News

Baker Donelson, Ober/Kaler Complete Merger

Memphis-based Baker Donelson and Baltimore-based Ober/Kaler have completed their previously announced merger, Memphis Daily News reports. The move creates one of the 50 largest law firms in the nation with more than 1,600 employees in 25 offices across 10 states. The combined firms will retain the name Baker Donelson. However, the combined health practice, now the third largest in the nation, will be known as Baker Ober Health Law with a strong presence in Baltimore, Nashville and Washington, D.C.

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Groups Target Medical Malpractice System

Several medical groups want Tennessee lawmakers to replace the state’s malpractice system with one similar to that being used to settle workers’ compensation claims, Nashville Public Radio reports. One of these groups, the North Carolina-based organization Medical Justice, says it would like to make Tennessee the first state to do away with its medical malpractice system. On the other side of the issue, Andy Spears with Tennessee Citizen Action says the current system works fine and the threat of lawsuits forces doctors to take extra precautions.

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Veterans Legal Clinic Set for Jan. 11

Volunteers are needed for a Veterans’ Legal Advice Clinic scheduled for Jan. 11 from noon to 2 p.m. in Knoxville. The clinic is one of several planned by a group of legal organizations in the city, including the Knoxville Bar Association, the Knoxville Barristers, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Knox County Public Defender’s Office, the University of Tennessee College of Law and the local Veterans’ Affairs office. It will take place at the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, 1101 Liberty St.

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Have You Heard About the TBA Mashup?

Interested in observing a legal hackathon or getting a hands-on demonstration of the new Fastcase 7 platform? Both will be part of the first TBA Mashup, a full-day of activities and free programming set for Feb. 17 at the Tennessee Bar Center in conjunction with the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program.

In addition to the hackathon and Fastcase 7 demo, the TBA Mashup will feature sessions on: 

  • Current State of Health Insurance for the Small Firms
  • Professional Liability Insurance - What to look for in YOUR Policy
  • A Demo of Fastcase TopForm, a powerful bankruptcy filing software
  • Retirement Planning Guidance from the ABA Retirement Funds
  • Pro Bono in Action: How to help with pro bono events and how to take part in online options

At the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program, you can take as many or as few hours as you need. Registration will be open all day. Payment will be determined at checkout based on the hours you need. Topics will include: 

  • Bill & Phil Tech Show
  • Ethical Considerations for Cyber Security in Law
  • Evolution of the Legal Marketplace
  • Making e-Discovery Affordable 
  • Drone Law
  • Encryption for Lawyers

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Turn Your Expertise into a Magazine Article

It’s no surprise that some of the best articles in the Tennessee Bar Journal have come from TBA section members. Your membership in this section shows that you have a keen interest in trends, developments and case law in this practice area. Sharing this knowledge with your colleagues is one of the best traits of the profession.
 
How can you become a Journal author? Think of and refine your topic. It should be of interest to Tennessee lawyers, which is a broad criteria. This could mean you might explain a new state law, explain a complicated area of law, or take a larger issue and connect it to what it means for Tennessee attorneys and the justice system. Find a global issue within your particular experience or knowledge and tell about it and how it affects Tennessee law. Then take a look at the writer’s guidelines, which will tell you about length, notes and other details. Once it’s in the proper format, send it in! It goes to the editor, Suzanne Craig Robertson, who will then get it to the seven members of the Editorial Board for review.
 
If you are published, you may apply for CLE credit for your work under Supreme Court Rule 21 Section 4.07(b). For details on claiming the credit, check with the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education or access an Affidavit of Sole Authorship or an Affidavit of Joint Authorship from the Commission's website.

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State Human Services Commissioner to Step Down

Raquel Hatter, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, is leaving her post, Gov. Bill Haslam announced yesterday. Hatter will work in the private sector “at the national level” when she steps down in February, according to a news release. Haslam touted Hatter’s work on several state initiatives, but the Tennessean reports that her tenure was marred by ongoing problems with food programs for low-income children, licensed child care centers, vocational rehabilitation and general management issues.

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Merck Wins Record Patent Verdict

In the biggest patent-infringement verdict in U.S. history, Gilead Sciences Inc. will pay $2.54 billion to Merck & Co. for willfully using a patented invention as the basis for its hepatitis C drugs. The Delaware jury deliberated for less than two hours and rejected Gilead’s arguments that Merck’s patent was invalid, Bloomberg News reports. Because the action was found to be willful, the judge could increase the damage award by as much as three times the amount set by the jury, Bloomberg reports.

