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TBA Law Blog          

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.

TBA President Lucian Pera led a panel discussion on sexual harassment in the legal profession during today's Empowerment Conference presented by the Tennessee Lawyers' Association for Women. Joining Pera on the panel were the Hon. Chris Craft of the 30th Judicial District Criminal Court, Baker Donelson shareholder Charles K. Grant, Unum Group Assistant Vice President and Special Counsel Angela A. Ripper and University of Tennessee College of Law Dean Melanie Wilson. The conference continues all day tomorrow at Waller in Nashville.

Following the decision to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam in Tennessee, the Tennessee Supreme Court stated that it would consider “whether to adopt a post-admission law component and the content of such a requirement.” To that end, the court is soliciting comments to proposed revisions to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 6, which would require new attorneys to complete a Tennessee Law Course within one year of admission to the Tennessee bar. The Tennessee Law Course would be administered by the Administrative Office of the Court and include, but not be limited to, instruction on areas of Tennessee civil and criminal procedure, real estate, wills, estates and trusts, business organizations, family law, and administrative law. The deadline for submitting written comments is Monday, June 18. Comments should reference the docket number set out above and should be e-mailed to appellatecourtclerk@tncourts.gov or mailed to James Hivner, Clerk, Re: Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 6, Tennessee Appellate Courts, 100 Supreme Court Building, 401 7th Ave North, Nashville, Tennessee 37219-1407.
Self-represented litigants in eight Tennessee counties will soon be able to access valuable legal information and resources thanks to a series of grants provided by the Tennessee Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts. The grants will cover the expense of purchasing and installing special kiosks in courthouses throughout the state. The kiosks will connect self-represented civil litigants with a variety of tools they can use to better navigate the legal system, including information about legal aid offices, pro bono projects, court-approved documents, and more. Courthouse visitors will access these resources via an onsite computer or tablet.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a nationwide injunction that bars the Department of Justice from withholding public safety grants from cities that don’t cooperate with immigration enforcement, the ABA Journal reports. “The power of the purse rests with Congress,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote in her majority opinion. “Which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement conditions on the receipt of such funds.”
A Chattanooga attorney says there was no valid reason for officials to euthanize a Monteagle family’s pet raccoon, Chattanoogan.com reports. The owner, Candace Bone, said that “Boomer” came from a licensed and regulated raccoon farm. The pet was killed after it bit a neighbor boy who was visiting the Bone residence. The boy’s mother took him to the hospital, after which a TWRA officer came to the home and took the raccoon, which was euthanized under a judge’s order after a lengthy hearing.
The YWCA recently spoke out against claims made by Nashville Judge Nick Leonardo, who said in campaign materials that he volunteered for the nonprofit, while the organization’s records show otherwise, The Tennessean reports. Leonardo’s materials say he was an “avid supporter and volunteer of the YWCA AMEND Together program,” but a spokesperson for the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee said the judge never volunteered.
Performance of law graduates taking the Bar exam in February hit its lowest point in more than a decade, Law.com reports. The average score from the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Mulitstate Bar Exam fell 1.3 points from the previous year to 132.8. However, there is a bright side – overall performance in the July exam has been trending upward.
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Following the pending retirement of Tennessee Bureau of Investigations chief Mark Gwyn, the state commission tasked with finding his replacement has named 10 finalists for the job, the Nashville Post reports. Among the 10 include prosecutors, professors, U.S. Marshals and police chiefs. Next month the commission will narrow their list to three nominees to send to Gov. Bill Haslam to choose from.
On April 20, a CLE will be held in Knoxville focusing on intermediate and advanced discovery techniques, including matters of e-discovery. Attendees will hear from experienced litigators who will discuss key components of the discovery process in the context of family law, general civil, and criminal matters and its effective use at trial. 

Effective April 19, the Supreme Court of Tennessee suspended Jaramiah Justin Hruska from the practice of law for two years, with 30 days active suspension and the remainder served on probation. Mr. Hruska must pay the Board of Professional Responsibility’s costs and expenses and court costs within 90 days. On November 22, 2016, a petition for discipline was filed against Hruska, and he later entered a conditional guilty plea subject to conditions that he comply with the recommendations of his health care professional and retain a practice monitor for the duration of his probation. The complaints alleged that Hruska pled guilty to the misdemeanor offense of patronizing prostitution for which he received judicial diversion, and for making inappropriate comments to the wife of one of his clients.

