Judicial Election Bills Rocket to Senate Floor

Resolutions to amend the state constitution regarding selection and election of appellate court judges rocketed out of the  Senate Finance Committee today and are set for consideration as the first and second items on Wednesday's Senate floor calendar. Tennessee Bar Association President Danny Van Horn said that removing merit selection and instituting legislative confirmation in Tennessee's judicial selection system, as SJR 710 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, would do, is  “dangerous experimentation” with our Constitution and will increase the role that politics plays in the selection of our appellate judiciary and possibly their functioning. At present the Tennessee Constitution does not provide for any state office to be subject to legislative confirmation.

The other proposal, SJR 183, sponsored by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, would amend the Constitution to permit the legislature to enact a system of merit selection and retention elections like our current system. While the TBA would prefer that the Constitutional amendment, if there must be one, prescribe more clearly the system to be created, the Norris resolution at least clearly authorizes the current system, which the bar supports.
Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and House Speaker Beth Harwell have previously affirmed unequivocally their support for the current system, saying that they favor extension of the present plan past the August 2014 judicial elections and adopting legislation to specify the outline of the present plan into the constitution. The TBA has been clear in its support for the present merit selection, performance evaluation and retention election system known at the Tennessee Plan, last amended in 2009, and continues to indicate that no amendment to the constitution is needed.

Today's Opinions

Click on the category of your choice to view summaries of today’s opinions from that court, or other body. A link at the end of each case summary will let you download the full opinion in PDF format.

00 - TN Supreme Court
00 - TN Workers Comp Appeals
00 - TN Supreme Court - Rules
01 - TN Court of Appeals
01 - TN Court of Criminal Appeals
00 - TN Attorney General Opinions
00 - Judicial Ethics Opinions
00 - Formal Ethics Opinions - BPR
00 - TN Supreme Court - Disciplinary Orders

You can obtain full-text versions of the opinions two ways. We recommend that you download the Opinions to your computer and then open them from there. 1) Click the URL at end of each Opinion paragraph below. This should give you the option to download the original document. If not, you may need to right-click on the URL to get the option to save the file to your computer.

TN Court of Appeals


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Robert B. Pyle, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Natasha D.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter, and Lindsey O. Appiah, Assistant Attorney General, General Civil Division, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

Rachel M. Stephens, Hixson, Tennessee, guardian ad litem for the minors, Serenity B., Azaria B., and Antywon B.


This is a termination of parental rights case in which the Tennessee Department of Children’s services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Natasha D. and Antywon M. B. to their four oldest children. The trial court terminated Antywon M. B.’s parental rights to all four children. The court terminated Natasha D.’s parental rights to all but the oldest child, Jaiwon B. Natasha D. appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Robert Jones, District Public Defender; and Phyllis Aluko, Assistant Public Defender, for the appellant, Michelle Lambert.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; J. Ross Dyer, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Garland Erguden, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: GLENN

The General Sessions Court of Shelby County found the petitioner, Michelle Lambert, in contempt for failing to comply with the orders of the court and sentenced her to five days in jail. Rather than filing a direct appeal, the petitioner responded by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Shelby County Criminal Court, alleging that the judgment was void for two reasons: first, because Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-9-103, which lists the punishments under the general contempt statute cited by the general sessions court in its order, limits the power to impose jail time to circuit, chancery, and appellate courts and; second, because the general sessions court failed to afford her notice or a hearing prior to finding her in indirect contempt. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the habeas court granted the writ by vacating the judgment and remanding to the general sessions court for “further proceedings not inconsistent” with its order, including the initiation by the general sessions court of the proper notice and hearing required for a finding of indirect contempt. On appeal, the petitioner argues that the habeas court lacked the authority to remand the case to the general sessions court upon granting the writ of habeas corpus. We conclude, however, that the petitioner failed to show that her judgment was void, rather than merely voidable. Thus, she should have sought relief through a direct appeal. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the habeas court granting the writ of habeas corpus.

New System for Disciplining Judges Passes Legislature

Legislation that puts into place a new system for disciplining judges won House approval Monday night on an 88-5 vote without any debate. The Senate had earlier approved SB2671 unanimously, so the bill now goes to the governor. The bill abolishes the Court of the Judiciary and replaces it with a new 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct. Read more from the Knoxville New Sentinel.

