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Links for January 2012
Court holds 'discussion' on judicial conduct and recusal proposals
On Dec. 2, 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court devoted more than three and a half hours to what the court characterized as a "discussion" of the Tennessee Bar Association's petition to update the state's Code of Judicial Conduct and adopt new procedural rules to address disqualification of judges. Members of a TBA task force who have been working more than two years participated in the discussion. Committee members were lead by Task Force Chair and Chattanooga attorney Max Bahner, Reporter and Knoxville attorney Sarah Sheppeard, and judges Walter Kurtz and Angelita Blackshear Dalton from Nashville. Former TBA President Gail Vaughn Ashworth, who appointed the group during her term, kicked off the discussion. Also appearing before the court on the issue were Chancellor John Weaver from Knoxville, 16th District Public Defender Gerald Melton from Murfreesboro, District Attorney General Torry Johnson from Nashville, and Justice At Stake/Brennan Center representative Adam Skaggs.
Read more about the proposed changes from the AOC
TBA chosen for national civility program
The Tennessee Bar Association has been selected as one of nine organizations to take part in a national civility program. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), "Civility and Free Expression in a Constitutional Democracy -- A National Dialogue" will be administered through the American Bar Association Division for Public Education. The TBA has established a planning committee to tailor the model to our state and draw in a public audience for three events that will be held in late 2012 and early 2013. Our partners across the state are: the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Lipscomb University and the First Amendment Center in Nashville. TBA President-Elect Jackie Dixon will lead the planning process.
Memphis law curriculum undergoes major change
Starting with the class that enters in the fall of 2012, students at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will have more flexibility in the classes they take earlier in their education. The curriculum, the school contends, will better reflect what really is happening in the practice of law. "For many, many years, most law schools were geared toward a traditional litigation model," David Romantz, associate dean for academic affairs, said. "But certainly in modern practice, there's a lot more transactional work, and even within litigation there's a lot more alternative to litigation such as negotiation and mediation."
Are law schools adequately preparing graduates? Experts repeatedly advise law schools to incorporate more practical training so that students graduate ready to practice. Two schools in Tennessee are moving in that direction. The University of Memphis recently announced it is revamping its curriculum to better reflect trends in the profession, while Belmont University College of Law has placed an emphasis on hiring faculty with significant practice experience. The New York Times examines the state of the issue
Legal Aid of East Tenn. closes Cleveland office
Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) closed its Cleveland office in December, citing federal budget cuts. In making the announcement, LAET Executive Director David R. Yoder explained that the agency attempted to maintain its current level of service by freezing staff salaries, reducing benefits and cutting training programs, but that those efforts proved insufficient — leading the LAET Board of Directors to lay off six staff members. LAET will continue to assist eligible low-income persons in the area out of its Chattanooga office while it looks for donated space in Bradley County to meet with clients.
Read more from Yoder's statement
High school mock trial case, rules released
The Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division in November released the case and rules for the 2012 High School Mock Trial Competition. Drafted by the YLD Mock Trial Committee, under the leadership of Chair Troy Weston and Vice Chair Candi Henry, this year's case features a struggling textile manufacturing business that is destroyed in a late night fire. Allegations of arson lead the insurer to deny any claims and file a declaratory action that no benefits are owed. The owner denies any knowledge of or involvement in the incident. As always, the case involves its share of characters, including a secretary making $8,300 a month and a disgruntled employee who moonlights as a speed metal-bluegrass fusion musician. Throw in the allegation of an inappropriate office romance and theft of college sports memorabilia from an office safe and you have the makings of another great mock trial case.
Local competitions will take place across the state in February. Local winners will face off at the state competition, March 16-17, in Nashville.
Learn more and download the competition material
Judge apologizes to Kelo for eminent domain decision
In November, a state Supreme Court justice in Connecticut told Susette Kelo that he was sorry that he joined the court majority in upholding the improper eminent domain action against Kelo and others. He told her that he would have ruled differently had he known the implications of the decision. In an editorial, the Times Free Press calls it a "startling apology." Read the editorial
Archives to preserve state's legal history
Tennessee court records dating back more than two centuries -- including the Scopes "monkey trial" case file, lawsuits challenging Jim Crow legislation, and cases involving Andrew Jackson both as a judge and as a litigant -- are among materials unearthed in the Tennessee State Library and Archives' efforts to create a database that the public can search online. The project will preserve 10,000 boxes of Supreme Court cases from the state's birth to the 1950s. "This is a project that's going to take years to finish, but at the end of it, Tennesseans will have access to the legal foundation of the state," Assistant State Archivist Wayne Moore says. Learn more from The Tennessean
Memory not as reliable as previously thought
This month, the Supreme Court heard its first oral argument in more than three decades questioning the validity of eye witness testimony. The case involves a New Hampshire man convicted of theft, who was accused by a woman who saw him from a distance in the dead of night. For scientists, memory has been on trial for decades, and courts and public opinion are only now catching up with the verdict. It has come as little surprise to researchers that about 75 percent of DNA-based exonerations have come in cases where witnesses got it wrong.
Read more about eyewitness memory in The New York Times
Supreme Court launches access to justice website
The Tennessee Supreme Court today announced a new online service to help the public navigate the court system and provide resources for those who cannot afford legal representation. The new website, JusticeForAllTN.com, includes downloadable court forms, information about common legal issues, guidance for self-represented litigants and an interactive map highlighting services available in each of the state's 95 counties. The site also provides a link to OnlineTNJustice.org -- a web-based project of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the Tennessee Bar Association that matches volunteer lawyers with those in need of free legal assistance. Finally, the site features a section for attorneys to volunteer their services and learn about pro bono opportunities.
In announcing the site, Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said, "We view the Justice For All website as a clearinghouse of information and legal resources for Tennesseans facing civil legal issues without the assistance of an attorney" and "hope this site can make the legal system more accessible for all Tennesseans, regardless of income level."
Learn more about this new service
More than 1,500 people and businesses are now getting regular updates on news from the Tennessee legal community by following the Tennessee Bar Association on Twitter. Join the crowd by following @tennesseebar or watch for the tag #tnlaw. You can also watch for regular updates on the TBA's Facebook page.
Survey: State court budget cuts will impact public
A survey issued by the National Center for State Courts warns of the public impact of recent cuts, including 42 states with substantial court budget decreases; 39 states where clerk vacancies were not filled; 34 states where court staff were laid off; and 23 states with reduced court operating hours. The National Law Journal has more [free registration required]
ABA to change job data reporting
The American Bar Association is changing the way it collects graduate employment information from law schools. The council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar on Dec. 3 approved a new annual questionnaire intended to gather more detailed information about where recent law grads find work. The change came as law students, graduates and three U.S. senators heaped criticism on the ABA and law schools for not providing prospective law students with an accurate picture of graduate employment and salary levels. Read more in the National Law Journal