Links for June 2015

National Pro Bono Tool to be Based on OnlineTNJustice

The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is implementing a national interactive pro bono website based on Tennessee’s OnlineTNJustice. The decision came at a meeting late last week in Austin. Former TBA President and Baker Donelson lawyer George T. “Buck” Lewis said, “We got this far because of a great team effort and we now need help from Tennessee attorneys with the work of funding the national site and signing up the remaining states.” Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark also praised the move saying, “It is so exciting to see Tennessee ideas ... be embraced coast to coast.” OnlineTNJustice is a joint project of the TBA, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and Baker Donelson.

No Deal: Senate Passes on Judicial Confirmation Plan

The Tennessee Senate voted late Wednesday night 4 yes, 1 no and 27 present not voting on adoption of a conference committee report on SB0001/HB0142 implementing appellate judge confirmation. Led by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Memphis, the upper chamber action left the conference committee report on the desk for action next year as time ran out in the first year of a two-year legislative term. Members of the Senate expressed reservations with voting for confirmation in a joint convention, believing it would dilute the power of the Senate. Attorney General Herbert Slatery opined last month that the governor could continue to appoint appellate judges under present authority if no new statue was adopted. Creation of a trial court vacancy commission, appointed by the two speakers, which would nominate three lawyers to fill any vacancy on the trial bench, was also deferred by the Senate's action. The governor continues to have unfettered statutory power to make interim appointments pending the next election. Follow how the vote unfolded in a Storify collection of Tweets.

Chief Justice Stresses Gender Equality in Legal World

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee challenged the legal profession to set the standard for all professions and make gender equality a top priority during remarks at the East Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women (ETLAW) annual Supreme Court luncheon. In her speech, Chief Justice Lee cited statistics from the July 2014 American Bar Association publication, A Current Glance at Women in the Law, noting that although women make up 47 percent of law students and 45 percent of private practice associates, only 17 percent of equity partners are women. Most concerning, she said, is that female attorneys make only 79 percent of what their male counterparts pull in. The AOC has more.

Lawyers Urge Court to Consider Electric Chair Claim

Lawyers at some of the state's most prominent law firms are urging the state Supreme Court to allow inmates to move forward with a claim the electric chair is an unconstitutional method of execution, the Tennessean reports.Twenty-two attorneys filed a brief with the Tennessee Supreme Court last week citing "a common calling to promote justice and public good." The court heard oral arguments in the case Wednesday in Knoxville.

High Court Hears Electric Chair Challenge in Knoxville

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard a challenge to a new state law resurrecting electrocution in capital murder cases when it convened today in Knoxville. It was not considering whether the 2014 law passes constitutional muster. Instead, the panel was to hear arguments on whether it is too soon for the 34 death row inmates suing the state over all manner of death penalty protocols to mount a challenge at all. has the story. The Associated Press issued this guide to the state's lethal injections protocols.

Flawed FBI Testimony Found in Death Penalty Cases

FBI examiners gave flawed forensic testimony in 16 Tennessee cases that led to convictions, including four that sent defendants to death row, according to a report from The Washington Postthis weekend. The Post reports that "[t]he Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000." None of the defendants in Tennessee have been executed yet, although Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas have all executed at least one person convicted in a case now identified as having included flawed forensic testimony, the Nashville Scene reports.

LAET Celebrates 50 Years

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) hosted its 50th Anniversary Celebration Thursday in Knoxville. The event was attended by more than 150 attorneys, members of the judiciary, and other guests, including James J. Sandman, president of Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in Washington, D.C., and retired California Court of Appeal Justice Earl Johnson Jr., who also helped write the Congressional Act that created the LSC. The core organization was founded as Knoxville Legal Aid Society (KLAS) in 1965, growing out of the University of Tennessee College of Law Pro Bono Clinic.

Memphis to Add Body Cameras to Police

The Memphis Police Department will outfit its first complement of officers with body cameras by Sept. 1, the Commercial Appeal reports. While the cost have not yet been revealed, city officials said Tuesday that early estimates for body and vehicle cameras were about $24 million. also reports that the Department of Justice is launching a $20 million pilot program to fund body cameras for police officers in about 50 police departments. Officials have also allocated $1 million for the Bureau of Justice Statistics to develop a program to study the impact of the cameras.

Justices Still Oppose Video in High Court

Americans overwhelmingly support filming arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices themselves do not. NewsWorks describes the justices’ arguments: Anthony Kennedy says it sets the Court apart, Antonin Scalia worries about misleading soundbites, and Chief Justice John Roberts is concerned that lawyers will grandstand. Even Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor are opposed to the idea now, although both supported at least considering cameras before their appointment to the high court. Gavel Grab has more.

