News

Knox, Smith Schools Face Questions Over Religious Programs

Knox County parents are voicing concerns over a program that allows children to leave class to attend one hour of Bible instruction, WBIR reports. The program requires students to have parental consent to participate and must be conducted off public school property. The school board said it is drafting a policy to address religious programs. In related news, the ACLU of Tennessee recently filed a federal lawsuit against officials in the Smith County School System, alleging they engage in the widespread promotion of religion in district schools. News Channel 5 has a release from the group and an initial response from the district.

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Final Week to Enroll in Group Health Insurance

This is the last week to sign up for the TBA's new group health insurance, which gives employers an affordable way to provide health insurance to employees. Brought to you by the TBA, TBA Member Insurance Solutions and Humana, the plan offers three options to meet your needs and could save up to 30% each year. It is guaranteed issue coverage with no health questions and no pre-existing condition exclusions. Get a quote or enroll today. Enrollment ends Sunday. Have questions? Contact tbams@tnbar.org, 423-629-2400 x264.

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Corporate Counsel ‘Knowledge Nibbles’ Includes CLE and Lunch

The TBA Corporate Counsel Section is hosting a one-hour CLE with lunch on Dec. 9 from noon to 1 p.m. at the Tennessee Bar Center. The course will focus on privacy laws with a discussion of the European Union’s EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

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Supreme Court: Fair Report Privilege Doesn’t Apply to Nonpublic Interviews

The state Supreme Court ruled today that nonpublic, one-on-one conversations between a newspaper reporter and sheriff’s department detective are not covered by the fair report privilege. That privilege shields persons and organizations that report on official acts from defamation claims, if the reports are fair and accurate. The decision arose from a defamation suit brought by Jeffrey Todd Burke against Sparta Newspapers. The newspaper published what Burke claimed were defamatory statements made by a sheriff’s department detective during a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation with a reporter. A trial court sided with the Sparta Newspapers and granted summary judgement based on the fair report privilege. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision and held that the conversation did not fall within the scope of the privilege. The Supreme Court sided with the appeals court, but granted Sparta Newspapers permission to appeal to define the scope of the privilege. The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings.

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Profile Looks at the Work of the Federal Public Defender’s Office

A piece in the Nashville Scene by Steven Hale looks at the work of Kelley Henry, the supervising assistant federal public defender based in Nashville, who has been representing death row prisoners for more than 20 years. In 2018, she led the challenge against the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol. Now she is at the center of several high-profile cases, including those of Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman and Sedley Alley. Hale asked Henry how long she would continue to fight these battles. If the time ever came, she said, when one of the people she represented was executed and she did not cry, it would be time to quit. Hale was awarded the TBA’s 2019 Fourth Estate Award, which honors courageous journalism that enhances public understanding of the legal system and the law. He was recognized for his coverage of the executions of Billy Ray Irick, David Earl Miller and Edmund Zagorski, and capital punishment more generally in Tennessee.

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Gone in a Snap! Collecting and Preserving Evidence from Apps

Apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp claim that messages and photos sent through the apps disappear, raising the question of what to do when the apps may contain key evidence. The “Gone in a Snap” CLE on Dec. 11 will help lawyers identify which sources of electronic evidence to examine and how to try to collect and preserve the evidence before it's gone. Join us in Knoxville for lunch and a one-hour dual credit program produced by the TBA Law Tech Section.

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Supreme Court Hears Discrimination Case Against Comcast

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard a discrimination case against Comcast by Byron Allen, the owner of Entertainment Studios Networks, The New York Times reports. The lawsuit claims the company’s decision not to carry programming from Allen’s network was determined in part by his race. Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, says its decision was an ordinary business calculation and was due to insufficient demand for Entertainment Studio’s offerings. The case concerns a Reconstruction-era federal law that gives “all persons” the same right to “make and enforce contract” as “is enjoyed by white citizens."

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Corporate Counsel Knowledge Nibbles

Join the Corporate Counsel Section on Dec. 9 for lunch and the opportunity to earn an hour of CLE general credit. The course will focus on privacy laws. Our speaker will cover GDPR and CCPA.  She is also experienced in trademark and IP matters. 

Click HERE to register.

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Ethics Roadshow Coming to a City Near You

The TBA is bringing its Ethics Roadshow to a city near you on multiple days in December. The program will be in Knoxville on Dec. 4, Chattanooga on Dec. 5, Memphis on Dec. 9, Nashville on Dec. 10, Jackson on Dec. 16, and Johnson City on Dec. 18. Sign up today to reserve your spot for this annual event, guaranteed to meet your ethics requirements for the year and enhance your knowledge of crucial changes in the legal profession. The course also is always full of surprises and humor. Earn up to three hours of dual CLE credit. See the list of all courses.

