News

New Oversight of Conservatorships Proposed

A task force assigned to examine the growing number of conservatorships in Davidson County has concluded there aren’t enough resources to provide adequate oversight and has proposed the creation of a publicly funded Office of the Public Guardian, which would replace the existing, vacant, single public guardian. In a 55-page report made public Friday, the panel cited an increasing caseload of conservatorships in the local court, with the number jumping from 636 in fiscal year 2009 to 1,782 in 2012. The task force was appointed by Probate Judge David “Randy” Kennedy in the wake of the abrupt resignation of the public guardian Jeanan Mills Stuart after a series of Tennessean reports on the fees Stuart charged for a variety of tasks.

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Expedited Probate Docket Called a ‘Success’

In August, the Davidson County Trial Court established an expedited probate docket to handle uncontested matters such as name change petitions, small estate administrative proceedings, petitions to administer intestate estates, and petitions to probate wills, codicils and other testamentary instruments. To date, more than 100 cases have been tried by Special Probate Master Jennifer Surber and Special Master John Manson, who alternately preside over and conduct hearings on these cases. The experience thus far has been a success according to Court Administrator Tim Townsend. “We have received very positive feedback from everyone. As a result, this program will continue for the foreseeable future,” Townsend said yesterday. Chattanoogan.com has the court's news release.

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Expedited Probate Docket Announced

The Davidson County Trial Courts have approved the establishment of an expedited probate docket. Judge Randy Kennedy and Presiding Judge Joe P. Binkley, Jr. jointly announced the signing of an order that authorizes Special Probate Masters to preside over expedited dockets effective Aug. 16. “The adoption of an expedited probate docket, as distinguished from regular probate dockets, is just another step by the Davidson County Trial Courts to ensure the effective and efficient administration of the Courts.” Judge Binkley said. Download the press release for more information.

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Lawyer’s Suspension Overturned by Judge

Tennessee Senior Judge Paul A. Summers last week dismissed a decision by the Board of Professional Responsibility to impose a 60-day suspension on Memphis lawyer Sadler Bailey, The Commercial Appeal reports. The suspension had been imposed for "disrespect and sarcasm" before Circuit Court Judge Karen Williams during a medical malpractice trial in 2008. Calling the suspension “arbitrary or capricious and characterized by abuse of discretion,” Summers instead ordered Bailey to be publicly reprimanded. Summers based his decision in part on the fact that the comments in question were not witnessed by a jury or members of the public thus not harming the judicial system.

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Know Your Bank Fraud History; Punch Up POA Forms

Nashville lawyer Katie Edge writes in the recent Tennessee Bar Journal about Tennessee's famous bank robbers -- with the spotlight on the Butcher brothers and other fraudsters. In her column, Knoxville lawyer Monica Franklin says to avoid the "plain Jane" durable financial power of attorney and gives tips to punch up the forms you use for DPOAs.

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Reception Planned for Judge Gomes

The Memphis Bar Association’s Probate & Estate Planning Section will hold a reception April 22 from 4 to 6 p.m. in honor of new Shelby County Probate Court Judge Kathy Gomes. The event will take place at the office of Burch Porter & Johnson, located at 130 N. Court Ave., Memphis 38103. Please RSVP to Mary Lynes at mlynes@memphisbar.org or (901) 271-0660.

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Paper Profiles Probate Judge Gomes

An article in today’s Memphis Daily News looks at the career of Shelby County’s new probate judge Kathleen Gomes, who was appointed April 1 to replace retiring Probate Court Judge Robert Benham. Gomes says the recent appointment was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Though she worked for a number of elected officials and explored a career in entertainment law, Gomes finally settled into a probate practice at Peppel, Gomes & MacIntosh. She says probate law goes back to the root of why she became a lawyer. “In Probate Court you really do get to help people. It’s one of the few areas of the law … that you can sit back and finish the day and know that you helped someone.” Gomes says she will run next year when the position, an eight-year term, comes up again for a vote.

