News

Law Firms Cautious on Adding Office Space

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting record highs, home prices rebounding and interest rates remaining low, observers are watching to see when the office market will join the recovery. It might be a while. Experts believe that law firms, which take up about 17 percent of all U.S. office space and are typically the takers of the newest and best space in large markets, will remain cost-conscious and occupy less space than in previous years. “Our research people have told us that law firms will now be taking 25 percent less space on average,” says Elizabeth Cooper, an international director for brokerage with Jones Lang “I don’t think we’re going to see a day soon of a law firm taking excess space. It’s now all about being lean and mean.” The National Real Estate Investor has the story.

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Get a Lesson in Real Estate Essentials

If you are new to commercial real estate, “Real Estate Essentials: A Primer in Commercial Real Estate for Tennessee Lawyers” will provide you with the basics you need to know. Attendees will start the May 9 program with an overview of the current commercial real estate market in Tennessee. Speakers will address areas of growth, concerns, trends, and surprise issues. Topics include a summary of the commercial real estate law and specific issues with commercial landlord and tenant law.

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New CLE Covers Zoning, Planning, Land Use

A new CLE course scheduled for Thursday will cover a broad range of municipal land use issues, including zoning, planning and boards of zoning appeal. The course, presented by private and government lawyers, emphasizes the importance of understanding Tennessee case law and statutes that govern the frequently difficult and lengthy development process. In many cases, politics also plays a role in this practice area as clients, communities and various levels of government are involved or impacted. Speakers will offer perspectives from both sides of the fence. Learn more or register online.

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State Office Warns of Real Estate Scam

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is warning homebuyers and sellers about a scam involving real estate titles. According to the office’s business services division, letters have been sent to at least eight real estate companies suggesting that there are claims against titles of more than two dozen residential properties. The letters are postmarked from Portland, Ore., and claim to be submitted on behalf of an organization called “the French Trust.” The letters threaten court action against anyone attempting to sell any of the listed properties. Hargett said it was not immediately clear what was the motivation for sending the letters, but said the information they contain is not true. He urged people to contact the business services division for assistance at (615) 741-2286 if they encounter such letters.

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Federal Program Helps Tennessee Homeowners

Tennesseans unable to make their mortgage payments and in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure can get help from Keep My Tennessee Home, a program administered by the Tennessee Housing Development agency to provide loans to unemployed or substantially underemployed homeowners. Tennessee is one of 18 states plus Washington DC that are receiving the Federal Hardest Hit Funds due to having an unemployment rate higher than the national average. Homeowners who qualify for financial assistance may received up to 36 months of monthly mortgage payments and/or funds to pay past due payments. To learn more, download the brochure or visit www. keepmytnhome.org.

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Rep. Pushes Bill to Stop Chattanooga 'Cherry Picking'

State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, is pressing legislation aimed at blocking Chattanooga from allegedly “cherry picking” affluent suburbs outside its current urban growth boundary plan. “This bill would say that before you can open your urban growth plan you must annex all areas within your currently existing urban growth area.” Carter told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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Feds Release Rules to Curb Risky Mortgages

Federal regulators at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unveiled new rules today aimed at ensuring that mortgage borrowers can afford to repay loans they take out, reports the Memphis Daily News. The regulations impose a range of obligations and restrictions on lenders, including bans on “interest-only” and “no documentation” loans. Lenders also would be required to verify and inspect borrowers’ financial records and avoid approving debt payments totalling more than 43 percent of the borrower’s annual income.

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Annexation Trial Finally Set for August 2013

A 2007 annexation lawsuit has finally received a court date for August 2013, the Rogersville Review reports. In 2006, the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Alderman approved an ordinance that would extend the city limits approximately 1.2. miles and annex several subdivisions and vacant land. Knoxville attorney David L. Buuck filed a lawsuit challenging the annexation early the next year. In 2011, the lawsuit was put on hold pending the outcome of a similar case by the city of Newport.

