News

Former AG Cooper Named Nashville Law Director

Former Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper has been appointed as Nashville’s newest law director, the Tennessean reports. He will begin working for the city on Nov. 4. A member of Bass Berry & Sims’ compliance and government investigations practice, Cooper currently serves on the city’s community oversight board but will have to resign from that post. He will replace current law director Jon Cooper, who is awaiting approval to take over as attorney for the Metro Council.

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Ranked-choice Voting Likely Headed to Court

Backers of a proposal to move to ranked-choice voting in certain Memphis elections expect to lose another decision by state election officials and are preparing for a court proceeding, according to the group Ranked Choice Tennessee that is pushing for the change. Mark Goins, the state’s election coordinator, has twice ruled that ranking candidates by preference (which is then used instead of run-offs to determine the winner of any race where no candidate receives a majority of votes) cannot be used in Tennessee. Memphis voters first approved ranked-choice voting in a 2008 referendum. City officials now say they can accommodate such a ballot. Goins is set to rule on the most recent request before the end of the year, the Daily Memphian reports.

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Court Clerk Facing Ethics Complaint Counters with Defamation Suit

A man who filed an ethics complaint against Smyrna Town Court Clerk Brittany Stevens now says her $150,000 defamation lawsuit against him should be dismissed. “I filed the Ethics Complaint in good faith expecting it to be reviewed and handled confidentially by the Ethics Commission,” Tony Sees says in a deposition. Even though the complaint was supposed to be confidential, the document ended up being shared through email and social media. The ethics complaint alleged that Stevens simultaneously is serving as town court clerk and a practicing lawyer. Stevens asserts that she stopped practicing law in 2016 when she was appointed to the clerk position, the Daily News Journal reports.

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Shelby Voters Appeal Dismissal of Election Security Suit

A group of Shelby County voters is appealing the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the security of voting machines in the county and calling for a switch to handwritten ballots and a voter-verifiable paper trail. Shelby County Advocates for Valid Elections filed an appeal to U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker’s ruling last month that their lawsuit failed to show that any harm has come to them and that they have no legal standing. The group says Parker disregarded “circumstantial evidence that election tampering has occurred” in the county, WREG reports.

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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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Abdur’Rahman’s Lawyers: AG Usurping Power of Local DA

The ongoing battle over the fate of Tennessee death row inmate Abu-Alu Abdur’Rahman heated up today, with Abdur’Rahman’s attorneys accusing state Attorney General Herbert Slatery of usurping the power of Glenn Funk, Nashville’s elected prosecutor. Funk recently negotiated a deal to let Abdur’Rahman spend the rest of his life in prison rather than be executed. Slatery claims Funk does not have the authority to negotiate such a deal. Now Abdur’Rahman’s lawyers have responded, Knoxnews reports. “The notion that a District Attorney cannot enter an agreed resolution based on his reasoned judgment is utterly alien to basic principles of due process, statutory interpretation, and local power,” the lawyers argued.

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Ben Carson Visits Memphis, Pence in Nashville Area

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was in Memphis on Friday to visit the planned Union Row development -- an “opportunity zone” where investments by both public and private sectors provide housing and work opportunities for economically neglected communities. Carson also spoke against the “Not in My Backyard” mentality, which he argues has kept mixed-income housing from being built in many areas. The Memphis Business Journal has more. Today, Vice President Mike Pence was in Middle Tennessee to visit the Tyson Foods plant in Goodlettsville and speak about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, the Tennessean reports.

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Judge to Consider Making Consent Decree Hearing Public

U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla has asked attorneys for the city of Memphis to show why the transcript from a closed-door session on police reforms should not be made public. Following an August update hearing on the city’s compliance with the 1978 Kendrick Consent Decree, which prohibits police from gathering surveillance on protesters, attorneys for the city asked the court to seal the record. The city had sought modifications to the consent decree and cited “potential security vulnerabilities” that could arise if the record was made public. McCalla gave the parties until Oct. 15 to make their arguments. The Daily Memphian has the story.

