Links for January 2015

Duncan School of Law Earns Accreditation

The ABA has granted provisional approval for the Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) John J. Duncan Jr. School of Law, officials announced yesterday. The move comes five years after the school first sought and was denied accreditation. In responding to the news, Dean Parham Williams said the adversity encountered in the accreditation process “made the institution stronger, our program of legal education better and our administration wiser.” The Claiborne Progress has more.

No Pay Raise in 20 Years Creates Problems for Court-Appointed Lawyers

Court-appointed lawyers in Tennessee have not seen a pay raise in 20 years, the Commercial Appeal reports, and some earn less than half as much per hour to try a murder case as expert witnesses earn to testify. The piece quotes defense attorney Michael Working, who says current rate caps and a confusing and bureaucratic process for collecting payment pose a direct threat to equal access to justice for all defendants. The article also cites a recent TBA survey that showed  many experienced attorneys have stopped taking court-appointed cases because the fees are too low and the paperwork is too burdensome.

Survey: Discontent Among Court-Appointed Attorneys

A recent TBA survey of private attorneys who handle court appointed work shows they feel undervalued, overworked and unfairly compensated. More than half of those who took the survey reported that they frequently hit the fee cap on appointed cases, while 77 percent reported that they do not bother submiting a fee claim given the issues associated with getting paid. Survey responses also indicated an overwhelming number of cases are not adult criminal cases, but dependency, neglect and abuse work, generally as a guardian ad litem or a parent's attorney. More than half of respondents left lengthy comments on their experience with court appointed work, with many reporting that they love doing the work but cannot continue doing so at the current compensation rates, likening the work to doing pro bono. Respondents also reported that the filing requirements frequently add stress to an already difficult-to-handle clientele. With a compensation rate that has not changed since 1994, Tennessee court-appointed attorneys are among the lowest paid in the nation. Read more from the survey results.

Independent Spending Dominated 2014 Judicial Elections

Large-scale independent spending ushered in by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision dominated this year’s judicial elections, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP). Independent spending totaled more than $8.5 million of an overall $15 million spent on the elections, according to CAP, which said it was the first time independent spending outpaced candidate spending. GavelGrab has the story.

Free Courts, Free Speech to be Weighed in Upcoming Case

The Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in January in a case that could make races for judgeships “even more like contests for other elected offices,” Gavel Grab reports from Governing Magazine. In Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the court will be asked to decide the constitutionality of state bans on judicial candidates personally soliciting campaign contributions. Lawyers for Lanell Williams-Yulee, a former judicial candidate, contend the Florida solicitation ban restricts free speech in an unconstitutional way. Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said the prohibitions are among the only protections of the integrity of these contests that remain today.

Ramsey, Harwell Re-elected

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Majority Leader Mark Norris and Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron all were re-elected to their posts without any opposition during today’s caucus leadership elections. House Speaker Beth Harwell defeated Rep. Rick Womack with a margin of 57-15 to retain her post. Rep. Kevin Brooks was re-elected as assistant majority leader over Rep. Jeremy Faison, and Rep. Jeremy Durham defeated the incumbent majority whip, Rep. Cameron Sexton. Rep. Sheila Butt was elected as floor leader, replacing Rep. Vance Dennis who was ousted in the August primary. The Nashville Post has more.

Haslam Statement May Alter LGBT Protections, Attorney Says

A largely overlooked case issued by the Tennessee Court of Appeals may have given lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals new protections from discrimination in the state of Tennessee, attorney Keith Dennen writes in a Tennessean opinion piece. In Lisa Howe, et al. v. Bill Haslam, the plaintiff alleged that a 2011 Act of the Tennessee General Assembly that added a definition of “sex” to the Tennessee Human Rights Act and created the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act violated the Equal Protection guarantees of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. Although the case was dismissed, buried within the appellate opinion, the text says, “the governor submits, ‘transsexual individuals are protected from discrimination on the basis of sex (including discrimination for failure to conform to gender stereotypes) by the THRA [Tennessee Human Rights Act] and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.’ ” Though the language only specifically states that transsexual people are protected from discrimination, this statement has the potential to open the door for blanketed discrimination protection for the entire LGBT community, Dennan suggests.

