News

Opinion: Conservatorship Reforms Deserve ‘Quick Action’

State legislators are well under way in righting the wrongs in current conservatorship law “thanks to the hard work of the Tennessee Bar Association,” The Tennessean writes in a Sunday editorial. The piece recounts the case of Jewell Tinnon, who lost her house, car and belongings due to the mismanagement of a conservator and highlights the provisions of the legislation under consideration. It ends with final nod to the TBA, which organized a series of public hearings across the state to address conservatorship reform: “We trust that our laws protect us when we cannot. We are glad the Tennessee Bar Association and our General Assembly are making it so.” Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved SB 555. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee is scheduled to take up the bill this week.

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Judge Replaces Public Guardian as Woman’s Conservator

Probate Judge David Randy Kennedy this week replaced a Davidson County public guardian who had been charging her full hourly fee for legal work regardless of the service she was performing, the Tennessean reports. Court records show that while Jeanan Mills Stuart was serving as conservator of Marlee Spalding she billed $986 to accompany her to a Christmas concert at the Schermerhorn and $1,282 for a shopping trip, the newspaper reported.  Spalding’s sister Myra S. Whitaker will take over as conservator, and Judge Kennedy has said he will not assign any additional cases to Stuart pending a review of the fees she has charged.

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Senate Committee OKs Conservatorship Rewrite

The state Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved changes to state law governing conservatorships on Tuesday after hearing a report from the Tennessee Bar Association. The Tennessean reports that TBA legislative counsel Steve Cobb told the panel that a statewide series of hearings showed the ways emergency cases are being handled varies widely and that some cases are disturbing. The Tennessean says the bill will include new provisions under which people can be placed under a conservator’s control without notice and clarify the role of people appointed to serve as a “guardian ad litem” or fact-finder in the cases.

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Justices Say Court Erred in Allowing Evidence

The Tennessee Supreme Court sent a Hamblen County case back to Chancery Court for retrial after ruling that the trial court allowed evidence to be presented that was irrelevant and prejudicial, and saying that allowing the jury to hear it probably affected the verdict. The trial court had invalidated the marriage of Raymond Smallman and Linda Caraway, which had been conducted shortly before Smallman's death, and refused to allow Caraway to have Smallman’s will admitted to probate as his widow. The Chattanoogan has this story. Read Justice Sharon Lee's opinion and Justice William Koch's concurring and dissenting opinion.

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Judge Reviewing Billing Practices of Public Guardian

Davidson County Probate Judge Randy Kennedy is launching a review of the billing practices of the county’s public guardian to see whether she charged excessive fees to the elderly and disabled people she is supposed to protect. According to The Tennessean, Kennedy notified the Metro Council that he also is going to halt new appointments to Jeanan Mills Stuart during the review. The move comes after news of questionable billing practices surfaced last week. As the county guardian, Stuart makes legal, medical and financial decisions for those who are incapacitated by mental or physical illness, addiction or injury when there is no suitable family member or friend to handle such tasks.

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AOC Report Pans Statewide Veterans Court System

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, last year proposed legislation to set up a statewide framework for veterans’ treatment courts, which would operate much like drug courts. During consideration, the bill was amended to instead call for a study of the matter by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The recently released report is far from supportive of the idea, finding that establishing a statewide system in 2013 is “neither necessary or preferable,” Knoxnews.com reports. Instead, the AOC maintains that the “most effective and cost-efficient method of assisting … [veterans] is to permit each judicial district to retain the discretion to address this issue after considering available resources and the needs of the relevant population."

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Conservatorship Hearing in Memphis Tuesday

The second Conservatorship Hearing conducted by the Tennessee Bar Association will take place Tuesday at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law’s Historic Courtroom. The hearing will give lawyers, community leaders and citizens a chance to discuss what works with the present conservatorship law and how practice and procedure in conservatorships could be improved. The event is from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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Bradley County Bar to Host Legal Forum

The Bradley County Bar Association and the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library will host a Community Legal Forum on Thursday, Oct. 26 focusing on the legal challenges adult children face in caring for elderly parents. Learn more about the event at the Cleveland Banner.

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Brentwood Man Sentenced in Ponzi Scheme

The former financial advisor and owner of A.D. Vallett & Co. has been sentenced to 120 months in prison for running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 30 victims of over $5 million, BrentwoodHomePage reports. Aaron Vallett pleaded guilty to orchestrating the Ponzi scheme. His sentence was announced as the Department of Justice kicks off a series of investment fraud summits in cities across the country, including Nashville. The event was held at Vanderbilt School of Law this morning.

