition, the TBA will offer CLE sessions to equip members to make optimal use of the handbook in their practices.

The handbook, a project of TBA President Cindy Wyrick, was produced by the Public Education Committee and a host of volunteer lawyers under the leadership of Knoxville lawyer Angelia Nystrom. “As difficult as it is to fathom, an average of 7,000 Americans are becoming senior citizens each day,” Wyrick said in announcing release of the handbook. “This trend is expected to continue for years, so it is important that we do something meaningful to assist this rapidly growing, but typically underserved, segment of the population.”

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New Resource Helps Tennesseans Understand, Navigate Programs and Benefits for Senior Citizens

The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors includes information about federal benefits programs, estate planning, online security and health care

NASHVILLE, Feb. 24, 2014 – The Tennessee Bar Association released a new handbook today designed to help Tennesseans better understand federal and state benefits, new health care laws and a wide range of other issues of importance to senior citizens. The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors is available for download on the TBA website and will be the subject of presentations across the state starting this week.

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Knoxville Bar Foundation to Award Grants

The Knoxville Bar Foundation is seeking grant applications from organizations that work to improve the administration of justice, enhance the public's understanding of and confidence in the legal system and serve the legal profession. The deadline to apply is March 10. Grants will be awarded in May. Since its founding in 1992, the foundation has provided almost $305,000 for local law-related projects and programs. Download an application or contact foundation chair J. Michael Haynes, (865) 292-2307 for more information.

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Mock Trial Coach, Volunteers Needed for District Competitions

A high school in Coffee County is fielding its first mock trial team and is looking for an attorney to help them prepare for the district competition, which is set for Feb. 22 in Columbia. Please contact District 3 Mock Trial Coordinator Cara Lynn at (931) 388-8868 for more information or to volunteer. Attorneys also are needed to serve as scorers and presiding judges in the District 4 competition, which covers Cannon, Hickman, Lewis, Marshall, Perry, Rutherford and Williamson counties. That competition will take place on Feb. 22 in Franklin. Contact Shauna Billingsley at (615) 550-6603 to help get involved.

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Informed Voters Project Garners Judges' Support

The Conference of Chief Justices unanimously voted in favor of a resolution supporting the National Association of Women Judges' (NAWJ) Informed Voters Project last week during its mid-year meeting. According to a press release, the resolution applauds the effort noting that “voters casting a ballot for judges rarely have available relevant, accurate, and easy to access information on individual candidates or on the role of the judiciary.” The non-partisan voter education project is focused on increasing public awareness about the judicial system, informing voters that politics and special interest attacks have no place in the courts and providing voters with the tools they need to cast an informed vote. Tennessee is just one of a few states participating in a pilot program of the project this year.

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Paper Covers TBA's Role in 'Informed Voter' Project

The TBA's involvement in the "Informed Voter -- Fair Judges" project was covered in today's Tennessean. The initiative is designed to educate voters about the importance of fair and impartial judicial elections and provide resources for evaluating judicial candidates. The article featured a quote by TBA President Cindy Wyrick, who also is state co-chairwoman of the project. “We want every citizen to know just how critical it is to our justice system that we, as voters, elect fair and impartial judges.” The project is sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges and the League of Women Voters. Tennessee is one of eight states to participate.

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New Resource Educates Voters About Judicial System

A new campaign to educate voters about the judicial system, the importance of fair and impartial judicial elections and how to evaluate judicial candidates launches Wednesday with a live webcast and video presentation by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The leaders of the Tennessee coordinating committee encourage as many as possible to be “present” for the launch scheduled for 11 a.m. Central time, noon Eastern time. The effort, "Informed Voters -- Fair Judges," is a project of the National Association of Women Judges in partnership with the League of Women Voters. In Tennessee, one of eight pilot sites for the project, the effort is being implemented by a coordinating committee chaired by Brentwood lawyer Rebecca Blair. TBA President Cindy Wyrick and Suzanne Keith with the Tennessee Association for Justice are serving as honorary co-chairs.

