Links for February 2015

Governor Names 11 to Judicial Appointments Council

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the 11 members of the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments, which will recommend candidates to fill vacancies for Tennessee trial and appellate courts. The council was established by executive order following passage of a constitutional amendment creating a method for selecting judges of the Supreme Court or any intermediate appellate court in Tennessee. Members of the council include three each from the western, middle and eastern divisions of the state and two at-large members. They are: Lang Wiseman, George Brown and Bradford Box in the west; Michelle Long, Michael Spitzer and Bill Young in the middle division; Rosemarie Hill, Cheryl Rice and R. Culver Schmid in the east; and at-large members David Golden and Randy Noel.

Legislative Briefing, Creativity Session Highlight Leadership Training

Section, Committee and Division leaders joined members of the TBA Board of Governors and House of Delegates for legislative briefings and leadership training sessions during the annual TBA Leadership Conference at the Tennessee Bar Center this past weekend.

Bar Leaders Convene in Nashville

The Tennessee Bar Association's annual Leadership Conference kicked off today in Nashville with meetings of the group's House of Delegates, TBASCUS (TBA Seasoned Lawyers Up to Something) and various committees. Events also included a rededication of the Tennessee Bar Center's flagship conference room, Nippert Hall, and the opening session of the Diversity Leadership Institute, a leadership and mentoring program for Tennessee law students. On Saturday, leaders will participate in informational and group-building sessions, followed by the annual Public Service Luncheon where Rep. Chuck Fleischmann will address the group. Two lawyers and a law student will be honored for their work: Rebecca McKelvey Castañeda as the Harris Gilbert Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year; Michele Johnson as the the Ashley T. Wiltshire Public Service Attorney of the Year; and Jennifer Mayham as the Law Student Volunteer of the Year. The rest of the weekend includes meetings of the Board of Governors, Section leaders and local bar leaders, the Tennessee Legal Community Foundation board and the board of directors of TBA Member Services Inc.

New TBALL Class Kicks Off at Retreat

The TBA's Leadership Law Class of 2015 kicks off this week with a three-day retreat at Montgomery Bell State Park. Along with presentations from TBA President Jonathan Steen and a number of program graduates, the group will hear from leaders in the Tennessee legal community, including Lewis Donelson, Byron Trauger, Judge Pamela Reeves, Abby Rubenfeld, John Day, Gordon Bonnyman, Alberto Gonzales and Randy Kinnard. The six-month program continues with monthly sessions before graduation at the TBA Annual Convention this June in Memphis.

Supreme Court Moving to Electronic Filing

The Supreme Court is moving toward a full and free-access system for all documents filed in cases before the Justices — a system expected to be working “as soon as 2016,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., revealed in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary. The Court already receives some of its filings electronically, but the present arrangements do not include all filings. The Chief Justice’s annual report was dominated by a theme of technological advances and their impact on the operation of the courts, SCOTUSBlog reports.

Program Allows Indigent Defendants to Pick Own Lawyer

A pilot program in Texas is evaluating what happens when indigent defendants are given the ability to choose their own attorneys at government expense. The issue of trust has long been part of a larger discussion about the quality of indigent defense in the United States, the Associated Press writes. Without enough money to hire their own lawyer, defendants may be suspicious that court-appointed attorneys provide a poor defense or try to coerce a quick guilty plea. The experimental program will test whether defendants have a better experience, whether lawyers are more engaged with clients, whether any constitutional issues arise and whether the concept can be adapted to other jurisdictions. The Greeneville Sun has the AP story.

Meet the 20 Lawyers Joining the New Congress

When the 114th Congress convenes in January, the U.S. Capitol will be a little less lawyerly, but not by a lot, National Journal reports. Members of the House of Representatives holding law degrees will be down from 169 to 160, while lawyers in the Senate will be down from 57 to 53. Of those newly elected, 20 hold law degrees. The Senate’s incoming class will include four lawyers, while the House freshman class will include 16. Read more about the group.