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Wilson County Court Clerk Disputes DUI Arrest

Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Debbie Moss, who was charged with a DUI over the weekend, is disputing the allegations and how the sobriety tests were performed, the Tennessean reports. Moss was also charged with leaving the scene of a property damage accident and violation of the implied consent law. Moss maintains that she had a glass of wine after returning home but at no time was an impaired driver. The field sobriety tests were conducted at her home several hours after she returned home from a social function where witnesses said she backed into another car and then left the scene.

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Memphis Judges Win Re-election

All three of Memphis’ incumbent municipal judges won re-election yesterday. They are: Teresa D. Jones, Division 1; Tarik Sugarmon, Division 2; and Jayne Chandler, Division 3. All but Sugarmon had a challenger. In addition, Myron Lowery was elected court clerk. The Commercial Appeal has a breakdown of the vote as well as the results of the mayoral and city council races.

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Nashville Metro Council Loses Lawyer to New Mayor

Nashville Metro Council attorney Mike Jameson is leaving to work for newly elected Nashville Mayor John Cooper, the Tennessean reports. Jameson will serve as Cooper’s director of legislative affairs and senior adviser, the city announced this week. For now, Metro Director of Law Jon Cooper will take over as the council’s attorney and Hannah Zeitlin, who worked for Jameson, will serve as interim legal director.

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Full-Time Ordinance Delayed After Surprises in Draft

A proposed ordinance requiring Memphis’ chief legal officer to work full time for the city included a few surprises, the Daily Memphian reports. The proposal from council member Martavius Jones would have required all city “officers and directors” to live in the city and report to the mayor directly. The move is intended to affect the city attorney, who is a part-time city employee as well as a shareholder at Baker Donelson. Jones withdrew the ordinance in a committee sessions yesterday after the city’s chief operating officer said the proposal would impact provisions in the city’s charter and thus would require a referendum of city voters.

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Memphis Considers Cost, Benefits of Outside Counsel

Memphis City Council members are discussing a proposal that would require all city division directors to be full-time city employees. According to the sponsor of the proposal, the change is aimed at City Attorney Bruce McMullen, who is a part-time city employee as well as a shareholder at Baker Donelson. The council also is discussing how much the city spends on other outside counsel, including attorneys with Walk Cook Lakey, Lewis Thomason and council attorney Allan Wade. The Daily Memphian has more on the story.

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Progress Made in Negotiations Between GM and UAW

Following 10 days of picketing at the General Motors (GM) plant in Spring Hill, strikers received news this week that progress has been made in the negotiations between GM and the United Auto Workers (UAW) in Detroit, the Tennessean reports. All of the subcommittees, which discuss issues like safety, plant rules and operations, have been closed, while 50 major issues remain at the main bargaining table. UAW Local 1853 president, Tim Stannard, asserted that they will remain on strike until a contract is ratified.

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City Argues Constitution Does Not Protect Immigrant Killed by Police

Ismael Lopez was shot and killed by Southaven, Miss., police officers at his home in 2017. His wife later filed a civil suit. In response, an attorney for the city argued that Lopez lacked constitutional rights because of his prior criminal record and unauthorized immigration status. The city also challenged the wife’s standing to bring the case based on her immigration status. The city's attorney, Katherine S. Kerby, wrote, "Ismael Lopez may have been a person on American soil but he was not one of the 'We, the People of the United States' entitled to the civil rights invoked in this lawsuit." She commented that she was "arguing existing law. Not new law." An attorney for the Lopez family called the city’s argument, “the most insane thing I’ve ever heard." The case is still pending in federal court in Mississippi. Read more about the case law the parties are relying on in this article from the Commercial Appeal.

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Murfreesboro Fire Captain Files Federal Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination

A Murfreesboro fire captain who says he was forced to resign or lose his pension after complaining about time clock issues has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that he was targeted because he is black, the Daily News Journal reports. The complaint maintains that Battalion Chief Daryl Alexander changed plaintiff Theodore Pertiller’s time records without reason and that Pertiller was not properly compensated for overtime worked, stating there was no legitimate reason for Alexander’s actions and "similarly situated non-African-American employees were not subjected to this type of conduct." Pertiller says he complained to the City’s Human Resources Department about the incident, and that the city’s Human Resources Department agreed that race may have been a factor. City spokesman Mike Browning denied the allegations and said that Pertiller chose to retire prior to completion of the disciplinary process.
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Clarksville-Montgomery County to Hold Public Hearings Regarding Growth Plan

