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Links for August 2014
The Memphis Bar Association (MBA) today released the results of its member poll of judicial candidates standing for retention election and The 1,383 members responding gave strong support for the retention of the state Supreme Court justices -- with all receiving about 80 percent support -- and for local appellate judges. See the full results for member preferences in trial court and other judicial races.
In a 12-minute video released this week, Knoxville Bar Association President Wade Davies encourages citizens to vote in the Aug. 7 retention elections. To help voters make informed decisions, the KBA created “Get to Know Your Judicial Candidates,” a section of the KBA website with non-partisan, objective information about the elections and the qualifications of the candidates.
The Nashville Bar Association today released the results of a member poll for the Aug. 7 General Election. NBA members were asked to comment on contested candidates as well as Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges standing for retention election. The poll found that 8 of 10 lawyers recommend retaining Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee. “The goal of doing the poll is to provide the media and the public with information. The purpose is twofold: (1) to encourage the selection of qualified judges and public officials in the judicial system and (2) to have attorneys who are likely to know these candidates, both personally and professionally, provide an opinion on their qualifications,” said Gigi Woodruff, executive director of the association.
A Montgomery County Bar Association straw poll shows support among Clarksville lawyers for turnover in two offices: Circuit Court District III and the district attorney general. The straw poll, required in the Bar Association’s bylaws, was voted on Wednesday by association members and shared with The Leaf-Chronicle.
The members of the Bristol Tennessee Bar Association unanimously adopted a resolution today supporting retention of all judges on the state Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals as well as the three Supreme Court justices who will face voters Aug. 7. The association reported that it took the position based on recommendations from the Tennessee Judicial Evaluation Commission, believing that promotion of a fair and impartial process for electing jurists is necessary to ensure the integrity of the state’s legal system. The five judges present at the meeting did not vote on the resolution in accordance with Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
On the five year anniversary of the landmark Caperton v. Massey decision, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg spoke out about the threat to the judiciary caused by runaway judicial election spending. “The threat to impartial courts has grown since Citizens United in 2010," he wrote in a statement. "Special interest money has flooded into judicial elections through outside channels. Now, almost nine of 10 Americans believe that campaign cash is affecting courtroom decisions. Caperton’s message has only grown stronger: Every state that elects its judges needs to take steps to ensure that justice is not for sale. These measures could include a range of steps, including stronger recusal and disclosure rules, and providing public financing for judicial elections — or adopting a merit selection system as an alternative to contested elections."
The partisan campaign to oust three Democrat-appointed Tennessee Supreme Court justices in the upcoming retention election has received national attention, GavelGrab reports. A Slate article profiles the Tennessee contest and its players, and voices alarm about another big-spending race that could threaten fair and impartial courts. “When judicial races turn into spending races, what suffers most is not Democrats or Republicans, but judicial independence and integrity,” Dahlia Lithwick writes in the article, "How to Take Out a Supreme Court Justice."
Upholding a fair and impartial court based on a solemn oath sworn by each of three Supreme Court justices is the centerpiece of a television ad that begins airing across the state today, the Chattanoogan reports. The ad, “Oath,” shows Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee taking the oath of office to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee. The ad also states that the justices have protected individual rights and the right to bear arms and have upheld nearly 90 percent of the death sentences that have come before them during their time on the court. Watch it here.
Law schools admitted 39,675 first-year students last year, the smallest incoming class since the 1970s. That number represents an 11 percent drop from the prior year and a 24 percent drop in three years. According to figures from the Law School Admission Council, the number of applicants for the first-year class in 2014 has dropped nearly 8 percent from last year. Bucking the trend are Harvard Law School and students who score high on the Law School Admission Test. More high-scoring students are applying to law school, and applications to Harvard’s law school are up significantly this year, the ABA Journal reports. At least one school — Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Ann Arbor, Michigan, campus — is not enrolling any first-years this fall.
Law school “stock” is currently undervalued after the recent decline in legal jobs, a Slate article claims. With the number of law school applications at its lowest in 30 years and the legal market starting to stabilize, the articles says now might be a good time to go to law school as job-hunting in 2016 is going to be “a relative cinch.” Above the Law wholly refutes Slate’s premise, however, saying, “Law school isn’t an ‘investment’ like buying a stock, so much as it’s a gamble like buying a lotto ticket.” Read more at the ABA Journal.
A formal investiture ceremony to install Judge Jeffrey Bivins as the newest member of the Tennessee Supreme Court will take place next Wednesday (July 16) at 3 p.m. at the Franklin Theatre in downtown Franklin. A reception will follow. The theater is located at 419 Main St. View the invitation and response card.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed dismissal of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the "Tennessee Plan" under which the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court and judges of the intermediate appellate courts will stand for retention election on Aug. 7. The lawsuit, brought by Knoxville lawyer Herbert Moncier, is the second unsuccessful federal challenge to the plan, which has been upheld by every state and federal court to examine the issue.
The Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) announced today that it has created the Janice M. Holder Access to Justice Award to honor the state’s first female Supreme Court chief justice, a passionate leader in Tennessee's Access to Justice efforts and a dedicated public servant. The award will be presented each year to an individual who has made significant contributions to expanding access to justice in Tennessee. The group is accepting applications for this and other awards through July 18. The awards will be presented Sept. 10 during TALS' Equal Justice University.