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DOJ Sues Bank of America for Alleged Fraud

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Bank of America for $1 billion alleging the bank committed fraud by selling defective mortgages to government-backed mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, resulting in over $1 billion in losses for taxpayers and countless foreclosures. CNN has the full story.

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Farmland Tax Law Loophole Benefits Urban, Wealthy

A 1976 Tennessee state farmland protection law originally intended to prevent farmers from being taxed off their land has become a tax loophole exploited by wealthy, urban, estate owners, business icons, and real estate developers, the Commercial Appeal reports. According to the newspaper’s investigation, the Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act, or “Greenbelt Law,” is allegedly rife with abuse as the wealthy receive tax benefits by declaring a woods a timber preserve, a mansion’s manicured lawn a pasture, a future subdivision a farm, and a privately owned country club’s golf course an “open space.”

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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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Memphis Lawyer Talks Property Tax Career

Andrea McKinnon knew since middle school she wanted to become a lawyer, but she took the roundabout way to achieving that goal. The Memphis native unintentionally yet perfectly structured her career from realtor to tax accountant to, finally, property tax lawyer after the events of Sept.11 made her redirect her life and pursue law. Read more about McKinnon in the Daily News.

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Lawyers Comprise Large Number of Mortgage Fraud Cases

Lawyers make up a surprisingly large number of the defendants in civil and criminal mortgage-related fraud cases, according to the ABA Journal. Within a national database of 25,000 complaints about suspected mortgage fraud, more than 6,000 are against attorneys and law firms. The executive director of the State Bar of California called the involvement of lawyers a “huge” problem.

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HOA Claims Exemption from Honeybee Law

The homeowners association (HOA) of a Spring Hill subdivision told a resident he must remove a honey-producing beehive from his backyard because it violates a bylaw banning non-household pets as well as conducting business or trade from home, News Channel 5 reports. A Tennessee state law protects the rights of property owners to keep honeybees, but a lawyer for the HOA says the organization is not a form of government and is therefore exempt from that law. The case will go before the Tennessee Attorney General for an opinion.

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Former Memphis Attorney Pleads Guilty to Stealing from Clients

David J. Johnson, a Memphis real estate attorney who was disbarred last November, pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing more than $1 million from client trust accounts. His plea agreement on federal wire fraud charges includes making restitution to all identifiable victims who suffered losses in the scheme. The wire fraud statute carries up to 20 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines likely will recommend something considerably less. He will be sentenced in November by U.S. Dist. Judge S. Thomas Anderson. The Commercial Appeal has the story

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Website, Hotline Explain Mortgage Settlement

With 49 state attorneys general and the feds reaching an agreement with the nation's largest loan servicers, as much as $25 billion in relief will be available to distressed borrowers and government agencies. Homeowners also have a new online resource to help them determine eligibility for relief under the settlement. General information for those struggling to keep their homes is available here or from a new hotline, which can be reached at (855) 876-7283.

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Bank of America Sues Nashville Bankruptcy Trustee

Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America has filed a lawsuit against Nashville's Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustee, Henry "Hank" Hildebrand, according to the Nashville Business Journal. The move marks an effort on behalf of the bank to put an end to a common defense tactic used by debtors and foreclosure judges in the aftermath of the mortgage meltdown. Known as "show me the note," the tactic forces a lender to offer up physical documentation that they actually own the mortgage. It's a method that has been successful in Nashville, where Hildebrand has become well-known for his efforts to force mortgage companies to produce the original note when filing a claim in bankruptcy proceedings.