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November TBJ: Wellness, Probate and Music Copyrights

"We are human beings in a difficult job," TBA President Sarah Y. Sheppeard writes in her November Tennessee Bar Journal column. She recounts a time early in her career when an older colleague took his own life — and she now urges lawyers to seek help through the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program or elsewhere. Also in this issue, Scott Pilkinton writes in the cover article about how to avoid probate potholes. We also look at the Music Modernization Act, with Monique Brown, a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, writing about how the law has addressed and incorporated new technology and industry trends into antiquated copyright laws. Read these articles and more in this month's issue of the Journal.

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Family of Man Killed by Knoxville Police Officer File Suit Alleging Suppression of Evidence

Attorneys for the family of a man killed by a Knoxville police officer have filed a lawsuit in Knox County Chancery Court alleging that city officials are withholding records regarding the incident, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Channara Tom “Philly” Pheap was shot in the back by Knoxville Police Officer Dylan Williams after an altercation in response to a hit-and-run call. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Joshua Hedrick and Lance Baker, say they are being stonewalled in their quest for public records such as the final autopsy report, 911 recordings and police cruiser video. The suit named the city of Knoxville, Knox County and the Knox County Emergency Communications District as defendants.

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Court Weighs Unsealing of Lynching Records

The full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is considering whether federal courts can order grand jury records unsealed in old cases of historical significance, the Johnson City Press reports. The case in question involves the 1946 deaths of two young black couples — Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey — at the hands of a white mob. A historian researching the case discovered transcripts of the grand jury proceedings, once thought to have been destroyed, in the National Archives. In 2017, a federal judge ordered the records unsealed. But the U.S. Department of Justice appealed, citing grand jury secrecy rules. A three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld the lower court’s order, but the full court voted to rehear the case. Oral arguments before all 12 judges were held yesterday.

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Murfreesboro Council Accused of Violating Open Meetings Law

The Murfreesboro City Council has been accused of violating the state’s open meetings law by meeting in private executive session for legal advice on selling an electric utility, the Daily Journal News reports. The city manager, who previously served as city attorney, says the executive session was called “to talk about legal issues that could result in a lawsuit.” Tennessee Press Association attorney Rick Hollow says, “That’s not a legal controversy. Executive session is for lawsuits or threats of pending litigation.” Another legal expert says case law requires there to be an existing lawsuit or threat of litigation. But Lee Pope, the open records counsel for the state, said the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that controversial issues can be permissible reasons to seek attorney-client privileges in private.

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U.S. Asks Facebook to Delay Encryption as European Court Expands ‘Take-down’ Power

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has asked Facebook to hold off on plans to add encryption throughout its messaging services, citing public safety, The Wall Street Journal reports. Barr made the request in an open letter signed by his British and Australian counterparts. The leaders are asking the company to delay its encryption plan until it finds a way to provide government access for investigative purposes. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg outlined plans to focus on encrypted messaging and small-group chats earlier this year. In related news, Europe’s top court ruled yesterday that individual European countries can order Facebook to take down posts, photographs and videos not only in their own countries but internationally. The Memphis Business Journal has that story.

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Bass Berry Expands to New York City

Bass Berry & Sims has added its first attorney in New York City, the Nashville Post reports. New York attorney Marc Ackerman is joining the firm as counsel in the Sports/Media and Intellectual Property/Technology Practice groups. Most recently, he was general counsel and senior vice president of legal and business affairs at race series Tough Mudder. Previously, he worked as outside counsel for the NFL, ESPN and other sports and media organizations. Read more from the firm.

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New TBA Sidebar Podcast Episode Shares Benefits of Improv Comedy For Lawyers

A new installment of the Tennessee Bar Association Podcast Network show, Sidebar, is now available. The episode focuses on improv skills for attorneys and features interviews with the co-owner of the Third Coast Comedy Club in Nashville and Kirsten Jacobson, staff attorney at the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and improv student. Sidebar is available on the TBA's website or anywhere you listen to podcasts, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and TuneIn. Simply search the show title of "Tennessee Bar Association." Do you have a story lead you'd like to hear on a future episode? Submit your ideas here.

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Deputy Commissioner of TennCare Roberts to Speak at TBA Health Law Forum

As Tennessee deals with the rising medical needs of its rural citizens and seeks to realize its Medicaid block grant proposal, there are many developments on the horizon for TennCare. TBA Health Law Section member and Deputy Commissioner of TennCare Gabe Roberts will address some of these plans on Oct. 17 at the 31st Annual TBA Health Law Forum. Roberts’ address — along with presentations by Johns Hopkins health policy expert and New York Times bestselling author Marty Makary and health care policy advisor to the White House Larry Van Horn — will make this year’s forum the must-see, must-do event in health law. You can learn more and see the rest of the program’s stellar line-up using this link.
 