For Tennessee voters, the project website includes nonpartisan information about the judicial system, qualities to look for in a good judge, a list of judges who will be on the ballot this year and a link to request a speaker on the issue. For lawyers, the website provides resources for making the case for a fair and impartial legal system and provides links to watch the campaign launch webcast and share the project on social media. Lawyers are encouraged to “like” the project’s Facebook page and follow the campaign on Twitter. TBA President Wyrick notes that now, more than ever, it is critical to increase awareness across the state regarding the importance of electing fair and impartial judges. She encourages lawyers to join Wednesday’s webcast, and invite colleagues to do so as well. Watch the launch video here. To get involved in the project, visit the Informed Voters website.

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Law Firm Announces Winners in Respect Contest

The Nashville law firm of Kinnard Clayton & Beveridge recently announced the results of its 5th annual Respect Contest, which asks area fifth-graders to answer two questions through original artwork: "What is respect"? and "Why is it important"? This year’s first-place winner was Brendan Callis from St. Edward School. He received $1,000 for his school, $1,000 for the charity of his choice (St. Jude Children’s Hospital) and $100 for himself. Second place went to Michael Williams with Two Rivers Middle School, who designated the Susan G. Komen Foundation for his donation, and third place went to Daysia Y. Bryant with Meigs Middle School, who designated Locks of Love for her donation. Law firm lawyer Jenney Keaty recognized the winners at a ceremony at the Davidson County Courthouse.

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TBA Launches 2014 Video Contest

The TBA today announced the launch of the Fourth Annual YouTube Video Contest for middle and high school students. This year’s theme -- “There Ought to be a Law” -- challenges students to create a three-minute video that discusses an issue they would like to see addressed through the legislative process. In announcing the contest, TBA President and Sevierville lawyer Cindy Wyrick said, "The TBA encourages students to learn more about the ways laws are made by putting themselves in the position of elected lawmakers. My hope is that, through this program, students across Tennessee will learn more about our system of government by exploring the range of issues lawmakers confront every day." The contest is open to individual students or groups of students from any Tennessee high school, middle school, home school or non-school based organization. Middle school entries are due by March 17. High school entries are due by March 24. Learn more on the contest webpage.

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Textbook Complaints Set Stage for Legislative Debate

Complaints of bias in school textbooks are leading to several proposals that will likely be introduced in the upcoming legislative session, the Tennessean reports. Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, plans to introduce a bill to give more weight to public input in the approval of textbooks. Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, plans to propose legislation that would create an online site for parents, community members and educators to submit textbook reviews and analysis. Finally, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has suggested potential changes to the composition of the state textbook commission — the 10-member group of educators that reviews and approves state textbooks. Nine of the current members are appointed by the governor.

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Lawmakers Review Textbook Selection Process

Tennessee lawmakers are holding hearings this week to review the state’s textbook selection process, the Tennessean reports. The Senate Education Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee held the hearings yesterday and today to seek clarity regarding the structure and function of the Tennessee Textbook Commission. The commission recently came under fire by a group of parents for having adopted textbooks containing alleged inappropriate language and a controversial interpretation of historical facts.

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Chief Justice Wade Honors Legal Aid Hall of Famers

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) held its annual Pro Bono Attorneys Hall of Fame Reception last Thursday, the Hamilton County Herald reports. The event featured remarks by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, who thanked area lawyers for their consistent support of LAET, and a reading of the names of those inducted into the Hall of Fame. Attendees enjoyed drinks and snacks, and voted on artwork submitted to the “Champions of Justice” elementary and high school student art contest.

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AG Rules on Virtual Public Schools

Attorney General Robert Cooper issued an opinion today regarding virtual public schools. According to the opinion, local education agencies are required to ensure that virtual schools have a physical administrative office in Tennessee, do not exceed 1,500 students and that all teachers are qualified to teach in Tennessee. Cooper also said that Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman has the authority to recognize and approve a virtual school established in accordance with the Virtual Public Schools Act.

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Cane Ridge Youth Court Students Take Office

After a successful pilot program in the spring, the Academy of Law at Cane Ridge High School launched its youth court program and installed student members this week in Antioch. Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sophia Crawford, whose support has been central to the development of the program, officiated at the installation and swearing-in ceremonies. The school’s Restorative Court handles truancy cases referred to the Metro-Student Attendance Center and the juvenile court. Read more here about the Cane Ridge court and the Tennessee Youth Court Program or read more from this report in the Tennessean.

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Court in Murfreesboro for SCALES Program

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard three cases today at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro as part of the Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students (SCALES) program. Students from across campus heard oral arguments in the cases and quizzed lawyers about their arguments at the conclusion of the proceedings. Read about the cases in the Daily News Journal.