The city of Clarksville will hold two public hearings regarding its 20-year Growth Plan that will determine potential annexations for areas of Montgomery County into the city, the Leaf Chronicle reports. The Growth Plan is a long-range planning map that seeks to determine where future population growth will most likely happen within the county. Public hearing dates are listed below. You can also send comments via email to rpc@cityofclarksville.com by Oct. 9.
  • Monday, Sept. 30, from 6 – 8 p.m., Rossview Elementary School gymnasium, 2235 Cardinal Ln., Clarksville
  • Tuesday, Oct. 1, from 6 – 8 p.m., Civic Hall, Montgomery County Veterans Plaza, 350 Pageant Ln. Suite 201, Clarksville
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Shelby County Considers Next Steps if Memphis Tax Hike Passes

As Memphians prepare to vote on a sales tax referendum intended to fund police and fire department pensions, Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford, Jr. is considering strategies on how best to split the revenue from those taxes between the county and the city, the Commercial Appeal reports. Ford has been a vocal detractor of the referendum, saying sales taxes are “arguably the most regressive” and “take a larger percentage of income from low-income taxpayers than from high-income taxpayers.” If the city’s tax policy passes, the county could raise its own sales tax rate up to that of the city rate. The referendum is up for vote on Oct. 3.

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Knoxville City Council Approves Gun Show Ban on City Property

The Knoxville City Council on Tuesday voted 8-1 to formally ask the mayor to consider banning gun shows at city-owned spaces, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Councilwoman Gwen McKenzie, who put forth the resolution, said it has nothing to do with her views on legal gun ownership, but feels it is an "insult to injury" for the city to allow gun shows in areas of town that have for years suffered from gun violence. Mayor Madeline Rogero said she supports the resolution and would not allow any new gun show bookings for city-owned property. Successive mayors will have to recommit to the ban for it to remain in effect.

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Secretary of State Hargett Addresses Recently Blocked Voter Registration Law

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Tuesday spoke up regarding the new state law that would require voter registration groups to undergo state training, and fine paid registration groups for incomplete forms, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The legislation was introduced after complaints from Republican election officials in Shelby and Davidson counties who said they were overwhelmed by last-minute voter registration forms, many of which were incomplete. Hargett stressed the law was to cover paid registration assistance and said “If you're doing a voter registration drive, you owe it to that individual to make sure that voter registration form is complete … If you turn in a form that's half done, you really haven't helped that voter, have you?" HB1079/SB0971 was set to take effect on October 1; however, was blocked by by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger who called the law a “complex and punitive regulatory scheme.”

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Former Chancellor Selected to Oversee Watchdog Agencies

Former Davidson County Chancellor Bill Young has been selected to serve as the next director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, the Tennessean reports. Young, who twice served in the state attorney general’s office, was chosen to succeed Drew Rawlins, who retired earlier this year. Young also previously served as deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and as director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. He was one of five candidates vying for the post.

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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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Sheriff Seeks Grant Extension to Address Jail Overcrowding

Over the past four years, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office has received $650,000 in grants to implement initiatives to help reduce crowding at the county jail. Now, officials say, they need a little more time to put the initiatives in place, the Daily Memphian reports. The funding, from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge Program, was to expire on Oct. 1. Officials say they need more time to spend $200,000 that has not yet been committed. The goal of the program is to reduce the number of inmates by 24 percent by 2020. If the extension is approved, the jail said it will use the funds to purchase a case management system designed to make it easier for judges to manage cases. In turn, officials say, defendants will get their day in court faster.

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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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Mother of Man Killed in Downtown Police Chase Suing Metro-Nashville

An Arkansas woman whose son was killed during a police chase in downtown Nashville is now suing several parties involved — including metro government — regarding the incident, The Tennessean reports. Corey Joseph Taylor was walking on a sidewalk when a stolen vehicle being chased by police jumped the curb, striking and killing him. Taylor’s mother, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, maintains in her complaint that “the potential benefit of immediately apprehending a fleeing car thief was greatly outweighed by the known, foreseeable risks of the high-speed pursuit and was a gross deviation from acceptable law enforcement standards.” She is seeking more than $10 million in damages from defendants.

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