When: Oct. 17-18; registration begins at 7 a.m., CDT on Oct. 17
Where: Embassy Suites Cool Springs, 820 Crescent Centre Drive, Franklin
 
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Press Freedom Advocates Troubled by Suit Against Iowa Paper

The former city administrator of Davenport, Iowa, is suing the area’s biggest newspaper, claiming that its coverage was unfair and cost him his job, the Associated Press reports. The suit against the Quad-City Times is set to go to trial on Monday. Craig Malin argues the paper published false news and opinion pieces about his official actions. The trial will not be a traditional libel case because a judge has ruled that Malin, as a public official, did not prove the newspaper defamed him. Instead, the case will be about whether the paper improperly interfered with Malin’s employment contract. Press freedom experts say the case is troubling because courts have generally not allowed public officials to bring such claims to bypass the media’s constitutional protections. WATE News has the story.

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Social Media and Animal Cruelty

A controversial YouTube video in which an owner ‘pranked’ her Doberman pinscher has sparked accusations of mistreatment and conversation on what constitutes abuse, the Washington Post reports. The owner, Brooke Houts, posted a video of her putting plastic wrap on her door to have her dog attempt to run through it “just see what he does” and was later seen slapping the dog, pinning him down and appearing to spit on him. Professor of property and animal law at Michigan State University David Favre told the Post what “constitutes animal abuse varies by the language in the laws in each state” and that “cases involving bruising an animal or breaking its skin can be grounds for someone to be prosecuted … smacking and pushing might be disrespectful, but it’s not necessarily illegal.” The Los Angeles Police Department investigated the accusations against Houts and “determined it didn’t rise to the level of animal cruelty.”

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Facebook Proposes ‘Supreme Court’ Style Board to Make Content Decisions

Facebook has proposed a Supreme Court-style board to rule on the acceptability of content on its site, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The board would also be tapped to give advisory opinions on Facebook’s wider content policies. According to the company, the board will include members with differing views to lead to “better decisions” on what type of discussions can remain on the social media platform. Users would be able to appeal decisions made by company content moderators beginning in 2020.

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Appeals Court Rules for Reporter in Public Records Case

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled today that the state does not have the right to withhold ordinary public records just because they are part of a criminal investigation, the Johnson City Press reports. The ruling overturns a lower court decision and clarifies when the criminal investigation exception should apply. The case involved a lawsuit brought by WTVF-TV reporter Phil Williams, who was investigating reports of an affair between two state officials that may have involved the use of public funds. Williams requested expense reports and phone logs, but the state refused to turn them over, saying they were part of a criminal investigation. Before Williams’ case could go to court, the investigation ended and the state did turn over the records. The trial and appellate courts heard the case anyway, saying it involved a question of important public policy.

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TBA Communications Section Chair Joins Adams and Reese

Nashville media lawyer and TBA Communications Law Section Chair Paul McAdoo has joined Adams and Reese as special counsel, the firm reports. McAdoo previously was a partner with Aaron Sanders PLLC and practiced in Michigan and Florida. As chair of the section, McAdoo organized a workshop earlier this year to help educate news reporters about covering legal stories. His practice focuses on media law, First Amendment, open government, copyright, trademark and complex business litigation matters.

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Legal Aid Society to Celebrate 50-Year Anniversary

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands will hold its 50th Anniversary Celebration “An Evening at the Frist” on Nov. 9 at the Frist Museum in downtown Nashville. The event will feature cocktails, live music and a gallery exhibition, and provide a unique opportunity to honor the group’s distinguished 50-year legacy of providing “justice for all.” Tickets are available online.

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Tennessee Joins Probe of Tech Giant

Tennessee has joined attorneys generals from a number of states investigating Facebook's dominance and any resulting anticompetitive conduct, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Dissatisfied with what federal authorities have done to investigate large tech companies, two groups of state officials are now conducting antitrust probes. Regulators are examining whether Facebook, Google and other large tech companies have used their market power to crimp competition, potentially raising prices and hurting consumers.

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September Episode Of TBA BarBuzz Podcast Now Available

Get a monthly recap of bar association news and upcoming events on this month’s episode of BarBuzz, part of the Tennessee Bar Association Podcast Network. Also included in the network are Sidebar, a show covering human interest stories from attorneys in Tennessee and HealthyBar, a podcast centered on attorney wellbeing. The shows are now available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn and the TBA’s website. Simply search the show title or “Tennessee Bar Association” wherever you listen to podcasts.

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