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Youth Recognized for Constitution Week Essays

Eleven Jackson-Madison County School students were named Constitution Week essay winners by the Jackson-Madison chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution during a ceremony held yesterday, the Jackson Sun reports. Students were asked to answer several questions in the essay, including “how does our government establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility?” and “how does the government promote general welfare among the people?” “Constitutional literacy is in a bad state among young adults once they reach college,” said Micah Watson, an associate professor of political science at Union University. “Seeing young people learning early is a bright spot. I’m glad to see the DAR and the community doing more to educate our youth.”

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New App Puts Constitution at Your Fingertips

The 2,860 page annotated Constitution is now available for free in an app released Tuesday in honor of Constitution Day, the ABA Journal reports. The app was released by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, the Library of Congress, and the Government Printing Office and is available from iTunes.

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Communities Across Tenn. Celebrate Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day and events across the state are exposing Americans to concepts enshrined in the nation’s founding document. Among the many activities taking place were the following:

  • In Chattanooga, events were scheduled throughout the week. Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas III led the first of four seminars on the Constitution. Earlier, General Sessions Judge Lila Statom spoke to the local DAR chapter. Today, the county mayor spoke about the balance of power and responsibility in a federal system, while commission members were on hand to ring bells to celebrate constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. On Thursday, students will read the U.S. Constitution aloud on the steps of City Hall.
  • In Cookeville, nationally acclaimed constitutional law professor David Kopel will speak to students at Tennessee Tech University tonight about the right to bear arms.
  • In Franklin, Williamson College hosted a Constitution Day Lunch and discussion about the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, while representatives from the local DAR chapter visited classrooms to talk to students. That group also will hold a reenactment of the signing of the Constitution Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Historic Franklin Presbyterian Church.
  • In Jackson, Lane College students participated in a Constitution Day ceremony, which included remarks by attorney Stephen Brooks and a voter registration drive, while the local DAR chapter hosted its annual bell ringing at the Madison County Courthouse to commemorate the signing of the Constitution. Eleven middle school students also were presented awards from the DAR for essays they wrote on various topics related to the Constitution.
  • Finally, in Murfreesboro, MTSU students focused on voter registration efforts and held a public debate on the proposed DREAM Act.

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Sept. 17 Offers Chance to Reflect on Constitution

Each year on Sept. 17, the nation observes Constitution Day to commemorate the creation and signing of its founding document, and celebrate the privileges and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution, which was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and ratified on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve it. Teachers, lawyers and judges are all encouraged to stress the importance of the nation's founding document, and the TBA Public Education Committee has developed a list of resources to help those interested in presenting to student or adult groups. Among events already planned, UT College of Law professor Karla McKanders will discuss immigration law on Constitution Day at Roane State Community College’s Oak Ridge Campus.

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AG Response Sought for Charter School Constitutionality Debate

Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell is seeking the opinion of the state Attorney General Robert Cooper on questions posed by Metro Nashville Public Schools attorney John Borkowski on the constitutionality of the state’s charter school law, the Tennessean reports. In a legal memorandum drafted last week, Borkowski concluded that Tennessee’s decade-old charter law “seems to impose increased costs on local governments with no offsetting subsidy from the state,” which he said violates the Tennessee Constitution. The memo provides a potential basis for Metro and local districts of the state’s largest cities to mount a legal challenge of the law that allowed charters to open in Tennessee. Nashville’s foremost champion of charter schools, Mayor Karl Dean, simply called Borkowski’s opinion “interesting” and stated “the attorney whose opinion matters most on this is the Attorney General of the State of Tennessee.”

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O'Connor: Civics Education Answer to Politicization of Courts

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, speaking Monday to the National Conference of State Legislatures, urged lawmakers to help improve civics education in their states' schools. The former justice, who spearheaded the iCivics program, says the increasing politicization of the country's courts is a problem and that better civics education could help reverse that trend. WDEF News 12 has the story.

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ABA Announces 2014 Law Day Theme

The ABA today announced the theme for the 2014 Law Day. In recognition of the approaching 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the theme "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters" calls on every American to reflect on the importance of a citizen’s right to vote and the challenges that remain to ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to participate in our democracy. Watch for additional information, planning materials and other resources coming soon.

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