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A Year of Changes
It is hard to believe that I am writing my final President’s Perspective. The “bar” year has passed quickly. While my term is ending, the TBA is like that line from a Robert Earl Keen song, “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.” The association will continue on in the good hands of incoming president Cindy Wyrick. I have been amazed at the amount of work TBA volunteers and staff did in the 2012-13 bar year, and I must highlight a few of those accomplishments.
Our Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee is tasked with commenting on all proposed changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct as well as being proactive in looking for areas where change is needed. That committee has worked hard this year to comment on the petition concerning lawyer advertising that was filed in the Supreme Court and the rewrite of the Disciplinary Enforcement part of the rules as well as several other proposed rule changes. At one time this year, there were so many proposals where the TBA’s comment was requested, we had to make a chart to keep up with it all! Some of the most important work this committee did this year was to create a comprehensive blueprint for what to do when a lawyer decides to close up shop, becomes unable to practice or dies. This committee’s work has not stopped with the proposed rule. There will be a CLE program on law practice succession planning at the convention, and materials needed for use in the transition process are being created. Committee chair Brian Faughnan has done a yeoman’s job of leading this committee and Marisa Combs and Hugh Kendall chaired the subcommittee that created the blueprint.
Seventy-two percent of our members think we need more mentoring of new lawyers. The Bar’s Mentoring Task Force worked hard to collect information on all mentoring programs in Tennessee and place that information on tba.org. The Task Force will become a committee of the bar and will continue its work to implement a program to fill the gaps in the available mentoring programs so that every new lawyer in the state who wants a mentor can have one.
One of the Bar’s goals this year was to improve public awareness of our legal system and the need for a fair and impartial judiciary. The Public Education Committee chaired by Tasha Blakney has worked on this from several angles aimed at educating both students and adults. One highlight was a program for the public on Civility and Free Expression. The program was funded with a grant received last Bar year through the ABA with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Knoxville program, done with the help of the Baker Center, featured the life of Howard Baker as an exemplar. It was a treat to have former TBA president and Tennessee Bar Journal columnist Bill Haltom moderate the program, since he is writing a book about Baker. Participants were Gov. Haslam and former governors Bredesen and Sundquist with both former senators Baker (Nancy Kasselbaum and Howard) in attendance.
Another amazing thing TBA members do is volunteer to write amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the association. Since I am not much of a brief writer, I am especially grateful to these folks. Patricia Head Moskal volunteered to write the brief in the Hooker v. Haslam litigation concerning the Tennessee Plan. The Criminal Justice Section, chaired by David Eldridge, wrote the amicus brief that the Bar was asked to submit in State v. Pruitt on death penalty proportionality review. Don Dawson wrote the initial draft and had help from several other section members in crafting an objective look at this difficult topic.
Recent legislative sessions have proved to be troubling times for the Bar, which has caused many of us to voice the need for more lawyers to serve in the legislature. Unfortunately, the 2012 election resulted in even fewer lawyers in the legislature! The Bar will continue to discuss ways to elect lawyers and, more importantly, ways to help lawyers maintain a practice while serving in the legislature. There will be programming this summer on running for office. Even if increasing the Bar’s presence in the legislature is not a realistic option, we all ought to work to know our legislators and to be comfortable on speaking to them on issues of concern to our profession, the judiciary and the administration of justice.
The legislative session just ended saw increased attacks on our profession and the judiciary. For example, there were unsuccessful efforts made to criminalize certain behavior of lawyers in regard to the Board of Professional Responsibility! There were unsuccessful judicial redistricting efforts made with not much regard for the collateral consequences involved. The biggest disappointment to me was the seeming demise (temporarily, I hope) of merit selection for judges. The Bar must keep the conversation going about its importance and value.
The recent TBA membership survey shows that 83 percent of us support merit selection. I remain encouraged by what Gov. Haslam said at last fall’s Knoxville Bar Association Supreme Court dinner: “Partisan, contested elections are not the way to choose judges.” He went on to acknowledge that the then-current (merit selection) system worked well. So I prefer to think that merit selection is in cold storage and will be brought out and reanimated, sort of like Frankenstein’s creature was reanimated in that famous story, but with a prettier result. If this is to happen, local and specialty bars must join with the TBA in the fight to resurrect merit selection. We must also be ever vigilant in doing all we can to preserve a fair, impartial and independent judiciary for Tennessee.
There were some positive things that happened in the legislature this year. The collateral source rule survived for another year, although if it is to be preserved, the Bar will need to rally to defeat efforts to do away with it next year. Another one of those amazing, successful TBA volunteer efforts was the passage of a comprehensive rewrite of the conservatorship statue which was done in response to efforts made in 2012 to amend the statute. The TBA Special Committee on Conservatorship Practice and Procedure was chaired by Pam Wright. Hearings were conducted across the state before proposed legislation was drafted by the committee. The legislation was sponsored by TBA members Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Andy Farmer.
There are many more good accomplishments of the TBA in the past year which could be documented here, such as access to justice work and efforts made to improve the well-being of our profession, and more could be said about areas where there is work to be done. I encourage you to be involved. Sally Field was recently quoted as saying she was proud to be a member of “this tribe,” referring to her career as an actress. She said she “gets a kick” when someone asks, “What do you do?” and she says, “I’m an actor.” Well, I feel the same way when I say, “I am a lawyer.” The TBA is my “tribe,” and I am proud of all it has accomplished and will continue to accomplish.
Thanks to the TBA’s wonderful staff and the awesome volunteers that make the TBA what it is, my friends (many of whom are former TBA presidents), my two law partners, Jim Weatherly and Patrick McNally, my loyal and hardworking assistant, Linda Coe, my supportive and handy husband, Mitch Scott, our two good dogs, Cilla and Jake, and God — it has been a privilege and honor to serve as president of the TBA for the past year.
Thanks to all of you who have indulged me in my love of cooking! Since I am the first TBA president to hail from Grainger County, Tenn. (which is renowned for its tomatoes), I couldn’t resist one more tomato recipe.
TBA President JACKIE DIXON is a partner with Weatherly McNally & Dixon PLC in Nashville.