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Stay up to date with legal news in Tennessee by following the TBA Law Blog, featuring stories produced by the Tennessee Bar Association or collected from news sources.

Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into campaign expenditures by Franklin Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham, the lawmaker’s lawyer confirmed to the Tennessean today. The U.S. attorney’s office reportedly has issued two subpoenas for records related to campaign finance issues and a possible tax violation. Durham’s lawyer Peter Strianse said his client was complying with those orders. The move comes in addition to an investigation by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which is looking at alleged discrepancies in Durham’s campaign records.

Photo credit: Nashville Bar Association

An eight-foot-tall bronze statue of former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr. was unveiled Saturday at a ceremony in downtown Nashville, the Tennessean reports. The event also marked the 10-year anniversary of the city’s criminal courthouse, which bears Birch’s name. The larger-than-life statue, created by New Jersey artist Brian Hanlon and paid for by donations, sits at the courthouse’s main entrance on Second Ave. Among those speaking at the event were Birch’s son, Adolpho Birch III, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and Davidson County General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell.

In a victory for open records proponents, Nashville has lost a lawsuit over the amount of time it takes its police department to respond to and fulfill records requests, the Nashville Post reports. The court found that the police department was waiting seven days to release accident reports even though they were available in about three days. The department argued it had the full seven days allowed by the Open Records Act to comply. But the court said that position did not meet the law’s provision requiring promptness. “As far as I know, this is the first time in Tennessee anyone has challenged the ‘promptness’ for producing records,” the attorney for the requesters said.

Photo credit: The Commercial Appeal

A Shelby County jury has set a $30 million judgment against Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after finding the Memphis nursing home liable for negligence, violations of the Tennessee Adult Protection Act, fraudulent records of care and medical malpractice, the Commercial Appeal reports. The verdict includes $1.9 million for negligence, $129,000 for violations of the protection act, and $28 million in punitive damages against Allenbrooke, four related companies and two owners in New York. 

A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked the University of North Carolina (UNC) from enforcing the state’s bathroom law against three transgender plaintiffs. Judge Thomas D. Schroeder said the two students and one employee had “made a clear showing” that they were likely to succeed on their claim the law violates Title IX. The university said it was reviewing the order but would fully comply. Though it applies to just three people, LGBT supporters said they hoped it was the first step in bringing down a state law that requires people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. WJHL has the Associated Press story.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed a new rule Friday that would allow international entrepreneurs additional years of U.S. residency to start and build their businesses, the Upstart Business Journal reports. The International Entrepreneur Rule would allow startup founders to stay in the United States for up to two years, followed by a period of up to three years if they meet “additional benchmarks.” Factors to be considered include the entrepreneur’s ownership stake and leadership role, the growth potential of the startup, success in securing competitive research grants, and investment by qualified American investors.

The Tennessee Supreme Court last week suspended 112 lawyers for failing to comply with mandatory continuing legal education requirements in 2015. Attorneys who since have complied with the rule, and for whom notice has been received from the court, are noted as reinstated. See the list of all attorneys suspended and reinstated.

Already facing scrutiny over her work schedule, Nashville General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell now appears to have retroactively signed orders to commit 11 people to a local mental health institution, though she never heard the cases. While Bell was on vacation, she arranged for another lawyer to cover for her. But that individual forgot to sign orders keeping the patients in mental health facilities. Bell retroactively signed them six days later, pointing to the practice in Shelby County, where she says other judges sign off on orders they do not hear. Some are now questioning whether the orders are legitimate, the Tennessean reports.

After delaying jury service last December because she was on tour, Taylor Swift showed up for jury duty today. If selected she would have heard a domestic violence case involving a charge of aggravated rape. She was dismissed about 1 p.m. though. Others in the courthouse said she was smiling and happy and willing to take pictures with would-be jurors, the Tennessean reports.

Photo credit: Nixon Family

Betty Chiles Nixon, a trailblazing woman in Nashville politics and a relentless advocate for neighborhoods, died Sunday (Aug. 28). She was 80. Nixon served on the Metro Council from 1975 to 1987 and was the first woman to chair the Budget and Finance Committee. She also was the first woman to run for Nashville mayor, in 1987 and again in 1991, losing both times. And she was the first woman to run a statewide political campaign: Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign. Nixon, who previously was married to U.S. District Judge John Nixon, worked as assistant vice chancellor for community, neighborhood and government relations at Vanderbilt University until retiring in 2007. A memorial service will be held later this year. The Tennessean has more on her life.

The Sixth Annual Seersucker Flash Mob in Memphis will take place Wednesday at noon in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel. This tradition regularly draws members of the local bar and judiciary and provides an opportunity to show off your seersucker one last time before summer’s end. The event also will include a “pass the hat” fundraiser for Memphis Area Legal Services. On Legal Grounds has the announcement.