Chattanooga Lawyer Sees Disability in Positive Way

Chattanooga lawyer Terrence Olsen talks to the Hamilton County Herald about his practice and how a lifelong disability has helped shape his work helping immigrants, as well as his drive to provide pro bono. “Since I had a stutter," he says, "I couldn’t actually express what I wanted to, and if you have a language that’s a second language, you have the same issue,” he says."I wanted to give individuals a voice."

Lawyers Advised Alexander to Take Office Early

The main players in the 1979 event that saw Lamar Alexander sworn-in as governor of Tennessee three days early -- a way to stem then-Gov. Ray Blanton's flagrant pardons-for-bribes scandal -- talked about the historic “impeachment, Tennessee style” Monday at Vanderbilt University. Alexander, now a U.S. senator, was joined by then-U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch and current state Attorney General Bob Cooper as they recalled the decision. Koch, then an assistant to Attorney General Bill Leach, was part of a group of four, including Leach, who gathered in secret to decide whether the improvised swearing-in could happen. “After many cigarettes and a lot of pacing and screaming in the hotel room, the four lawyers stuck together,” Koch said. But ultimately it was Alexander's decision. "I knew down deep in my gut that I had to do it,” he said. The Tennessean has the story

3rd Washington Co. Court Would Create Money, Space Problems, DA says

If the new judge approved by the Washington County Commission is also approved by the state legislature, District Attorney General Tony Clark says he doesn't know where money for the related staff will come from -- or where they will sit. When the state funds new DA positions, the District Attorney General’s Conference decides what districts need those positions the most. Clark said he's requested positions in the past, but those haven't been approved for the past three years. “I have 19 employees in an area designed for probably 10,” and only one bathroom, he said. “I don’t have space for anybody else.” The Johnson City Press has more

Adoption of Special-Needs Girl a Happy Occasion

Shelby County Chancellor Arnold Goldin's job has some perks, like presiding over the adoption of 7-year-old Keona Vaughn, as he did Monday with assistance from lawyer Kevin Weaver. Keona was shaken when she was 3 months old and was left severely developmentally delayed, but Debbie and Mark Vaughn say the blessings are all theirs. Read more in the Commercial Appeal

Zimmerman's Lawyers Withdraw

Attorneys for George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, 17, have withdrawn as his counsel, saying they have lost contact with him. Attorney Craig Sonner said today in a news conference they haven't heard from Zimmerman since Sunday. They said that against their advice, Zimmerman contacted the special prosecutor who will decide if he should face charges. Read the AP story in the Tennessean

Former District AG Joe Crumley Dies

Just a week after prosecutors dismissed the criminal case against him, former First Judicial District Attorney General Joe Crumley has died. Crumley's declining health led prosecutors to dismiss charges of reckless endangerment, reckless driving, failure to yield to blue lights and sirens, and evading arrest. Funeral arrangements are not yet complete. TriCities.com has more

Long-time Circuit Clerk Raymond Winters Dies

Former Sullivan County Circuit Court Clerk Raymond Winters died Sunday, April 8. He was 72. Mr. Winters served as clerk for 31 years. Visitation is today from 5 p.m to 7 p.m. at Blountville United Methodist Church, followed by funeral services. Graveside services will be held at Gunnings Cemetery at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Blountville United Methodist Church's Building Fund, P.O. Box 686, Blountville, TN 37617. Read his obituary

Judge Reprimanded for Releasing Arrested Son

The Court of the Judiciary issued a public reprimand to Obion County General Sessions Court Judge Jimmy C. Smith on Monday. The move came in response to a complaint filed against the judge, relating to his decision on Oct. 15, 2011, to order the release of his son who had been arrested for driving under the influence in Obion County. Judge Smith maintained that he had no intention of hearing the case against his son and had asked for a special judge to be appointed. However, the court found that his participation in any matter involving his son was a violation of Canon 2A and Canon 3E(l)(d)(i) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Download the reprimand from the Court of the Judiciary

Memphis Lawyer Suspended

Memphis lawyer Karen Wilson Tyler was temporarily suspended from the practice of law April 5, for failing to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility regarding a complaint of misconduct. She is precluded from accepting any new cases and by May 5 must cease representing existing clients, using any indicia of lawyer, legal assistant or law clerk or maintaining a presence where the practice of law is conducted. Download the BPR's release


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About this publication: Today's News is a compilation of digests of news reports of interest to Tennessee lawyers compiled by TBA staff, links to digested press releases, and occasional stories about the TBA and other activities written by the TBA staff or members. Statements or opinions herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tennessee Bar Association, its officers, board or staff.

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