News

Neal & Harwell Move Unearths Watergate Files

As the Nashville law firm Neal & Harwell was preparing to move to the new Eakin Building, it discovered files connected to the Watergate scandal. The late James Neal, a co-founder of the firm, had been hired by the U.S. solicitor general to prosecute President Richard Nixon and his top aides. He achieved convictions of the U.S. attorney general and two of Nixon’s closest advisors, and delivered “what some call one of the finest closing arguments in the history of trial law,” WKRN reports in a story on the discovery. The firm moved into its new offices at 1201 Demonbreun St., Suite 1000, Nashville 37203, on Monday. Its phone number remains the same.

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Judge Approves $15B Volkswagen Settlement

A federal judge has approved one of the largest consumer settlements in U.S. history, a nearly $15 billion deal that sets in motion a massive vehicle buyback program and environmental remediation effort. According to the Tennessean, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer approved the sweeping agreement between consumers, the government, California regulators and the German automaker Volkswagen. The settlement comes about a year after the company admitted rigging 11 million vehicles worldwide with software designed to evade emissions standards. The company is still facing investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and German prosecutors, which could lead to additional financial penalties and criminal indictments. Those impacted can visit VWCourtSettlement.com for more information.

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Court May be Delaying Action on ‘Big’ Cases

The short-handed Supreme Court may be showing signs it is having trouble getting its work done, the Associated Press reports. The justices have yet to schedule three cases for arguments that were granted full review in January – an indication they may think the issues involved (separation of church and state, class-action lawsuits and property rights) will lead to a 4-4 split. "It’s much more difficult for us to do our job if we are not what we’re intended to be – a court of nine,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Monday. The justices have divided evenly in four cases since Antonin Scalia’s death last term. WRCB-TV has the story.

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Court to Hear 7 New Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review of seven new cases dealing with a range of issues, including length of jury deliberations, identity of criminal offenses, repairmen’s liens, GTLA liability, ecclesiastical abstention and vicarious liability. The Raybin Supreme Court Hotlist reviews the cases and offers a prediction as to how each case may be decided.

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Civil Suit Filed Over Ooltewah Rape Case

Alleging a long and violent history of hazing and sexual abuse of male student athletes, attorneys for a freshman attacked in December 2015 have filed a federal lawsuit against the Hamilton County Board of Education and former Ooltewah High School employees. The suit accuses administrators and staff of knowing abuse was taking place and failing to protect students, the Times Free Press reports. The plaintiff in the case, listed as John Doe, was raped during the basketball team’s trip to Gatlinburg. Three of the victim’s former teammates were convicted Aug. 30 in connection with the rape. All three are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

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Court Square Series: Sept. 15 in Dyersburg

The TBA’s 2016 Court Square series continues with a session in Dyersburg on Sept. 15. The course will be held at the Farms Golf Club. Sarah Day, Jennifer Vallor Ivy and Judge Steven Stafford will address changes in summary judgment law; Judge Jim Hamilton will provide a basic overview of the Tennessee Claims Commission; and Laura Chastain with the Board of Professional Responsibility will present an ethics session.

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Jury Awards Almost $19M to Nashville Healthcare Company

A Nashville jury recently awarded $18.8 million to SpecialtyCare, a healthcare provider of neurophysiologic monitoring services. The award included $16 million in punitive damages and $2.8 million for lost profits. The jury found that SpecialtyCare competitor Medsurant LLC interfered with the assets of ProNerve, which was acquired by SpecialtyCare in 2015, and intentionally destroyed and concealed records in order to avoid liability. The Nashville Business Journal has more on the case.

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Court Solicits Comments on 2017 Rules Package

The Tennessee Supreme Court today published the annual package of recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Proposals include changing the place for filing a notice of appeal to the appellate clerk’s office, requiring payment of fees and taxes to the appellate court clerk at the time of initiation of an appeal, and changes to the Juvenile, Criminal and Evidence rules. Six TBA sections – Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law and Juvenile and Children’s Law – will be asked to review the recommendations and propose comments on behalf of the association. Comments on the proposals are due Nov. 23.