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bernice Donald will receive the American Bar Association’s 2014 John H. Pickering Award of Achievement during the group’s Annual Meeting in Boston this August. Donald, a native of Mississippi, worked for Memphis Area Legal Services and the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office before being elected the first female African-American judge in Tennessee. She later moved from General Sessions court to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and the U.S. District Court for western Tennessee. She was appointed to her current position in 2010. In nominating Donald, California attorney Pauline Weaver wrote, “Judge Donald represents the best of the profession. She has consistently demonstrated the kind of integrity, legal ability, access to justice and public service that would make John Pickering proud.”
The Tennessee Bar Association joined Lipscomb University in sponsoring the annual Law Camp program this week in Nashville. TBA volunteers presenting at Law Camp included TBA Public Education Committee Chair Shauna Billingsley, past TBA President Jackie Dixon, Jimmie Lynn Ramsaur and Tiffani Pope. TBA staff members Denise Bentley, Josie Beets and Liz Todaro also led sessions. The school's Institute for Law, Justice & Society hosts high school students from across the country to participate in the week-long residential camp that exposes the students to various aspects of the legal profession. The Napier-Looby Bar Association and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings were also camp sponsors.
The TBA partnered with Lipscomb University for its annual Law Camp, held in Nashville this week (June 23-27). Other Law Camp sponsors included the Napier-Looby Bar Association and law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. Each summer, Lipscomb University’s Institute for Law, Justice & Society hosts high school students from across the country to participate in a week long residential camp that exposes them to various aspects of the legal profession.
For the first time since 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed unanimously on more than 66 percent of its cases throughout the term, Georgetown University law professor Neal K. Katyal writes in an opinion piece for the New York Times. Katyal notes that the figure still holds even if Monday’s remaining two cases are not unanimous. “Unanimity is important because it signals that the justices can rise above their differences and interpret the law without partisanship,” Katyal writes. “When the justices forge common ground, it signals to the nation the deep-seated roots of what the court has said and contributes to stability in the fabric of the law."
The Administrative Office of the Courts is now working with Justice for Vets to help veterans who find themselves before a judge. More than 60 veterans became the state’s first ever Veterans Treatment Court mentors. Mentors completed a boot camp to learn how to help fellow men and women in uniform who end-up with criminal charges, and will be able to work in courts across the state, News Channel 5 reports.
A formal ethics opinion issued by the Board of Professional Responsibility on June 13 looks at whether a lawyer who represented a testator can refuse to disclose the will prior to the client’s death based on attorney-client privilege or confidentiality. The opinion was requested by an attorney who says it is becoming more common for courts to order wills and other testamentary documents drafted for competent clients be made available to guardians or conservators handling the affairs of the individual after he or she is no longer competent.
David Rivera was nominated yesterday to be U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee by President Barack Obama. Rivera has been the acting federal prosecutor since April 2013 when he replaced Jerry Martin, who entered private practice, the Tennessean reports.
The Washington Post examines why being a public defender is increasingly bad for a candidate’s political future in a June 17 article. Political candidates in Arkansas and South Carolina were subjected to attacks for having "personally defended dangerous criminals" as part of their jobs as defense attorneys. The paper notes one of the reasons Debo Adegbile’s nomination to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division was rejected was because he once helped prepare a brief in defense of a man convicted of murdering a police officer. Potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also faced attack for her work as a defense attorney early in her career. Steven Benjamin, the immediate past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called the attacks on criminal defense attorneys and public defenders assigned by the state “grossly unfair.” "Public defenders and court-appointed attorneys are the backbone of the criminal justice system," he said. "Without them, the criminal justice system couldn't function."
The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees voted today to freeze tuition for College of Law students for the 2014-2015 academic year. Tuition will remain at $16,078 for Tennessee residents and $34,522 for out-of-state students. “While UT Law has been identified as a solid value in legal education for years, even modest tuition increases make the cost of attendance very challenging for many candidates who would add talent and diversity to our student body,” College of Law Dean Douglas A. Blaze said in a statement.
The groundbreaking civics education campaign backed by the TBA has earned an Emmy Award for a public service film featuring former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The Informed Voters Project was developed by the National Association of Women Judges. It focuses on providing non-partisan education to increase public awareness about the judicial system, to inform voters that politics and special interest attacks have no place in the courts, and to give voters the tools they need to exercise an informed vote in favor of fair and impartial courts.
Supreme Court Gives Sendoff to Justice Koch
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William C. Koch Jr. was honored at a reception today (July 7) at the Tennessee Supreme Court building in advance of his upcoming retirement. Emceed by Justice Connie Clark, the program featured comments by those impacted by Koch's service over the years. Herbert Slattery, counsel to the governor, presented a gubernatorial proclamation announcing today as "Justice William C. Koch Jr. Appreciation Day" and Sen. Randy McNally presented a resolution from the Tennessee General Assembly honoring Koch. All five members of the court were present at the standing-room-only event. To honor their colleague, the justices made a donation to the Nashville School of Law — where Koch will take over as dean next week – and Chief Justice Gary Wade presented a framed copy of the recent Tennessee Bar Journal, which features Koch on the cover. Court of Appeals Judge Frank Clement, a trustee of the Nashville School of Law, also spoke. He said Koch's arrival will be a huge "shot in the arm" for the school. See photos from the event.
A Memphis lawyer was scammed out of $40,000, Local Memphis reports. Attorney Wes Fowler said he received a phone call claiming his sister would be arrested if he did not pay $800. Although Fowler did not follow through, the criminals were able to gather enough information about him to send a fake email to his bank requesting a $40,000 money transfer to an account in New York. There have been other victims of similar scams across the country, according to reports. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating the case and has alerted the Secret Service and FBI.