Gov. Signs Judicial Election Plan

Panel recruitment underway

On June 25, Gov. Phil Bredesen signed into law the new judicial election plan for merit selection of all judges, and performance evaluation and retention election of appellate judges.

The first step in implementing the plan is the appointment of the new Judicial Nominating Commission, the 17-member body that will nominate candidates to the governor for appointment to fill judicial vacancies. The new statute provides for an open process in which applicants fill out an application to be provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Applications were due July 31. Information about each applicant will be posted on its Web site for a 14-day public comment period. During that time, the TBA Board of Governors will make recommendations for candidates to fill a minimum of 10 and maximum of 14 seats for lawyers in the new body. Following this period, the speakers of the state House and Senate will have 14 days to appoint members to the Judicial Nominating Commission.

"It is important that many of our best and brightest lawyers offer themselves for appointment," TBA president Gail Vaughn Ashworth said. "Lt. Gov. [Ron] Ramsey and [House] Speaker [Kent] Williams are committed to appointing a high quality, diverse group to vet judicial candidates."

Effective Jan. 1, 2010

Court Makes IOLTA Mandatory

More idle client funds will be put to work at higher rates to assist low income Tennesseans under a plan adopted in July by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The plan, recommended by the TBA, Tennessee Bar Foundation (TBF), Tennessee Association for Justice (TAJ) and Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), requires all client funds held by a lawyer for a short time or that are small in amount to be placed in a special account at the bank with the interest going to the Interest On Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Program of the Tennessee Bar Foundation. To qualify as a depository for the money, financial institutions will have to agree to new standards that assure that they pay rates comparable to non-IOLTA accounts.

"Keeping client funds held by lawyers safe is always our first objective," said TBA President Gail Vaughn Ashworth. "This program assures that safety while earning funds to meet the growing need for funding for legal IOLTA services for the poor." The plan is part of the 4ALL initiative of TBA Immediate Past President Buck Lewis.

"While success was attained because of the selfless contributions of many dedicated lawyers and judges who participated in developing, endorsing and adopting the IOLTA rules, there is no greater or more resolute champion than President Buck Lewis," TBF Board of Trustees Chair Riney Green said. "He deserves a special salute."

"Thousands of Tennesseans have benefited from the legal assistance and scholarships that are made possible through IOLTA grants," Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Janice Holder said in a release. "These amendments will bolster funding for the IOLTA grants and ensure that more Tennesseans have access to essential legal services."

Since its adoption in 1983, the Tennessee IOLTA program has made more than $14.4 million in grants. The program takes advantage of the pooling of client funds held by lawyers that could not otherwise earn interest and assigns that interest to the benefit of organizations which improve the administration of justice.

Throughout the implementation period, between now and the Jan. 1, 2010 effective date, the Tennessee Bar Foundation will work with the Tennessee Bankers Association, the bar and the legal community to implement the new standards for IOLTA accounts.

Briefs

IOLTA grant applications ready Aug. 7: The Tennessee Bar Foundation, through the Interest On Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, provides grant awards to organizations that provide direct civil legal services to the indigent or that seek to improve the administration of justice. Applications for grants to be paid during 2010 will be available on Aug. 7.

Completed applications must be postmarked by Sept. 4. Find out more at www.tnbarfoundation.org.

New student loan program can help lawyers reduce debt: A new federal program intended to help borrowers manage their student debt went into effect July 1. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act will cap monthly loan payments according to income and forgive student debt balances after designated periods of time. For attorneys, the main beneficiaries will be those who go on to have long-term public interest careers. But the program will also make loan payments more affordable for all attorneys with high debt loads and relatively low incomes.

Court grants provide law-related assistance: The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has awarded nearly $220,000 in grants from the Parent Education and Mediation Fund (PEMF) to organizations that provide court-related assistance to low-income parties. The 16 organizations that received funding for the 2009-2010 fiscal year provide services such as mediation and interpreter services for low-income parties, courses to improve dispute resolution skills among families, and offering a safe atmosphere for children when exchanged between parents.

Connect to the story at www.tba.org/journal_links.

U of M Law School grand opening set: The grand opening of new facilities for the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law is set for Jan. 16, 2010, and will feature musical performances, gourmet food and tours given by law school students. The black-tie-optional event is expected to draw more than 1,500 attendees from across the city, state and country. Tickets are $250, with all proceeds benefiting the law school. For more information, contact Chelsea Dubey at ctdubey@memphis.edu.

International Justice Mission gets coffee profit donations: An Oregon coffee company gave every penny from every sale in May " not just profits " to International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency that rescues victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of oppression. During the "Give It All Away in May" campaign, the company, Storyville, raised enough money for IJM to expand its work into Ecuador. IJM currently operates in 12 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. IJM and some of its Tennessee volunteers were featured in a 2006 issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal.

Connect to these stories at www.tba.org/journal_links.

Governor to appoint court reporter board: The governor will appoint a Tennessee Board of Court Reporting under the new licensing law for court reporters created by Public Chapter 450. This nine-member board must have two lawyer members. The Administrative Office of the Courts will provide support to the new body. Find out more from www.tncourts.gov.