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Chancellor Was Ready to Block Mosque Construction

If a federal judge had not overturned a partial injunction barring the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro from opening, Chancellor Robert Corlew III would have halted completion of the mosque, according to court documents filed last week. According to these documents, Corlew said he was preparing to order officials with the Rutherford County Building Codes Department to immediately stop construction of the center “for the reason that the structure is being built without a valid site plan…” Now that the federal court has asserted jurisdiction, the local court has suspended its involvement. Learn more in the Murfreesboro Post

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Judge Allows Access to Mosque, U.S. Sues for Occupancy Permit

A federal judge in Nashville ruled this afternoon that a Murfreesboro mosque may open in time for Ramadan, though he said the building must go through the normal inspection process. Attorneys for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro argued in court today that they were being held to a higher standard than other religious groups in seeking a construction permit for their building. Also today, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against Rutherford County, claiming violations of a federal law that prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning decisions. The suit asks the court to force the county to issue a certificate of occupancy for the mosque. The county has refused to issue the certificate following a chancery court ruling that proper notice was not given for the mosque’s building permit. The Tennessean has the latest

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Planners Consider New Vote on Mosque

Planning commission members are exploring a new vote on construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro while they appeal a court ruling that stopped occupancy of the nearly finished mosque. A commissioner told the Daily News Journal that legal counsel indicated the body could revisit the matter any time as long as public notice is adequate. A judge in May overturned the commission's approval of the mosque because public notice wasn't sufficient. Meanwhile, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro intends to ask for a certificate of occupancy for the new mosque soon despite a court order banning the county from issuing the document. The paper has more on that issue

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Building the Mosque: Religious Land Use vs. Open Meetings?

Even cities with strict design standards that can reject a McDonald’s from building its golden arches can’t reject the architectural designs that are part of a place of worship, Nashville attorney George Dean said in explaining legal rights of religious architecture. Dean provided expert testimony for the Rutherford County government in defense of a lawsuit for approving the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s mosque plans in 2010. He talks about weighing religious land use rights against the open meeting meetings law, which is at the heart of the legal dispute over if the facility can open.  The Daily News Journal has the story

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Free Training on Mortgage Settlements July 16

Learn about the mortgage settlement process in Tennessee at a free, one-hour webcast July 16, co-sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association Access to Justice Committee and the Tennessee Attorney General's Office. The seminar, produced by Matt Pulle and Jeffrey L. Hill, will provide an overview of the issues surrounding the settlement, information on the benefits of the settlement — including benefits to military personnel — what attorneys need to know about the settlement, and information about the resources available through the Attorney General’s office. Learn more or register for "Pro Bono: Mortgage Relief for Pro Bono Clients."

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Judge: Mosque Cannot Open During Appeal

Chancellor Robert Corlew refused Monday to suspend an order that blocks the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro from getting a certificate of occupancy, The Daily Herald reports. Corlew turned down county attorneys who wanted him to put his injunction on hold and allow the mosque to be used while they appeal the order to a higher court. The fix, Corlew says, would be to have another planning commission meeting to approve the project. Corlew issued the injunction in mid-June after ruling that county officials did not provide sufficient public notice for a May 2010 meeting where the mosque’s construction plans were approved. The county has argued that it treated that meeting like any other and has appealed Corlew’s ruling to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. WPLN has more

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Resolution Would Honor Convicted Attorney

A proposed resolution being considered by the Sevier County Bar Association would honor Sevierville attorney Jerry Kerley, who now faces prison for his role in a $6 million mortgage fraud scheme. On the same day Kerley was suspended from the practice of law, an associate of his presented Sevier County Bar Association members a resolution to declare Kerley "an upstanding member of the bar." The resolution was deferred at the bar's June meeting to be taken up at its July meeting, according to the association's secretary-treasurer Alex Johnson. The News Sentinel has the story

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Firm Sued in Decades-Old Property Sale

Nashville attorney Cecil Sims Irvin has sued the Bass Berry & Sims law firm as well as attorney Wilson “Woody” Sims for malpractice, fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty -- all tied to a 1985 Williamson County land sale. Irvin alleges the transaction occurred without proper family permission and without professional land evaluation. Bass, Berry is represented by Darrell Townsend, a partner at Howell & Fisher. The Nashville Post has more

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