Judge Credits 4-H for Her Success

Judge Pamela Reeves credits the youth development program 4-H with helping to prepare her to become the first female to serve on the federal bench in the Eastern District of Tennessee. Growing up in the mountains of southwest Virginia and in Bluff City, the former TBA president came from an economically challenged family and says 4-H —  whose H’s stand for head, heart, hands and health — gave her opportunities to travel and to grow that would otherwise not have come her way. “I would not be the person that I am today had it not been for 4-H,” she states. “That was just an eye-opening opportunity to learn so much, including leadership skills and public speaking. It was hugely impactful.” Tennessee Alumnus magazine has more on Reeves' life and accomplishments.

Tennessee Lawyers Admitted to U.S. Supreme Court Bar

On motion of TBA President Jonathan Steen, 13 Tennessee lawyers were admitted to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court on Wednesday. The group heard arguments in the UPS pregnancy case, had a talk about the Supreme Court building and took part in a tour of the U.S. Capitol as part of the annual TBA Academy program. Read more about the arguments in the UPS case at SCOTUSblog.

Confirmations Up, Judicial Openings Down

The number of empty federal judgeships is now at its lowest level since President Obama’s first year in office, the Brennan Center reports from The Bulletin. As of Nov. 28, there were 56 federal court vacancies, of which 19 were considered judicial emergencies. The Senate is poised to conclude its most productive two-year period of judicial confirmations since the Clinton administration when it confirmed 128 judges during 1993-1994. The current Senate has confirmed 122 since January 2013, with more confirmations likely upcoming.

ABA Sponsors Magna Carta Video Competition

This year’s ABA-sponsored video competition invites students in grades 9-12 to create a video celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. Videos should answer the question: “Magna Carta: What’s So Great About the 'Great Charter'?” Submissions are due Jan. 15. The competition is sponsored by the ABA in partnership with The Center for the Teaching of the Rule of Law. Learn more here.

AOC Clarifies New Rule Allowing Fixed-Fee Contracts for Indigent Representation

The Administrative Office of the Courts today released a statement clarifying the recent adoption of a new Rule 13, Section 7, allowing flat fee contracts for court-appointed work in the areas of judicial hospitalization, child support contempt and dependency and neglect cases. The office reiterated that the new rule does not require but merely allows fixed fee contracts in these case areas, nor does it require the AOC to award contracts to lowest bidder or engage in bidding at all.

"The goal is not to displace attorneys who currently do the work," the AOC said in its statement. "The goal is to manage the resources given to the indigent fund by the legislature in the most efficient way possible." The AOC indicated that the first area to use the new contract method will be Shelby County in judicial hospitalization cases. Beginning in January 2015, judges may still assign attorneys to these cases, but only those who agree to the new contract system. In the 2013-14 budget year, judicial hospitalizations represented only 4 percent of the Indigent Representation Fund budget.

YLD Releases 2015 Mock Trial Case

The TBA YLD Mock Trial Committee has released the problem and rules for the 2015 Tennessee High School Mock Trial Competition. The list of district coordinators also is now available. This year’s problem involves charges of vehicular homicide and reckless endangerment against the driver of a car, who may have been texting when a motorcycle rider is hit and killed. The case comes down to discrepancies in eyewitness reports, physical evidence at the scene and the vehicle’s event data recorder. This year for the first time, TBA is using Twitter to communicate case and competition news. Feel free to follow along at @tnmocktrial or sign up to receive updates by email.

Melanie Wilson Named UT Law Dean

Melanie D. Wilson, professor of law, associate dean for academic affairs, and director of diversity and inclusion at the University of Kansas School of Law, has been named the new dean of the University of Tennessee College of Law. She will take office July 1, replacing Doug Blaze, who announced his decision earlier this year to return to full-time teaching. Wilson earned her law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. Her past experience includes clerking for a federal district judge, working as an assistant U.S. attorney, and serving as assistant attorney general for the state of Georgia. Her academic work has focused on criminal prosecution and procedure, including search and seizure, the right to a jury trial and prosecutorial ethics.

CLE Commission Awards $100,000 for Access to Justice Initiatives

The Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization has awarded more than $100,000 in grants to support Access to Justice initiatives in the state, the AOC announced Wednesday. The grants will extend by one year each the pro bono coordinator position and the aLEGALz project. The grants come from the CLE Commission’s reserves, funded from fees paid by attorneys who do not meet CLE requirements. “Encouraging lawyers to give back to their communities is a priority for the Court,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee. “These programs play a significant role in identifying opportunities and aligning the appropriate resources, and we are grateful that the funding to continue them was possible.”