News

Risks of Protecting Electronic Information CLE

On May 15,
Chris Stiegemeyer is back at the Tennessee Bar Center on May 15 with a 3-hour ethics program. The prudent management of law firm data brings together not just a lawyer's ethical duties and malpractice risk management, but also your personal financial exposure. This seminar will help attendees learn to identify those risks and provide a roadmap for addressing them. 
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Former Skadden Associate Charged in Russia Probe Seeks Leniency

Alex van der Zwaan, the former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom associate who pleaded guilty to lying in the Russia investigation earlier this year, told a Washington, D.C., judge that his cooperation and remorse justify a non-jail sentence, reports The National Law Journal.

Van der Zwan’s lawyer, Cooley partner William Schwartz, wrote in a sentencing memo to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson that the 33-year-old’s career is ruined, and that he has “been serving a sentence while stuck in limbo” in the United States. The memo states that while it did not excuse his conduct, van der Zwaan lied to investigators in a Nov. 3, 2017, meeting because he feared for his career, as Skadden lawyers represented him at that time.

“During the interview, Alex was keenly aware that he was not speaking only to the OSC,” the document said. “Alex was represented by Skadden lawyers, and anything he shared with the OSC would simultaneously be heard by Skadden. In his mind, his boss was listening to every word.” The memorandum continues: “Focused on preserving his career at Skadden, and fearful that truthful answers could lead to discovery of the recordings (and in particular, the discovery that he had recorded a Skadden partner), Alex made a terrible decision… The conduct that brings Alex before this court was inexcusable… And while his actions following his initial meeting with the OSC cannot absolve him from culpability, they are compelling mitigating factors in considering just punishment.”

In their own memo, lawyers for Mueller told the judge she should not rule out prison time, because of a “scarcity of mitigating factors and several aggravating circumstances.” They said van der Zwaan “is a person to whom every advantage in life has been given,” and that the government rightly expected “candor and uprightness” from him. “While there might eventually be additional professional consequences that befall a foreign lawyer who commits a United States felony, those consequences do not themselves obviate the need for his current sentence to reflect the seriousness of his crime, to promote respect for the law, or to provide adequate specific and general deterrence,” prosecutors wrote.

The filing also included pleas for a lenient sentencing from van der Zwaan’s wife, the daughter of a Russian oligarch who is expecting a baby in August, and his mother, whom the filing said he helps with errands and household tasks. Van der Zwaan faces up to six months in prison.

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Law Firms Often Keep Quiet After Resignations From Misconduct

"There are many reasons why the #MeToo moment hasn’t fully crested in Biglaw yet," Above the Law writes, "and a big one is that law firms know how to conduct internal investigations," which they do with maximum discretion. This story reports on recent resignations from law firms after allegations of misconduct, and why keeping it quiet is not always in everyone's best interest.

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ABA Ethics Opinion Stresses Duty of Confidentiality While Blogging

A new American Bar Association ethics opinion stresses the importance of confidentiality lawyers must maintain when they engage in public commentary, including online on blogs and social media, the ABA Journal reports. The opinion cites the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule 1.6(a), which provides: “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b).” The opinion explains that this duty of confidentiality applies even if the information about the client’s representation is found in a court record or other public record.
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TBA Gears Up for 2018 Mock Trial Tournament

The Tennessee Bar Association will host the upcoming Tennessee High School Mock Trial Tournament on March 23 and 24 in Nashville. The Mock Trial is a two-day, single-elimination bracket-style competition where 16 high schools face-off against each other in the Davidson County Courthouse. Each team is scored on their trial preparation and skills. 

We need TBA volunteers to help be bailiffs and jurors (scorers) for the event. After signing up, we will send you a Volunteer Memo with all the information you need for competition including; parking, hotel, downtown map, courthouse rules, and reimbursement information. Come be a part of the Young Lawyers Divisions’ March Madness! Feel free to contact YLD Director Stephanie Vonnahme with any questions.

To volunteer for this event, click here.

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Don't Forget: Winter CLE Blast Tomorrow!

Need CLE hours fast? We can help! The annual Winter CLE Blast is less than a day away. With this program, you can complete up to 11 hours of Dual CLE credit on your own time. Our registration desk will be open from 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. on Feb. 21, providing you the flexibility to create your own schedule and take as many or as few hours as you need. Payment will be determined at checkout depending on the number of hours you attend. 