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Litigation Attorney Sought in East Tennessee

An established, family-friendly firm in Blount County is seeking a seasoned litigator with a minimum of eight years of experience. Must be independent but a team player willing to mentor a very capable litigation associate. Salary is commensurate with experience. Apply online through the TBA’s JobLink posting.

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Opinion: Jury Duty a Vital Civil Responsibility

Serving on a jury is a civic duty that far too many Americans go out of their way to avoid, the editors of the Johnson City Press write in today’s issue. “Serving as a juror is not always appreciated in our society. That’s unfortunate because jury duty is a vital civic responsibility essential for maintaining our system of justice. It is a job that must never be shirked.” The editors indicate the opinion piece was motivated by a recent Washington County murder trial in which 11 people failed to show up for jury duty.

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Visitation Sunday for Knoxville Trial Lawyer

Knoxville trial lawyer Hugh Whitford Morgan, 79, died Wednesday (Aug. 10) while on a hike. A graduate of West Point, Morgan served six years in the U.S. Army Signal Corps as an aviator and later many years in the Tennessee National Guard. After leaving the army, he attended the University of Tennessee College of Law and earned his degree in 1967. Morgan was a partner at Kramer Rayson. The family will receive friends on Sunday from 4-6 p.m. at Rose Mortuary, 6200 Kingston Pike in Knoxville. A celebration of life will be planned for the fall. Memorial gifts may be made to the Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home, Boy Scouts of America and Friends of the Smokies.

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Computer Forensics for Lawyers

On Aug. 2, Lars Daniel with Guardian Digital Forensics in Raleigh will present a special CLE webcast on computer forensics. He will use real life examples to show how forensic artifacts recovered from computers are used in legal cases. Other topics will include best practices in data collection, understanding deleted data, challenging digital evidence and expert testimony. If you cannot join the webcast live, the program will be available on the website for up to one year. Learn more or register here.

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UT Facing Costs of $3M for Title IX Suit

The University of Tennessee will spend roughly $3 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that the school allowed a “hostile sexual environment” and violated Title IX in its response to sexual assault cases, especially those accusing student athletes. The amount includes a $2.48 million payment to eight plaintiffs and legal fees to their lawyers, and more than $500,000 to the Nashville law firm Neal & Harwell, which represented the university in the matter, Knoxnews reports. The settlement was announced July 5.

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'Pokemon Go' Raising Thorny Legal Issues

Pokemon Go is taking the country by storm. But with imaginary characters waiting to be “caught” on both public and private property, the game is “raising legal issues and public safety concerns.” Press headlines indicate people are injuring themselves and others in pursuit of the game, while private property owners are dealing with players swarming their land. The game’s terms of service disclaim liability for property damage, personal injury or death occurring while playing but thorny legal issues no doubt await. The ABA Journal has links to several legal articles on the issue.

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Court: Bankruptcy No Shield for GM Ignition Switch Claims

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals today struck down bankruptcy decisions that shielded General Motors from liability related to ignition switch defects, Reuters reports. The court found that a 2009 sale of the automakers’ assets, which provided the company with legal cover, violated potential victims’ rights to due process. The ruling effectively rebuffs GM’s attempts to block hundreds of customer lawsuits over faulty ignition switches that led to criminal charges and prompted the recall of 2.6 million vehicles in 2014.

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Court Adopts New Standard for Shareholder Lawsuits

In a case involving claims between siblings who were shareholders in a closely held family corporation, the Tennessee Supreme Court today adopted a new standard for when a shareholder can file a direct lawsuit on claims that concern the corporation. The decision overturned a ruling by the Court of Appeals and set aside Tennessee’s prior standard. In its place, the court adopted a standard used in Delaware that “is clear and easily understood” and “should facilitate consistent and predictable outcomes in disputes involving shareholder claims.” Chattannoogan.com has the story.

