Tennessee Justice Center Fights for Affordable Care Act

The Tennessee Ledger profiles the Tennessee Justice Center’s fight to protect Tennessean’s access to health care. For 21 years the TJC has been working for all Tennesseans to have access to health care, and now that Congress is considering repealing or replace the Affordable Care Act, the TJC sees this as a time in which many people could soon be without care. “When you get sick and go to the hospital, you’re not a Democrat, you’re not a Republican,” said TJC co-founder Gordon Bonnyman. “You’re a person who needs care.”
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TBA Mashup and Mini Legal Hackathon this Friday

In conjunction with the Law Tech UnConference CLE this Friday, the TBA is also offering a variety of free events and programs for lawyers we’re calling a Mashup. One program will teach you about Legal Hackathons and see one in action. A Legal Hackathon is a collaborative effort of experts in the legal profession collaborating with a computer programmer to find a technology assisted solution to a problem in the legal industry. Join the TBA Special Committee on the Evolving Legal Market for a mini legal hackathon that will demonstrate the power of collaborative minds at work. We will have tasty beverages and snacks to help you get your collaborative juices flowing.  
Other programs that will be a part of the Mashup include Pro Bono In Action which will show you various pro bono programs you can participate in to help your fellow Tennesseans and Member Benefit Programs that will provide you information on  Fastcase 7, health insurance options for small firms, ABA retirement funds and professional liability insurance.
Please sign up now to let us know you are coming.

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Harwell Launches Opioid Taskforce

A new legislative task force will tackle Tennessee’s growing opioid and painkiller abuse crisis, the Tennessean reports. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, formed the task force to identify strategies to address addition, abuse and misuse of illegal and prescription drugs. The bi-partisan group will be chaired by Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.
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1st Criminal Meningitis Trial Starts Today

After a lengthy federal probe and two years of legal battles, the first criminal trial associated with the fungal meningitis outbreak caused by tainted steroid injections starts this week, USA Today reports. Victims are watching as Barry J. Cadden, director of the New England Compounding Center, which made the injections, is charged with 25 counts of second-degree murder. Opening statements were scheduled to begin today. About 750 people nationwide were sickened by the injections and 76 died. Federal officials have alleged that the pharmacy did not follow regulations and procedures when preparing more than 10,000 tainted doses of methylprednisolone acetate. Tennessee was the second-hardest hit state, with 153 illnesses and 16 deaths, according to the Tennessean.

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California Dems Hire Holder to Fight Trump Policies

Democratic leaders in the California legislature have hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to advise them on a legal strategy as they prepare for a fight against President-elect Donald Trump and a number of his policies. The group will pay Holder $25,000 a month plus expenses for three months to develop strategies “regarding potential actions of the federal government that may be of concern to the state of California.” Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have talked tough since Trump’s election, vowing to confront his campaign promises to repeal “Obamacare” and deport undocumented immigrants. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

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Nashville Plans Behavioral Health Center for Jail

The Davidson County Sheriff’s Department has announced it will build a $10 million behavioral health center for arrestees with mental health issues as part of its new headquarters. The separate facility will be the first of its kind in the nation, WKRN reports. According to the sheriff’s department, about 30 percent of jail inmates suffer from some type of mental illness. Leaders believe it is time to find a new way to treat these individuals so that they get the help they need. The center is slated to open in late 2018.

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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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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, 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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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, 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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