Highlights

  • Flexible to your schedule
  • Up to 11 Hours of CLE
  • Ethics Credits
  • Compliance CLE
  • Live Credit Hours

When: Feb. 21, registration begins at 7 a.m., CST

Where: Tennessee Bar Center, 221 4th Ave N., Nashville, TN 37219

 

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Michigan Judge Tells Convicted Killer 'I Hope You Die in Prison'

A Michigan judge became incensed during a sentencing hearing and told the defendant "I hope you die in prison." Judge John McBain was ruling in the case of 31-year-old Camia Gamet, when the defendant appeared to mock the victim's grieving family by rolling her eyes, causing the judge to lose his temper.
 
Gamet was convicted in March of fatally stabbing her boyfriend, Marcel Hill. According to WNEM in Lansing, McBain called it one of the worst cases he has ever seen. He told Gamet that she "gutted [Hill] like a fish.' 'If this was a death penalty state, you'd be getting the chair," said the judge.
 
McBain also threatened to tape Gamet's mouth shut, saying, "You're going to shut your mouth or I'm going to have some duct tape put on it." Gamet was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
 
This is not the first time the acrimonious adjudicator has made news for his candid outbursts. McBain once tackled and subdued a man who resisted being taken into custody and has been repeatedly accused of partiality and hostility in his courtroom.
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New Edition of Ethics Rule Book Now Available From TBA

The 2018 edition of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct is now available from the Tennessee Bar Association. Thanks to the efforts of the TBA's Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, this new edition includes all amendments as of and through Oct. 31, 2017. It is available for purchase in a spiral-bound format for $30 or free in PDF format or in Word document format.

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Valet, Warm Scones and Ethics

Get three hours of ethics credit at the TBA’s Ethics Roadshow CLE in Nashville on Dec. 7. Valet parking is included at the Hilton Hotel Downtown. Warm scones, fresh fruit, stuffed biscuits and coffee are on the breakfast menu. Register before Sunday to avoid the late fee. Come hungry!

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Supreme Court Soliciting Comments on Proposed Changes to Rule 8

The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility and the TBA last week filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to amend Rule 8, RPC 8.4 of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court by adopting a new RPC 8.4(g). The court is now soliciting written comments from the bench, the bar and the public. The deadline for submissions is March 21, 2018. Written comments may be emailed or mailed to James M. Hivner, Clerk, Re: Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, section 32 Tennessee Appellate Courts, 100 Supreme Court Building, 401 7th Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee 37219-1407. Read the proposed amendments here.
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Joint Petition Filed by TBA, Board of Professional Responsibility

The Tennessee Bar Association and the Board of Professional Responsibility filed an unusual joint petition today asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to adopt a new ethics rule prohibiting discrimination and harassment by lawyers in conduct related to the practice of law. The petition seeks an amendment to Supreme Court Rule 8 to add a new subsection (g) to RPC 8.4 and explanatory comment paragraphs. The proposed amendment is patterned after a recently-adopted ABA Model Rule 8.4(g), but the proposal adds language more clearly protecting the First Amendment rights of lawyers, among other things. The Tennessee Supreme Court is expected to issue an order soliciting comments on the petition soon.

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BPR Issues Ethics Opinion on Interstate Law Firm Using Trade Name

The Board of Professional Responsibility has issued a formal ethics opinion regarding the opening and operation of a proposed interstate law firm between Tennessee and Florida, using a trade name, SETCO law. The opinion deals with the growth, development and diversity of the legal profession, which has spawned a proliferation of new ways of conducting the practice, taking lawyers far beyond the sole practitioner and single office law firm models of an earlier era.
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ABA Issues Guidance on Electronic Transmission of Client Info

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued an opinion with guidance for lawyers on enhancing confidentiality for transferring sensitive client information electronically. The guidance recommends lawyers be trained in technology and information security and encourages attorneys to take a proactive role in ensuring communications are protected, among other edicts. The new opinion adds to one issued in 1999 that discusses protecting the confidentiality of encrypted email. Read the full opinion here.

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AG Files Suit Against Law Firm Targeting Grieving Families

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has filed a lawsuit against the Witherspoon Law Group in Texas, attorney Nuru Witherspoon and two investigators for unlawfully soliciting victims of the Chattanooga school bus crash. The AG’s office received reports that through investigators, the firm contacted victim’s families as they made funeral arrangements, despite state law prohibiting attorneys from solicitation within 30 days of a tragedy. The suit alleges that the investigators, Alphonso McClendon and Glen Smith, presented themselves as attorneys and pressured families to sign contracts.
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ABA Discrimination Model Rule Draws Fire in Montana

The recently passed ABA Model Rule 84(g) dealing with discrimination has been condemned by the Montana state legislature, which says it is a violation of Montanans’ First Amendment rights, the ABA Journal reports. The model rule — which makes it a violation of professional responsibility to discriminate or harass on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law — was passed by the ABA House of at its 2016 Annual Meeting. The Montana Supreme Court adopted it later that year.