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Taxpayer Relief Act Affects Estate Planning

In his Tennessee Bar Journal column this month, Knoxville lawyer Eddy R. Smith explains how estate planning is affected by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. Read his column and review the related chart showing the combined federal estate tax and Tennessee inheritance tax exposure for estates through 2016.

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Retirement Reception Set for Judge Benham

A reception honoring the service of Shelby County Probate Court Judge Robert S. Benham is planned for April 8 from 4-6 p.m. on the fourth floor of the University of Memphis School of Law. Benham is retiring this week after 16 years on the bench and 50 years of service to the legal profession. The event is being hosted by the Memphis estate planning and probate bar. Please RSVP to Steve McDaniel, Marjorie Baker or Rob Malin. Donations to offset the costs of the reception are welcome, with any excess funds going toward Judge Benham’s official portrait or to Memphis Area Legal Services.

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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 Benham to Retire After 50 Years

Shelby County Probate Court Judge Robert Benham will retire from the bench on March 28 -- 50 years after being licensed to practice law in Tennessee. The Administrative Office of the Courts announced the news today. Benham was appointed to the bench by the county commission in 1997 and was re-elected in 1998 and 2006. Prior to serving on the court, he was an attorney with the Treasury Department. He also served in private practice for 32 years. Benham earned both his undergraduate and law degrees at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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Collateral Source Rule Examined in New TBJ

In the December Tennessee Bar Journal, Nashville lawyer Bill Walton writes why he believes the Collateral Source Rule should probably be reexamined. President Jackie Dixon talks with some former lawyer-legislators and studies the sacrifice a person makes to run for office, but also the need for more lawyers to serve. There is a lot more in this issue, including civil jury trials, banking and estate planning. Read it online or look in the stack of your weekend mail for the printed copy.

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TBJ: Gift-Tax Exemption Expiration Explained

On Dec. 31, the $5.2 million gift-tax exemption expires, making your job helping your clients with year-end gifts even more important. Hunter Mobley and Jeffrey Mobley help you know the details for this year in the November Tennessee Bar Journal. The issue also gives a glimpse into the history of Nashville's Supreme Court Building in preparation for its 75th anniversary celebration next month. Read these and much more -- and don't miss Jackie Dixon's president's column and Bill Haltom's humor column as they both give their takes on being thankful -- and how cornbread figures in.

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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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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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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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Songwriter Loses Home Over Outstanding Legal Fees

Songwriter Danny Tate’s Belle Meade home was auctioned to cover more than $150,000 in fees amassed during a two-year legal battle with his brother, WSMV Nashville reports. Tate’s brother alleged Tate was a drug addict and sought a conservator to safeguard his wealth. Tate fought the conservatorship but was ordered to pay his own and his brother’s legal fees.

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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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Attorneys from Merger to Work in East Memphis Office

A story in Tuesday's TBAToday about Williams McDaniel PC merging with Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP incorrectly stated the number of the Williams McDaniel lawyers who would work from Wyatt's East Memphis office. All nine of the attorneys involved will practice in that office. Wyatt now counts about 200 lawyers in offices in Memphis, Nashville, New Albany, Ind., Jackson, Miss., and Lexington and Louisville, Ky. Learn more from the firm

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Agreement Finalized over Stieglitz Collection

After seven years and several court appeals, an agreement between Fisk University and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton to sell a half-share of the $60 million Alfred Stieglitz Collection was finalized in Davidson County Chancery Court yesterday afternoon. The plan calls for rotating the collection between Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Fayetteville, Ark., and Fisk every two years. Fisk will receive $30 million in cash in exchange for the half-share but will set aside $3.9 million in a charitable fund to cover costs of maintaining the collection. State Attorney General Robert Cooper had challenged the agreement, claiming it violated the will of artist Georgia O’Keefe who donated the collection to Fisk in 1949. The Nashville City Paper reports

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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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