An established, family-friendly firm in Blount County is seeking a seasoned litigator with a minimum of eight years of experience. Must be independent but a team player willing to mentor a very capable litigation associate. Salary is commensurate with experience. Apply online through the TBA’s JobLink posting.

Photo credit: Knoxnews

TBA Senior Counselor and retired Knoxville lawyer B. Joe Guess, 81, died Friday (Aug. 26). Guess served in the U.S. Marine Corps before earning his undergraduate degree from Memphis State University and law degree from University of Tennessee in 1960. He was licensed in 1961 and practiced law until early 2016, most recently with Guess & Guess. Funeral services will be private. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Pat Summit Foundation. Knoxnews has more on his life.

The Tennessee Supreme Court this week decided to hear a case that could affect state employees in judicial offices across the state, the Nashville Post reports. At issue is the case of Judith Moore-Pennoyer, a former judicial assistant in Knox County Circuit Court, who was fired by Judge Bill Ailor after he was elected in 2014 but before he was officially sworn in. The court will look at that issue as well as whether judicial assistants are “at-will employees” that can be fired at any time and whether their jobs are secure only so long as the judge who hired them remains on the bench. The trial court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals have sided with Moore-Pennover that her firing was illegal.

Some areas of the Shelby County Juvenile Court, including a number of courtrooms, have been without air conditioning for two weeks, the Commercial Appeal reports. Juvenile Court Chief Administrative Officer Pam Skelton said the court’s HVAC vendor has been onsite during that time working to get things fixed. Skelton said the court is using fans and portable air conditioning units, and keeping a close eye on the detention facility. But an attorney interviewed for the story said they had to turn the fans off to hear witness testimony earlier this week.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today transferred the law license of Wayne County lawyer Robert Wesley Freemon to disability inactive status. Freemon may not practice law while on inactive status. He may petition for reinstatement by showing clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law. Read the BPR notice.

Texas and four other states filed another lawsuit this week seeking to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen transgender rights, saying new federal nondiscrimination health rules could force doctors, hospitals and insurers to act contrary to their medical judgment or religious beliefs. Kansas, Kentucky Nebraska and Wisconsin joined the suit, which argues that the rules could force doctors to help with gender transition procedures against their beliefs. The Associated Press has the story.

A state board has approved a request by Erlanger Hospital to build a new $25 million, 88-bed mental health hospital in Chattanooga, the Times Free Press reports. While opponents argued that the real need in the state is not new beds, but more staffing for existing beds, Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes backed the project, saying too many of the people he sees in his courtroom have significant mental health issues but no place to go for treatment. “This week, I have seen 12 individuals who needed care at [the state mental health facility], but they can’t get in. So we try to keep them in a jail cell,” he told the panel.

At the request of Knoxville Police Department, the city court will not be in session on the evening of Sept. 1 due to the University of Tennessee’s football game. The police department had expressed concerns about traffic, parking and the inability of officers to be in court, the Knoxville Bar Association reports. The court clerk’s office will remain open during regular business hours from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Tennessee’s two largest cities – Memphis and Nashville – are considering proposals that would make possession of a small amount of marijuana more like getting a speeding ticket. But Local Memphis reports that Gov. Bill Haslam is not a fan of the idea. “While I do think we’ve had some people who have spent more time in jail than they need to for that. I’m not in favor of decriminalizing that,” he told the station.

Responding to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s contention last week that changing the state’s voter identification law for this year’s election would create confusion among voters and poll workers, the U.S. solicitor general argued to the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday that keeping the photo ID mandate in place would harm black voters. “Once an electoral law has been found to be racially discriminatory, and injunctive relief has been found to be necessary to remedy that discrimination, the normal rule is that the operation of the law must be suspended,” the government argued. The Greenville Sun has more from the AP.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today suspended Akron, Ohio, lawyer Terence Joseph Fairfax from the practice of law after finding that he misappropriated funds. The court also determined that Fairfax, who is licenced in Tennessee, posed a substantial threat of harm to the public. The suspension will remain in effect until dissolution or modification by the court. Read the BPR notice.

If you missed the TBA Family Law Section's annual family law forum, the sessions are now available online. Speakers focused on legislative updates, criminal implications in divorce and using digital evidence to win your case.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society, in cooperation with the Knoxville Bar Association, will hold its annual cocktail reception and “Night with the Chiefs” on Oct. 13. The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a program following at 6:30 p.m. The event, held each year to honor the members of state Supreme Court, will be held at the East Tennessee Historical Center in Knoxville. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Amanda Messer.

Serving on a jury is a civic duty that far too many Americans go out of their way to avoid, the editors of the Johnson City Press write in today’s issue. “Serving as a juror is not always appreciated in our society. That’s unfortunate because jury duty is a vital civic responsibility essential for maintaining our system of justice. It is a job that must never be shirked.” The editors indicate the opinion piece was motivated by a recent Washington County murder trial in which 11 people failed to show up for jury duty.