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Winton to Lead BlueCross Government Relations

Dakasha Winton has been promoted by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to the newly created position of chief government relations officer, Chattanoogan.com reports. In this position, Winton will be responsible for leading all government relations efforts in Nashville and Washington, D.C. Prior to the promotion, Winton served as director of state government relations and associate general counsel. 

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$19.5M Settlement Reached with Bristol-Myers Squibb

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, along with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs and 42 other attorneys general, announced today that Bristol-Myers Squibb will pay $19.5 million to settle claims that it engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices when marketing Abilify, an atypical antipsychotic drug. The suit alleged that the company marketed the drug for use with children and the elderly for conditions not approved by the FDA. Tennessee will receive $399,022 from the settlement, Slatery said.

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Report: Medical Marijuana Returning to Legislature

A pair of Republican lawmakers will be making another go at legalizing medical marijuana this coming legislative session, Nashville Public Radio reports. Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Nashville doctor, and Rep. Jeremy Faison of East Tennessee plan to unveil details of the legislation this week. The two have argued for several years that marijuana can help people with chronic and terminal conditions manage pain. This past fall, Rep. Faison travelled to Colorado to meet with Tennesseans with chronic pain now living there.

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TBA Activates Disaster Legal Assistance for Wildfires

In response to the wildfire disasters in Gatlinburg and Sevier County, the TBA is partnering with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) and the Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission to help those affected with their legal needs. Attorneys who want to help can access training resources and other materials on the TBA's Disaster Legal Assistance page. Legal clinics and outreach related to losses from the fires are anticipated and volunteers will be needed. For more information or to volunteer in the area, contact Kathryn Ellis at Legal Aid of East Tennessee. Those who are not in the area but still want to help can volunteer to answer online questions at TN Free Legal Answers or respond to calls on the HELP4TN helpline. The TBA's Young Lawyers Division Disaster Relief Committee has also been activated and will be assisting with volunteer recruitment and coordination efforts. To volunteer, complete the Disaster Legal Assistance Volunteer Form. If you know someone in need of legal assistance, please have them call the legal helpline at 844-HELP4TN, or visit help4tn.org.

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Legislation Would End All Medical Malpractice Suits

The Georgia-based nonprofit advocacy group Patients for Fair Compensation again this year plans to seek legislation that would ban all malpractice suits in the state, the Nashville Post reports. The group’s proposal will be introduced by Sen. Jack Johnson and Rep. Glen Casada, both Republicans from Franklin. The proposed plan would create a patients’ compensation system funded by annual fees charged to doctors. Instead of filing a lawsuit, an aggrieved patient would apply for compensation to an administrative law judge who would assess the claim. The bill, which surfaced last year for the first time, is opposed by a number of legislators and the Tennessee Medical Association.

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Jury: TennCare Provider Violated Dental Company’s Rights

A Nashville jury has unanimously found that DentaQuest, the insurance company administering TennCare’s dental program, violated the First Amendment rights of Snodgrass-King Pediatric Dental Associates when it excluded the company from the state Medicaid network. Lawyers for Snodgrass-King argued that the company was discriminated against based on a speech delivered by one of its dentists, who had been critical of DentaQuest’s administration of the program. The jury awarded Snodgrass-King $7.4 million in compensatory damages and $14.8 million in punitive damages. DentaQuest said it would seek further legal review of the jury’s decision. The Nashville Post has more on the case.

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Mental Health Court Holds 1st Graduation

The Hamilton County General Sessions Mental Health Court held its first graduation ceremony earlier this month, Chattanoogan.com reports. General Sessions Judge Lila Statom presided over the graduation of the first two participants in the program, which began in 2015. A short celebration followed the ceremony and the Mental Health Court team, led by assistant public defender Anna Protano-Biggs, was on hand to answer questions about the program. 

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Opinion: Time to Shed Light on Elder Abuse

It is time to address issues of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation that have largely gone unnoticed and unaddressed, writes Matthew H. Schwimmer in the Jackson Sun. A 2016 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law and an Equal Justice Works/AmeriCorps Elder Justice Fellow with West Tennessee Legal Services, Schwimmer calls on Tennesseans to educate themselves, get involved in older Americans’ lives and, if they become aware of abuse, contact their local legal services organization.

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Hawkins Judge Honors Veterans Mentor

Hawkins County’s first nationally certified “Justice for Vets” mentor, Ron W. Light, was honored by General Sessions Judge J. Todd Ross during a ceremony Wednesday, the Times News reports. Light, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, has a long history of assisting veterans with service-related issues. Most recently he helped implement a Veterans Mentor Program in Hawkins County Sessions Court, and as a volunteer with the program he will help veterans get needed treatment and benefits and coordinate with other judicial entities such as the Community Justice Program and probation services on their behalf.