The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility today transferred the law license of Howard Frederick Ford to disability inactive. It will remain there for an indefinite period until further orders of the Supreme Court.
Screenshot of Hilarie Bass testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration.
American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass called for an overhaul of the immigration court system during testimony today before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, the ABA Journal reports. Speaking before the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, Bass said immigration courts should be restructured as independent Article I courts, and immigrants should be given increased access to counsel and legal information.
University of Tennessee College of Law professor Ben Barton will be on hand at this year’s TBA Convention, June 13-16 at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Barton will take part in presenting a CLE session on the data-driven law practice, and will also be available to sign copies of his newest book, Rebooting Justice. For more about Barton and technology’s role in the practice of law, see TBA President Lucian Pera’s video interview with Barton from last month’s Tennessee Bar Journal.
The Tennessee House yesterday voted to strip $250,000 from the next year’s budget that would have gone toward the city of Memphis’ bicentennial celebrations as a punishment for removing two Confederate statues last year, WPLN reports. Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said that there had to be consequences for Memphis’ actions. “The law was very clear, and they got smart lawyers to figure out how to wiggle around the law,” McCormick said.
Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott warned Coffee County Commission last week that the security at the county’s justice center in Manchester is “not even close to the minimum statutory requirements for courthouse security.” The Manchester Times reports that Northcott shared concerns about the lack of required training of present courthouse officers. He said that all courtroom officers without proper training commit a Class E felony every time they enter the courthouse with a weapon.
The Tennessee: First In Adoption Act, SB1851, passed the Senate unanimously today. Sponsored by Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, the legislation makes significan changes to Tennessee adoption laws. The legislation was drafted by members of the TBA Adoption Law Section, specifically Dawn Coppock, Mike Jennings and Robert Tuke. First in Adoption makes a number of modifications in adoption and termination law, some extremely important and some housekeeping measures. The first change is a new, less bureaucratic surrender form, included in the Tennessee Code, which is only two pages and much more clear. Second, the bill both increases protections for active, unwed fathers and limits the rights of inactive fathers seeking to disrupt or delay adoption plans. It also expands jurisdiction and venue requirements, including an expansion of jurisdiction to include new residents and Tennesseans in military service who are stationed outside of Tennessee. Additionally, the bill removes some of the requirements on four key grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights that are not constitutionally required. The bill was earlier passed unanimously by the House and will now go into effect July 1, if signed by the governor.
The TBA Appellate and Litigation sections will hold a cocktail reception immediately following their collaborative forum on Thursday. Section members and practitioners are invited to attend (attendance to the CLE is not required but recommended). The reception will begin at 4:15 p.m. at Tennessee Bar Center's 5th Floor Terrace Room.
A bill that would create a state body to investigate civil rights cold cases is nearing passage in the legislature, the Memphis Daily News reports. A key project of soon-to-retire state Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, the measure would set up the Tennessee Civil Rights Crimes Information, Reconciliation and Research Center, which would delve into unsolved civil rights crimes. It passed unanimously in the House yesterday and has cleared the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. It is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville.

Arrangements have been set for Sevier County attorney and former TBA President John Waters, who passed on April 14. Friends may call at their convenience on Friday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Atchley's Funeral Home, 118 East Main Street. A receiving of friends will take place on Saturday from noon to 1:45 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Sevierville, 317 Parkway, with a memorial service following at 2 p.m.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is seeking a fellow as part of the Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps. The two-year fellowship would begin this spring if the fellow is already licensed. The Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps is a legal fellowship program designed to increase capacity and access to civil legal help for low-income crime victims. The fellow will be supervised by TRLA and based in TRLA’s Nashville office. Please send a cover letter, resume and two references to employment@trla.org. The deadline to apply is May 1.

The Tennessee State House today passed a bill that would forbid judges from approving a sentence “that is based in whole or in part on the defendant’s consent or refusal to consent to any form of temporary or permanent birth control, sterilization, or family planning services,” The Tennessean reports. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, was created after a judge in White County agreed to allow reduced sentences for inmates who underwent sterilization procedures. The Senate approved the bill in March. 
Do you want to start a legal blog? Do you need to create a simple website for your legal practice or give your existing site a fresh makeover? Attorney Tiffany Johnson (founder of QPLegal, a Memphis-based legal writing and legal research firm) will walk you through the basics of building pages, menus and blog posts using WordPress during an online CLE broadcast on May 1.

The TBA's annual Public Service Luncheon will be held this Saturday at the downtown Nashville DoubleTree Hotel. The luncheon will begin promptly at 12:30 p.m. and will end before 2 p.m. This year's honorees are Daniel Horwitz, who receives the Harris Gilbert Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year Award, Mary Michelle Gillum, who was named the Ashley Wiltshire Public Service Attorney of the Year, and Alexa Spata, the Law Student Volunteer of the Year. A special award, the Access to Justice Champion Award, will be presented to TBA Executive Director Emeritus Allan Ramsaur, in acknowledgement of his accomplishments as a bar leader and as a leader in the access to justice community. The luncheon was originally scheduled for January, but was rescheduled due to bad weather.

Knox County lawyer Jere F. Ownby received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility on April 11. Ownby’s law license was suspended on July 7, 2017, but he continued to practice law for three business days after the suspension. In one client matter, Ownby failed to notify the court or opposing counsel of his suspension, and he failed to withdraw from the representation of his client at any time. Three months after his suspension, the court set a status conference and Ownby did not appear or provide any response to the court or opposing counsel. This conduct was deemed by the board to be prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Wilson County attorney Todd Allen Tressler received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility on April 16. Tressler hired a real estate broker in connection with the purchase of commercial realty, but terminated the broker’s services and hired an immediate family member as successor broker after the original broker’s work was substantially completed. The closing documents and contractual agreement between Tressler and the two brokers granted the original broker the full commission at closing and provided that the division of the commission would be subsequently negotiated between the two brokers. Contrary to this agreement, Tressler refused to forward payment of the full commission to the original broker, and instead attempted to negotiate a division of the commission on behalf of the successor broker. For these actions, he was publicly censured.