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Education Program for Seniors Thursday

An education and outreach program will be offered for seniors at noon Thursday in Gruetli-Laager. The event is sponsored by the Legal Aid Society of East Tennessee. For details, contact Charlie McDaniel at (423) 756-4013 x 1113 or cmcdaniel@laet.org. The program is one of more than 40 events planned across the state this month.

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Pikeville Event for Seniors Wednesday

An education and outreach program will be offered for seniors at noon Wednesday in Pikeville. The event will be sponsored by the Legal Aid Society of East Tennessee. For details, contact Charlie McDaniel. See all the events planned for Celebrate Pro Bono Month

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Real Property, Employment Law Headline October 'Journal'

The Tennessee Bar Journal this month studies the state’s real property rules and the available tools in an article by Chancellor Telford E. Forgety Jr., George W. Kuney and Devin P. Lyon. Also, Mark C. Travis explains the T.E.A.M Act, involving public sector employment law. President Jackie Dixon stresses the importance of civility, especially for lawyers, and columnists Don Paine, Edward G. Phillips and Monica J. Franklin update you on evidence, the Tennessee Lawful Employment Act, and Medicaid in Estate Recovery, respectively. Bill Haltom explores the thinking of jurors who in a recent case dressed alike or with a coordinated theme every day of the trial. Look in your mailbox for the October issue, or read the Journal online

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Jennings Sues UT, Alleges Age and Sex Discrimination

Former University of Tennessee Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings has filed a lawsuit against the school and athletic director Dave Hart, saying that she was forced to retire because they wanted to remodel the athletic department as a “good ol’ boys” club while replacing her with a younger man. Jennings, who had been with UT for 35 years, filed the suit Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. The Tennessean has the story

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Conservatorship Hearing Draws Substantial Interest

A public hearing to gather information about how current conservatorship law is working or could be improved drew about 70 people to the Tennessee Bar Center today, including more than a dozen who spoke of problems they or their family members have had with conservatorships. The hearing was the first of four scheduled across the state to provide an opportunity for lawyers, community leaders and citizens to discuss what works with the present conservatorship law and how practice and procedure could be improved. The Associated Press provided coverage to the Knoxnews.com and others. See photos from today's hearing or find out more about the upcoming hearings.

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Conservatorship Hearing Draws 70 in Nashville

A public hearing to gather information about how current conservatorship law is working or could be improved drew about 70 people to the Tennessee Bar Center today (Sept. 20), including more than a dozen who spoke of problems they or their family members have had with conservatorships.

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Parties Anticipate Conservatorship Hearings

Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, says he is looking forward to the recommendations that come out of the hearings on possible reforms to conservatorship law, which begin next week and are sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association. Probate Judge David “Randy” Kennedy, whose court handles conservatorship cases in Davidson County, told the Tennesseean that he was “delighted” the bar association was holding the hearings. William Barrick, a Carthage attorney who handles cases involving persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, is on the panel that will be conducting the hearings. He said he personally would like to see some major changes, especially in the medical standards being used to determine if a person should be declared incompetent. Other areas that need to be improved, Barrick said, are training for those appointed as conservators, bringing uniformity to the way the existing law is applied, and making it less difficult to transfer a case from one county to another. The Tennessean has more

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Hearings Set to Discuss Conservatorship Law

A series of hearings across the state will give lawyers, community leaders and citizens an opportunity to discuss what works with the present conservatorship law, and how practice and procedure in conservatorships could be improved. The series begins on Sept. 20 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville, with a 1 to 5 p.m. hearing. Other events are scheduled in Memphis Oct. 23,  and East Tennessee locations Nov. 13-14. Hearings are being conducted by the TBA Special Committee on Conservatorship Practice and Procedure under the leadership of chair and Jackson lawyer Pam Wright. The committee welcomes written comments and brief testimony on the merits of the present conservatorship law found at TCA Title 34, Chapters 1 and 3, as well as suggestions for modifications that could improve its fairness, respect for rights, administration and procedure. Learn more about the hearings

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TBA Announces Conservatorship Hearings

Public hearings across the state are designed to gather information about how current law is working or could be improved

NASHVILLE, Sept. 10, 2012 -- The practice and procedure for protecting adults with diminished capacity, including frail elders, persons with developmental disabilities, individuals with physical disabilities, and persons with mental health or addiction issues, will be the subject of public hearings across the state this fall. The series begins with an event in Nashville Sept. 20.

