New Resource Educates Voters About Judicial System

Tennessee Is a Pilot Site

A new campaign to educate voters about the judicial system, the importance of fair and impartial judicial elections and how to evaluate judicial candidates launched in mid-January with a live webcast and video presentation by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

The effort, “Informed Voters — Fair Judges,” is a project of the National Association of Women Judges in partnership with the League of Women Voters. In Tennessee, one of eight pilot sites for the project, the effort is being implemented by a coordinating committee chaired by Brentwood lawyer Rebecca Blair. Tennessee Bar Association President Cindy Wyrick and Suzanne Keith with the Tennessee Association for Justice are serving as honorary co-chairs.

For Tennessee voters, the project website includes nonpartisan information about the judicial system, qualities to look for in a good judge, a list of judges who will be on the ballot this year and a link to request a speaker on the issue.

For lawyers, the website provides resources for making the case for a fair and impartial legal system and provides links to watch the campaign launch webcast and share the project on social media. Take a look and “like” the project’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/informedvotersproject) and follow the campaign on Twitter (@InformedVoters1).

Wyrick notes that now more than ever, it is critical to increase awareness across the state regarding the importance of electing fair and impartial judges. To get involved in the project, visit the Informed Voters website, http://ivp.nawj.org.

Knoxville Bar Unveils Judicial Campaign Site

The Knoxville Bar Association has launched a voter guide called “Get to Know Your Judicial Candidate” on its website, www.knoxbar.org. The site offers information about the Knoxville courts, how judges are elected in the county and links to other resources.

It also includes a section for those running for office, which offers information about election laws, ethical rules and campaign procedures. KBA Executive Director Marsha Wilson said the site will add candidate profiles following the Feb. 20 filing deadline.

Briefs

Judge: Evaluation Commission Is Unconstitutional
The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission is unconstitutional because its composition does not reflect the composition of the state, Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Hamilton “Kip” Gayden ruled Jan. 14. State law says the panel’s composition shall “approximate the population of the state with respect to race and gender,” but it currently consists of seven white men, one white woman and one black woman, the Tennessean reports. Gayden’s office says the state attorney general’s office plans to appeal the ruling.

Foundation Awards $548K in IOLTA Grants
The Tennessee Bar Foundation awarded $548,030 to 25 organizations across the state as part of its 2014 Interest On Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) grants. Gifts range in size from $3,000 for Catholic Charities’ Immigrant Services to $122,153 for the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Legal aid agencies in Jackson, Knoxville and Memphis also received funding. Access the full list at http://www.tba.org/journal_links.

Largest Gift to Paine Scholarship Given Anonymously
An anonymous donor has made the largest single gift in the history of the Tennessee Judicial Conference Foundation — $37,500 — in honor and memory of the late Donald Franklin Paine, a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association. The foundation, which offers need-based scholarships to students at each of the state’s six law schools, provides 16 grants of $1,500 each year from funds donated by judges and lawyers in Tennessee. The Paine Scholarship endowment, which will provide one $2,500 scholarship each year, is the largest single fund administered by the foundation.

The foundation created the Paine Scholarship two years ago through contributions by judges, attorneys and friends from all over the state, many from Paine’s colleagues in the Knoxville bar. For more information about the Tennessee Judicial Conference Foundation, please contact foundation treasurer Suzanne Keith at skeith@tnaj.org.

Tenn. Law Schools Report Growth; National Numbers Down
National law school enrollment figures reported in December by the American Bar Association show an 11-percent drop in first-year students — a trend not reflected at law schools across Tennessee. By contrast, the state’s six law schools show a combined 3-percent increase in first-year enrollment from 2012 to 2013, though the trend varied at individual schools.The Duncan School of Law in Knoxville saw a more than doubling of first-year students, with 28 new enrollees versus 13 last year. Neither Duncan nor the Nashville School of Law — which saw first-year enrollment slip by 7 percent to 158 — are accredited by the ABA, so their numbers would not have been included in the national picture. The University of Tennessee’s College of Law saw enrollment increase by just over 30 percent to 158, while Vanderbilt and the University of Memphis law schools were nearly flat at 174 and 113, respectively. The Belmont College of Law, which has provisional accreditation from the ABA, reported first-year enrollment down by 20 percent to 82 students.

In an interview with National Public Radio, ABA President James Silkenat said that one reason first-year law school enrollment is down is “student loan debt in the six figures.” He thinks some students have decided that law school is no longer “worth it” since jobs remain scarce and the amount of debt affects career options. “The level of debt, frankly, affects the kinds of careers that law graduates can pursue. It’s very difficult becoming a legal services lawyer working in environmental issues or something where the pay is not … at Wall Street levels,” he said. Silkenat says the enrollment numbers point to a larger issue: law school tuition needs to come down.

Report: Female Associate Numbers Decline Again
Women in the associate ranks declined for the fourth year in a row, while women and minorities in the partnership ranks show some improvement, according to a survey from the National Association of Law Placement (NALP). The percentage of female associates in law firms fell to 44.79 percent in 2013. Minority associate numbers recovered from a decline in 2009 to 2010, and the numbers of female and minority partners also increased slightly.

Diversity Leadership Class Begins
The Young Lawyers Division Diversity Committee selected a class of 21 to participate in the 2014 Diversity Leadership Institute, a six-month leadership and mentoring program for Tennessee law students. Now in its fourth year, the program is designed to develop skills to succeed as a law student and attorney; empower students to contribute more to the legal community; match students to mentors in a diverse variety of practice areas; and build relationships among students of diverse backgrounds. See who they are via http://www.tba.org/journal_links.

First Rules Revision Since 1966
The five Hamilton County General Sessions Court judges have collaborated to publish the first revision of local court rules since 1966, the Chattanoogan reports. Judges Christie Sell, David Bales, Clarence Shattuck, Lila Statom and Gary Starnes drafted the comprehensive rewrite to achieve “uniformity and to inform all persons having business before the court of the requirements regarding procedures, dress-code and appropriate conduct.” The rules took effect Jan. 1.

TBALL Class Launches with Opening Retreat
The 2014 class of the TBA Leadership Law program kicked off Jan. 9 with an opening retreat at Montgomery Bell State Park. Above, Clarksville lawyer Brad Carter and Knoxville lawyer Amanda Busby were among 33 attorneys from across the state who were selected from several hundred nominees. The group will meet monthly, learning about leadership in the legal profession, issues in the courts, policymaking in state government and the importance of community service. Among speakers at the opening retreat were Covington lawyer Houston Gordon, Memphis lawyer Lewis Donelson, Nashville attorney Bob Tuke and TBA President Cindy Wyrick.