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Prison Medical Provider Faces 2 More Suits

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that prison health care provider Centurion failed to provide proper care to a man who fell ill after eating undercooked chicken at a state prison in Hickman County. Though he was experiencing severe symptoms, the suit claims he was not taken to the hospital for two days and later died there. A separate suit has been brought by the family of a man who died after falling ill in a West Tennessee prison. These two suits come just weeks after a female prisoner filed suit against the company after she gave birth in a medical wing cell without a doctor present. That suit alleges nurses accused her of faking labor and that the unsanitary conditions led to a serious infection for her newborn son. The Tennessean looks at the cases.

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Veterans Treatment Court Hosts Fall Festival

Veterans and their families celebrated the fall season with the Montgomery County Veterans Treatment Court at the end of October. The event was designed to forge positive relationships between program participants and their families, alumni of the program, mentors and court staff. “We get to know our participants that we see regularly, sadly we don’t build the same connection with their families,” Judge Kenneth Goble told the Leaf Chronicle. The group’s next event will be a graduation ceremony Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. at the county courthouse.

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Judge Blocks Nursing Home Arbitration Rule

A federal district court judge yesterday blocked implementation of a new rule prohibiting federal funds from going to nursing homes that require residents to sign binding arbitration agreements. Judge Michael P. Mills found that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which issued the rule in September, did not have authority to enact the mandate without statutory authority. The challenge to the rule was brought by various nursing home groups, including the American Health Care Association. The ABA Journal has more on the story and the opinion.

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Mental Health Court Forum Set for Thursday

A public forum is scheduled for Thursday to continue planning for the 10th Judicial District Mental Health Court, which was announced earlier this fall. The court will serve Bradley, Polk, Monroe and McMinn counties. The forum will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Bradley County Courthouse. Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg said the court’s mission is “to recognize the existence of mental illness and provide sentencing alternatives to those individuals in the criminal justice system who may be rehabilitated through appropriate mental health treatment.” He posted a reminder of the event on Facebook. The court is scheduled to open in January.

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Workers’ Compensation Court Holding Listening Sessions

The Tennessee Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims will hold a series of listening sessions across the state for members of the bar and public to weigh in on the new court system and to suggest areas for improvement. Chief Judge Kenneth M. Switzer and Brian Holmes, director of Mediation and Ombudsmen Services of Tennessee, will host sessions in Murfreesboro on Nov. 15, Jackson on Nov. 29, Memphis on Nov. 30, Nashville on Dec. 1, Chattanooga on Dec. 7, Cookeville on Dec. 9, Kingsport on Dec. 13 and Knoxville on Dec. 14. Those unable to attend in person may submit written comments. The March issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal looked at the new court.

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Baker Donelson, Ober|Kaler to Combine

The law firms of Baker Donelson and Ober|Kaler have announced plans to join forces effective Jan. 1. Ober|Kaler is a national law firm with health, litigation, business, construction and finance practice areas. The firm has more than 110 attorneys with headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, and offices in Washington, D.C., and Falls Church, Virginia. The combined firm will maintain the name of Baker Donelson. It will be one of the 50 largest law firms in the country and the third largest health practice in the country.

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Tennessee Hosting 4 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Tennessee is benefiting from the services of four Equal Justice Works fellows. It is the first time in more than 10 years that the state has had any fellows, according to the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS). That group is hosting Kirsten Jacobson in its office. Elder Justice Fellow Matt Schwimmer is serving with West Tennessee Legal Services in Jackson. Elder Justice Fellow Sara Dodson is serving with the Tennessee Justice Center in Nashville. And Immigrant Defense Fellow Valeria Gomez is working with Justice AmeriCorps and VIDA in Knoxville. TALS credits the work of the state Supreme Court, which has made pro bono a strategic priority, and the support of the state’s legal aid providers in making these fellowships a reality.

Photo from left: Jacobson, Gomez, Schwimmer, Dodson

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Volunteers Needed for Veterans’ Clinic

Volunteers are needed for a Veterans’ Legal Advice Clinic scheduled for Nov. 2 from noon to 2 p.m. in Knoxville. The clinic is one of several planned by a group of legal organizations in the city, including the Knoxville Bar Association, the Knoxville Barristers, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Knox County Public Defender’s Office, the University of Tennessee College of Law and the local Veterans's Affairs office. It will take place at the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, 1101 Liberty St.

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Training Offered to Help Lawyers Help Veterans

The University of Tennessee College of Law will hold a two-hour training session on Nov. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. EST for those interested in learning more about volunteering at a Project Salute event or assisting veterans with legal issues in any setting. A “meet and greet” will follow the program. Register online.

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