Lee Named to Supreme Court

Female Majority

Sharon Gail Lee of Madisonville was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court Sept. 29, giving women the majority on the five-member court for the first time.

Lee, who has served on the Tennessee Court of Appeals since 2004, fills a vacancy created by the recent retirement of Justice William M. "Mickey" Barker.

Before her appointment to the bench, Lee gained a variety of experience in both civil and criminal litigation. She began the practice of law in 1978 with J.D. Lee and Associates in Madisonville. She subsequently worked in various partnerships and as a solo practitioner before her appointment by Gov. Bredesen to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, in June 2004.

"My 26 years of experience as an attorney encompassed virtually all of the types of cases that the Tennessee Supreme Court is called upon to consider, so I understand very well the impact the court has on the lives of those who come before it," Lee said.

Lee, 54, holds a bachelor's degree in business administration with high honors from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law, where she graduated in the top 15 percent of her class. She has been a member of the Tennessee Bar Association House of Delegates since 2003. She is president of the East Tennessee Lawyers' Association for Women and a previous member of the board of the Tennessee Lawyer's Association for Women.

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Access to Justice 'New Priority' for Court, Rhodes Will Coordinate

Chief Justice Janice Holder told attendees of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services Statewide Equal Justice Conference in September that access to justice (ATJ) is the new strategic priority for the Supreme Court.

As part of its effort, Holder told the gathering in Manchester that the court is reviewing proposed ATJ-related rules submitted by the Tennessee Bar Association and that the court supports the TBA's push asking law firms to adopt formal pro bono policies. (See model firm pro bono policies at www.tba.org/committees/AccesstoJustice/probono.html)

The court has also created a new position, access to justice coordinator. Becky Rhodes takes over this spot after holding a similar position at the TBA for five years.

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Briefs

Open records office adopts revised fee schedule: The state Office of Open Records has revised its fee schedule for copying public records. After holding a public hearing in which many complained that the original schedule was too complicated, the office announced in September a new simplified schedule. The fee schedule is required by legislation passed last session that updates the state's open records law.

Court seeks comments on proposed rules changes: On Oct. 3, the Tennessee Supreme Court published for comment proposed 2009 amendments to the Tennessee Rules of Procedure and Evidence. These amendments include rules on voluntary mediation in appellate practice, changes to the rules of civil procedure including provisions advocated by the TBA for distribution of residual class action funds to programs or funds which serve pro bono legal needs, changes in the rules of criminal procedure dealing with preliminary hearings and indictments, changes in the rules of juvenile procedure addressing permanency planning, and changes in the rules of evidence dealing with expert witnesses and prior inconsistent statements. The court's deadline for submission of comments is Nov. 26. That is also the deadline for comments on proposed amendments to the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure on electronically stored information. That proposal was published for comment on June 20. Download the proposed amendments at www.tba.org/journal_links

Federal courts directed to cut costs: In September, the U.S. Judicial Conference " the policy-making body of the federal judiciary " issued new policies to reduce costs. Among its recommendations are guidelines encouraging courtroom sharing by federal judges, changes to payroll systems, elimination of rent for court buildings and reductions in the size of judicial chambers and other court facilities. Read more from Law.com at www.tba.org/journal_links

Study shows growing salary gap:
A new study by the National Association for Law Placement Inc. suggests that the difference between starting salaries at big law firms and those at government and public interest organizations is growing. While starting salaries at big city firms typically hit $160,000, median entry-level salaries for public interest and legal services lawyers, as well as state and local prosecutors, hover around $40,000. Learn more about the study at www.tba.org/journal_links

Nashville lawyers volunteer in record numbers: Nashville lawyers stepped forward to become the largest team of volunteers ever to take part in the Hands on Nashville community service day. Ana Escobar, a principal at Escobar & Parks and a board member for "Hands On Nashville," had challenged the Nashville Bar Association to create the biggest team in the event's 17-year history. About 125 lawyers from professional groups, government legal communities and 11 firms responded. They spent a Saturday landscaping, painting, repairing and cleaning at Metro Nashville public schools.

Protection strengthened for design patents: Patent lawyers say a rare en banc ruling in late September by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will strengthen protection of design patents. The decision holds that courts should use an "ordinary observer" test, which asks whether the designs are substantially the same in the eyes of an ordinary observer, rather than a "point of novelty" test, which asks whether the design incorporates the novelty of an already patented design. Read more from Law.com at www.tba.org/journal_links

Loans for law school should be unaffected for now: New York Law School Dean Richard Matasar told the National Law Journal that most law students rely on Graduate PLUS loans that have government backing. As a result, lenders are likely to continue to offer the loans. That's not the case for private loans, however, which are harder to come by, said Matasar, who is chairman of the board of directors of education lender Access Group. Read the Law.com story at www.tba.org/journal_links