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Learn the Neuroscience of Decision-Making at the TBA Convention

At the TBA Convention in Kingsport, a special joint Bench/Bar CLE will examine the role neuroscience plays in our decision-making skills and judgment. The session will include exercises, tools and specific strategies for increasing impartiality and integrity in decision-making. The course will identify ways to increase fairness guided by science. The convention will be June 14-17 at the MeadowView Marriott Resort.
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Tennessee Supreme Court Amends Rule 8

The Tennessee Supreme Court has amended Rule 8 of the Rules of Professional Responsibility following a Tennessee Bar Association request in July 2016. The Knoxville Bar Association and the Board of Professional Responsibility both provided comments on the proposal. The new amendments provide new language in regards to technology and contracting with other lawyers; updates to confidentiality of information and detection of conflicts of interest; and more.

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Hendersonville Attorney Charged with Theft

Hendersonville attorney Andy Allman, who has been under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation since December, was arrested and booked into the Davidson County jail yesterday afternoon. His house was also searched, WKRN reports. Allman was charged with theft between $60,000 and $200,000. The indictment alleges that he knowingly obtained money and property from a client while acting as a personal representative of an estate without the victim’s consent. 

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Court Sets Oral Arguments for Knoxville Session

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear four cases in Knoxville on Jan. 10. The cases involve issues of whether a person who has been elected judge, but not yet assumed office, may act as a state officer or employee and whether a judicial administrative assistant is an at-will employee whose employment can be terminated by the judge; whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in finding that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support a conviction for aggravated stalking; whether the signature of a trustee agreeing to arbitration binds the minor beneficiary; and whether a trial court erred in affirming a BPR decision.

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Receiver Attorney Appointed for Andy Allman

The Sumner County Chancery Court entered an order on Dec. 22 appointing Dennis Powers as receiver attorney for Andy Allman. The order, requested by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, allows Powers to take custody of files, records, bank accounts and other property connected to Allman’s law practice; review files to determine the status of pending legal matters; notify all clients and courts as to the appointment of a receiver attorney; and return documents and fees to clients as necessary.

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AG to Chattanooga Families: Beware of Predatory Firms

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III is asking Chattanooga residents to be aware of predatory law firms seeking to profit from the Woodmore Elementary school bus tragedy. While communities and families deal with the heartache and stress associated with tragedy, out-of-state law firms have been known to solicit business and coerce families into signing legal agreements that are difficult to understand, Slatery says. Often, these firms use misleading or inaccurate information, offer incentives such as paying funeral costs in exchange for using their services, and promise millions in civil lawsuit awards. In some cases, salesmen hired by the law firm will portray themselves as licensed attorneys when they are not. In a warning released today, Slatery outlines four signs of a suspicious solicitation, and pledges to prosecute anyone taking advantage of the situation.

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Preventing Legal Malpractice Courses Now Online

If you missed the three-city tour of this year’s Preventing Legal Malpractice series with Chris Stiegemeyer, the videos are now available online. Use your TBA prepaid credits to reduce the cost or to register at no cost. This year’s program focused on sample fee agreements and helping lawyers identify vital malpractice and ethics issues.

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Ethics Roadshow Sessions Available Online

If you missed the six-city tour of this year’s Ethics Roadshow, the videos are now available online. Use your TBA prepaid credits to reduce the cost or to register at no cost. This year’s program focuses on technology, artificial intelligence and other hot topics in the world of lawyer ethics.

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Police Chief: DA Spokesman Released Info on Rape Victim

Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson publicly rebuked Ken Whitehouse, a spokesman in the district attorney’s office, on Monday, saying he committed an “unconscionable” act that was a “violation of trust and human dignity” when he released the name and personal information of a rape victim to the media. Anderson says that Whitehouse sent an incident report that included the names of the alleged victim and suspect to a local television station. The district attorney’s office said the information was mistakenly released. Whitehouse will retain his job, but Anderson says he has blocked him from further access to confidential police files, the Tennessean reports.

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ABA Opinion: Protect Confidentiality When Ending Representation

The American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued Formal Opinion 476, which addresses confidentiality issues that arise when a lawyer moves to withdraw from a civil case because of a client’s failure to pay legal fees. The opinion recommends a process for the lawyer and the trial judge to follow and how much, if any, confidential client information should be disclosed in a motion to withdraw. The opinion notes that sticky situations can arise, and that “this requires cooperation between lawyers and judges.” Read more about the opinion.

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