News

TBA Plans Strategies for Judicial Elections

The Tennessee Bar Association unveiled plans in May to assist in ensuring that the 2014 judicial elections help to maintain a fair,  impartial and accountable judiciary, and honor the dignity of the courts while allowing a vigorous debate. Strict neutrality in judicial elections will remain a hallmark of the TBA, Executive Director Allan Ramsaur said.

Those plans reviewed and reaffirmed by the TBA at its April meeting include:

  • A brand new Tennessee Supreme Court Candidate Evaluation Poll, which will poll all TBA members on the upcoming retention election  
  • Vigorous use of a policy on unjust criticism, which requires the leadership to respond to false and misleading statements about judges and the judicial system
  • Continued voter education efforts like the Informed Voter Project and TBA Judicial Selection Center webpage at http://www.tba.org/info/2014-tennessee-judicial-selection-information-ce...

The poll will be conducted using SurveyMonkey® polling software. Each member will be given a unique identifying address to vote. Those members who have not provided the TBA with an email address will be mailed a letter with the information enclosed to vote by electronic means. Those with email addresses should have received an email on or about May 28.

Members will be asked to state whether they would highly recommend, recommend, not recommend or express no opinion at this time as to the three members of the Tennessee Supreme Court standing for retention election on the August 7 ballot. Poll results will be reported in mid-June.

The policy on unjust criticism was adopted in 1998 as a result of the blue ribbon task force on judicial elections.  For more information about the TBA program go to www.tba.org/

COURTS

Court Clarifies Standard for Review of Judicial Diversion  The Tennessee Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion in April clarified the standard of appellate review for a trial court’s decision regarding judicial diversion, the Administrative Office of the Court reports. When a case is appealed, the court must determine what standard of review applies. In the case State v. King, the defendant argued that the Court of Criminal Appeals used the wrong standard when reviewing the trial court’s decision to deny judicial diversion. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Court of Criminal Appeals, adopting as the appropriate standard of review for judicial diversion rulings “abuse of discretion with a presumption of reasonableness.”

RESEARCH

Salaries, Billing Rates Still Low for Female Lawyers 
A recent study reported in the ABA Journal found that female lawyers and judges earn about 82 percent of what their male counterparts make. And when it comes to billing rates, another study found that female law-firm partners are lagging behind their male counterparts. That analysis, reported by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, found that women partners on average earn 10 percent less for their services then male partners. The analysis also found that the gap begins at the junior lawyer level and is more pronounced among seasoned attorneys at major firms — even when female partners possess similar levels of experience and work in the same market.

1 in 25 Sentenced to Death Are Likely Innocent, Study Says 
A new study suggests that about one in 25 people who are sentenced to death are likely innocent, the ABA Journal reports. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that while only 1.6 percent of those on death row are exonerated and released, the actual figure is likely a minimum of 4.1 percent when statistical assumptions are applied to the cases of people who are removed from death row and given life sentences.

Related, Tennessee’s House and Senate approved the the Capital Punishment Enforcement Act in April, which would allow the state Department of Correction to use the electric chair for executions if lethal injection chemicals are unavailable. At the time of publication, the bill had been sent to Gov. Bill Haslam.

PRACTICE

ABA Ethics Opinion: Do Not 'Friend' Jurors 
Lawyers may look up jurors or potential jurors on the Internet and social media, but they may not communicate directly with them — such as asking to “friend” them on Facebook. According to Formal Opinion 466 issued in April by the ABA Standing Committee in Ethics and Professionalism, lawyers may pick through the troves of public information that jurors put on the Internet about themselves. “The ‘mere act of observing’ is not improper ex parte conduct, much as driving down a juror’s street to get a sense of his or her environs isn’t,” the ABA Journal reports.

Nashville Mayor Proposes New Conservator Agency 
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has proposed a new Office of Public Guardian to defend the elderly and others who are not able to care for themselves. His budget, released last month, includes $195,000 to establish the office and hire a public guardian and accountant. The office would be the first publicly funded in the state. Guardians typically are paid through fees assessed on individuals receiving the assistance. Davidson County Probate Judge David “Randy” Kennedy praised the move and said he was confident the Metro Council would approve the funding. Dean’s proposal tracks recommendations from a task force Kennedy appointed.

EDUCATION

ABA Forms Task Force on Cost of Legal Education 
The American Bar Association has formed a new task force charged with examining the cost of a legal education, how law school is financed, what role student loans play and the impact of overall educational debt. The ABA Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education also will consider current practices in the use of merit scholarships, tuition discounting and need-based aid. Members of the task force include Memphis lawyer Lucian Pera, a partner at Adams and Reese, and treasurer of the ABA.

Arizona to Offer First Bachelor’s in Law 
The University of Arizona will be the first major U.S. university to offer a bachelor of arts degree in law when it launches its program next fall, according to the National Law Journal. Arizona’s program will differ from the prelaw or legal-studies majors offered by many universities, which tend to focus broadly on the social sciences, while Arizona’s will closely resemble a law school curriculum, with the law classes taught by full-time law school faculty. The program will allows students to complete a bachelor’s in law and a juris doctor degree within six years, rather than the typical seven.