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Pennsylvania Judge Gives Boost to Voter ID Law

A Pennsylvania judge today rejected a preliminary injunction request over a state voter-identification law, saying opponents would likely fail to show that the measure violates the state constitution. His ruling sets the stage for an expected appeal to the state Supreme Court, according to the Wall Street Journal. The law in question requires Pennsylvania voters to present a state-approved photo ID, such as a driver's license, at the polls on Nov. 6. Opponents of the law say it would disproportionately impact poor urban voters. Supporters say it is necessary to combat voter fraud.

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CLE: Get Up to Date on Elder Law

Learn the most up-to-date information concerning laws, regulations and guidelines affecting seniors who reside in Tennessee at the TBA's Annual Elder Law Forum this Friday in Nashville. This day-long program presented by the TBA's Elder Law Section will have sessions on: Estate Recovery after Tanner -- the State’s perspective; Medicaid Planning Basics and Beyond; Judges Panel on the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act “UAGPPJA;” and Revisiting the Choices Program -- What’s new? Find out more or register now.

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NBA Forms Veterans Committee

The Nashville Bar Association (NBA) has formed a new Veterans Committee and named Bass Berry & Sims lawyer Robert Echols as chair of the group. The NBA says the committee “offers a great opportunity to meet new veteran friends in the bar, share experiences and…serve other less fortunate veterans in [the] community.” It kicked off its activities recently with a reception at Echol's firm. Learn more online or contact Vicki Shoulders at (615) 242-9272 or vicki.shoulders@nashvillebar.org.

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Judge Rejects Widow's Settlement Transfer as 'Shocking'

A 66-year-old Anderson County widow would have wound up with just $1,621.16 in exchange for an annuity valued at $65,400 under a proposed transfer of a structured settlement agreement. The payout would have been $3,821.16, but the firm handling the matter was proposing to hold out $2,200 in fees. The transfer was denied in a scathing order issued by Anderson County Circuit Court Judge Don Elledge. "The Court has never seen a proposal submitted as outrageous and shocking as this one is," Elledge wrote in his June 29 order. The judge ruled it wouldn't be in the client’s best interest for the transfer to be approved. The News Sentinel has the story

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Case of Woman Who Inspired Conservatorship Law Dropped

A lawsuit filed by 82-year-old Jewell Tinnon over the loss of her home and possessions in a conservatorship has been dropped following a dispute with her two attorneys. The suit, which was filed earlier this year in Circuit Court, had charged that her attorney in the conservatorship had acted against her wishes when all her possessions were auctioned off. Tinnon said Tuesday that the suit was dismissed after she refused to turn over her financial records for use in the suit. Rachel Odom, one of Tinnon’s lawyers, declined to comment, but Michael Hoskins, who was co-counsel on the case, said Tinnon “was refusing to cooperate with counsel. I’m not going to take a case where the client won’t take my advice.” Tinnon’s widely publicized case helped prompt the General Assembly to approve a new law requiring those seeking to place someone in a conservatorship to disclose their relationship to the proposed ward and whether he or she had a criminal record. Read more in the Tennessean

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Request Denied, File Remains Sealed in Witherspoon Case

Nashville Circuit Court Judge Randy Kennedy Monday dismissed Reese Witherspoon’s request for an emergency conservatorship for her father and ordered that the court file remain sealed from the public. The Tennessean and WSMV-Channel 4 had sued to unseal the proceedings and records. “Should the First Amendment … be used as a battering ram to embarrass and humiliate, or to cause harm and discomfort to a private citizen when no public good will come of it?” Kennedy asked. In arguing to open the case, attorney Robb Harvey, who is representing the two media outlets, said there was no compelling reason presented by any of the parties to keep the hearings secret. Both media companies are deciding whether to appeal the decision, the Tennessean reports.

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Hearing Set to Argue Opening Witherspoon Case

Davidson County Probate Court Judge Randy Kennedy indicated Monday that he may be willing to open at least portions of a conservatorship case involving actress Reese Witherspoon’s father. Kennedy set a June 1 hearing for arguments from the Tennessean and WSMV-Channel 4, which are both seeking to have the case opened to the public. On May 11 Kennedy ejected the news media from court and ruled that all files and proceedings involving Witherspoon would be closed to the public as his daughter sought to have him placed under a conservator. In an editorial, the Tennessean says the public's right to know is more important than privacy, and closing the proceedings was "an attempt to skirt the First Amendment."

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