Obama Cements Judicial Legacy

The U.S. Senate confirmed a total of 132 district and circuit judges after a whirlwind series of late and even midnight sessions, Time reports. That is the most by any Congress in 35 years and helps secure a major part of President Barack Obama’s judicial legacy. The 305 Obama-nominated judges are also the most diverse group ever. “What Obama has done within terms of his judicial legacy is what no other president has ever done before and it’s doubtful that any future president is going to match it,” says Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Obama has diversified the bench in terms of gender, ethnicity, nationality to an extent never, ever, ever done before.”

Executions, Death Sentences Down in 2014

Executions and death sentences have fallen to levels not seen in decades, an anti-death penalty group says in a new report. The Death Penalty Information Center says 35 inmates were executed in 2014 and 71 have so far been given death sentences. That’s the fewest executions since 1994, and the fewest new death sentences in the 40 years that the center calls the modern death penalty era. WRCB has more.

New Master's in Health Law and Policy Offered

A new online master of science in health law and policy degree will be offered through Samford University's Cumberland School of Law. The first class will be admitted for fall 2015. Professionals in the fields of compliance, human resources, insurance and health care administration will gain a marketable expertise in the increasingly complex world of health law and policy, according to Henry Strickland, Cumberland School of Law dean. The degree also will benefit recent graduates who plan to enter the field of health care compliance or administration, as well as attorneys interested in pursuing specialization in health law or policy, the school reported.

Law School Enrollment Lowest Since 1973

Law school enrollment fell for the fourth year straight, the American Bar Association reports. The ABA today released national figures for total and first-year law school enrollment for the fall of 2014.The 204 ABA-approved law schools reported total enrollment decreased 6.9 percent from 2013 and 17.5 percent from the historic high in 2010. The 2014 total enrollment is the lowest since 1987, when there were 175 ABA-approved law schools. First year enrollment dropped 4.4 percent from 2013 and 27.7 percent from 2010, resulting in the lowest 1L enrollment since 1973.

Tennessee’s Recovery Court to Expand

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has been awarded nearly $1 million to expand the Morgan County Statewide Recovery Court and 28 participating county courts across the state. With support from the Tennessee Department of Correction, the federal grant will support 60 individuals a year, allowing for a total of 180 men to receive services during the three-year grant cycle. The referrals to the program will come primarily from felony recovery courts in Tennessee seeking more intensive services for their male defendants. The Chattanoogan has the story.

DOJ Issues New Leak Investigation Guidelines

The U.S. Justice Department today issued revised guidelines for obtaining records from the news media during criminal leak investigations, the Associated Press reports. Changes include the creation of new levels of review that must be completed before a journalist can be subpoenaed and deletion of rules that had governed when news organizations could challenge subpoenas or search warrants. Media outlets had complained that the language was vague. Today’s move comes just weeks after the department formally abandoned a yearlong effort to compel a New York Times reporter to testify in the trial of a former CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information.

Legislative Session Kicks Off with Ceremonial Duties

Tennessee lawmakers today kicked off a largely symbolic start to the 109th General Assembly, the Tennessean and WBIR report. Republican Rep. Beth Harwell of Nashville and Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville were re-elected as speakers of the House and Senate. Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley was elected minority leader and Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville was named caucus chairman. Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, took over as minority leader pro tem — a new position created by House Democrats to work with the governor’s office on policy. The real action was on the streets, however, as hundreds of protesters opposed to new restrictions on abortions marched on the capitol. The organizational session will last until Gov. Bill Haslam’s inauguration on Saturday. Lawmakers then will go on a two-week break.

Lawmakers Re-elect Constitutional Officers

A joint session of the state House and Senate today approved new terms for two of the state’s constitutional officers, Nashville News Channel 5 reports. Comptroller Justin Wilson, a Nashville tax attorney and former aide to Gov. Don Sundquist, and Treasurer David Lillard, a financial and tax attorney from Germantown and former member of the Shelby County Commission, were re-elected to their fourth two-year terms. Secretary of State Tre Hargett is in the middle of a four-year term so he did not stand for re-election.