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New Litigation Courses Now Available Online

Online CLE programs offering insight into a range of litigation matters are now available online. Sessions cover med-mal updates, third party reviews, the ethical use of social media and effective deposition strategies. Check these courses out at the links above.

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Federal Judge Extends Volkswagen's Settlement Deadline

A federal judge in San Francisco is extending the deadline for attorneys for Volkswagen to reach a final settlement proposal, citing the “highly technical nature” of the proposed settlements. Bloomberg News reports that the new deadline, June 28, will deny Volkswagen the opportunity to present a conclusion to investors at its annual shareholders meeting on June 22. Without the settlement, the German carmaker’s efforts to navigate out of the crisis remain incomplete nine months after admitting to rigging the exhaust systems in some 11 million vehicles worldwide.

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Former UT Football Player Sues SEC, NCAA

The Tennessean reports that former University of Tennessee football player O.J. Owens is suing the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA in an effort to recoup unspecified damages for the effects of head trauma he experienced during his college career. His suit is one of 10 filed in the past two months by Chicago-based law firm Edelson on behalf of former college football players. UT is not named as a defendant in the suit. 

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June TBJ Features Technology-Assisted Review

Lawyers need to be familiar with technology-assisted review when dealing with documents in data-intensive cases. In the June issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal, out today, Dr. Joel Henry and Michael Pasque explain what you need to know and how technology can be used to help your case. Also, Scott D. Weiss examines condominium smoking regulations -- are they legal? Bill Harbison pens his last column as Tennessee Bar Association president, looking at the "last lines" of many great works of literature. In one of his own great last lines he writes, "Our bar association is a wonderful bridge between past and future, bringing together lawyers from so many perspectives who help to shape our profession. … We should all have lots of optimism for the future of our profession." Read the June issue online.

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Wearable Tech May Aid in Personal Injury Claims

“In the world of personal injury law wearable tech may become a pivotal element in bringing justice to those who have become victims,” according to Law Technology Today. The article explores the use of items like Smartwatches when making a personal injury claim, along with the possible issues that could arise from misusing the technology.  

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Plaintiff in Uber Suit Challenges $100M Settlement

The ABA Journal reports one of the first drivers to file what has become a class action against Uber Technologies made a filing Monday in opposition to a $100 million settlement. Drivers in the suit, first filed in 2013, contend they were misclassified as independent contractors when they were actually employees, and Uber doesn’t pay them enough for mileage and expenses. Plaintiff Douglas O’Connor, one of the first to file, said he felt “utterly betrayed” by class counsel Shannon Liss-Riordan and that the settlement is not in the best interest of Uber drivers. 

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School Board Approves Settlement Following Leaked Student Information

The Williamson County School Board approved last night a $36,500 counter settlement to a pending lawsuit, The Tennessean reports. The counter settlement came in response to the threat of a lawsuit that alleges a special needs student suffered from leaked student information and the board's reaction to a school fight.

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UT Law Student: If Mozart Were a Trial Lawyer

What would composer Wolfgang Mozart do with a closing argument? University of Tennessee College Law Student Melissa Joy Baxter, a classically trained pianist, explains how principles of artistic performance can be applied to craft every aspect of a closing argument. “The Mozartian framework is emotionally appealing, sterling in clarity, consistent in structure, and brilliantly simple — everything a closing argument should be,” she writes. 

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Phillips to Lead Bass, Berry & Sims Litigation Group

Bass, Berry & Sims PLC announced that W. Brantley Phillips Jr. was appointed to serve as chair of the firm’s litigation and dispute resolution practice group, the Nashville Post reports. Phillips will oversee more than 100 attorneys and staff working in Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis and Washington, D.C. Phillips joined Bass in 1998 and has been serving as co-chair of the firm’s securities and shareholder litigation practice group.

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