Rejected Bankruptcy Plan Cannot be Appealed

A unanimous Supreme Court today ruled that debtors in bankruptcy may not immediately appeal the rejection of a repayment plan, but must wait until a plan is confirmed before appealing to a higher court. Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed that only an order confirming a payment plan is immediately appealable, the Associated Press reports. An appeals court had found similarly, that a rejected order was not final because the debtor could still propose another plan. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

Big Payback: Youth Courts Need Your Support

Help keep the Tennessee Youth Court program alive and growing by giving to The Big Payback Campaign. The Community Foundation fundraiser begins at midnight and runs all day Tuesday. Sponsors have stepped forward to match gifts, so your generosity can have a big impact, even if you donate just $10 or $20. The Youth Courts program is losing a major source of its funding this fall, so your contributions are vital to its future. Learn more about youth courts in Tennessee.

Environmental Law Section Meets at Gatlinburg Event

The TBA Environmental Law Section held it annual meeting and seminar in Gatlinburg in conjunction with the Environmental Show of the South. The event included presentations by state government officials, company executives, private attorneys and representatives of various interest groups. During the three-day event, the section honored Tony Vick, deputy chief disciplinary counsel at the Board of Professional Responsibility. Vick has spoken at the program for a number of years and is retiring. Read more and see photos from the event.

Environmental Law Section Honors Vick at Annual Meeting

The Tennessee Bar Association Environmental Law Section's recent annual meeting and seminar in Gatlinburg, April 22-24, was in conjunction with the Environmental Show of the South. This marked the 44th year of the Show of the South and the TBA section has been a part of this program for many years. Section member James C. Wright says the group was honored to have the participation of each of these speakers. The group gave special thanks and well wishes to speakerTony Vick, who has spoken for several years at this program. Vick was set to retire the week after this presentation.

Tony Vick, deputy chief disciplinary counsel at the Board of Professional Responsibility (center) was honored for his contributions to the section.

Legislative Update: Raising the Rate for Court Appointed Attorneys

The TBA this year pushed for legislation to raise the rate for court-appointed work from $40 an hour to $100 an hour and to double the caps. The proposal was introduced in the Senate as SB1009 by Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and in the House as HB1025 by Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

Judicial Selection Gets Last Dance

It appears that the legislation on judicial selection will once again get "the last dance, last chance for love" in the words of the Donna Summer song. Action on the principal surviving bill at this point, HB0142,/SB0001, was deferred until Wednesday, which could be the last day or next to the last day of this annual legislative session. The bill contains provisions establishing a new trial court vacancy commission which, much like the judicial selection and nominating commissions before, would submit three names to the governor to fill vacancies on the trial bench. The bill also implements the new constitutional provision establishing gubernatorial nomination, confirmation and retention of appellate judges.

Discussions continue on details of how the two bodies of the General Assembly can express themselves on confirmation. Legislative action on selection of judges has been decided in the last week of session for almost a decade.

Florida’s Ban Stands: People Running for Judge Cannot Ask for Campaign Funds

In a 5-4 decision today in Williams Yulee v. The Florida State Bar, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ban on direct solicitation of campaign donations by judicial candidates. The case asked the court to consider a First Amendment challenge to a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. In her concurring opinion, Justice Ginsburg cited a poll commissioned by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice noting that 87 percent of voters believe advertisements purchased by interest groups during judicial elections can have either “some” or “a great deal” of influence on an elected judge’s later decisions. "Today’s decision helps judges, by saving them from the compromising job of raising cash from people whose cases they will decide," Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said. "And it helps the public, by reassuring them that they will not find themselves in court before a judge who has received a check directly from the opposing party in their case.” American Bar Association President William C. Hubbard praised the ruling, saying it "underscores the importance of an independent judiciary to the rule of law."  SCOTUSBlog and ABA Journal have more.

Report: More 2014 Law Grads Have Jobs

Law schools reported a slight rise in the percentage of 2014 graduates obtaining entry-level jobs compared with 2013 and a slight decline in the total number of jobs, according to figures announced today by the American Bar Association's accrediting body. The two numbers are explained, in part, by the decrease in law school graduates from 2013 to 2014. The nation's 204 ABA-approved law schools reported that roughly 10 months after graduation, 31,160 graduates of the class of 2014, or 71 percent, were employed in long-term, full-time positions where bar passage is required or a J.D. is preferred.

Haslam Signs Guns-in-Parks Bill

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the controversial guns-in-parks bill into law, allowing handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in all parks statewide, regardless of local ordinances. The governor, a former mayor of Knoxville, had expressed concerns about the legislation because it removed the authority of city and county governments over parks under their control, and because the parks often border school properties, the Commercial Appeal reports.

TBA Board Approves Medical-Legal Partnership Resolution

The TBA Board of Governors has adopted a resolution that "encourages lawyers, law firms, legal services agencies, law schools and bar associations to establish, develop and maintain medical-legal partnerships" in collaboration with medical and health care organizations. The resolution, which was recommended by the TBA Access to Justice Committee and the Medical-Legal Partnership Working Group, also won support from the TBA House of Delegates. The full resolution, accompanying report and materials are available on the TBA website.