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

Next City, a nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire change in cities through journalism, profiles attorney Steve Barlow’s “blight fight” in Memphis. Barlow said he was inspired to begin tackling the city’s blight problem more than a decade ago after attending a conference put on by a national blight elimination nonprofit. He later filed the city’s first ever blight lawsuit under the state’s Neighborhood Preservation Act. “I feel like it is my job to be sure irresponsible owners are held accountable to a very high standard of property maintenance," Barlow said.

A state House Ad Hoc Select Committee, created by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and tasked with investigating Rep. Jeremy Durham, held its first meeting today and unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing state Attorney General Herbert Slatery III “to conduct a full fair and thorough investigation of the allegations of disorderly and inappropriate behavior and misconduct by Representative Durham.” Slatery responded in a statement, “Everyone has one goal – to ensure a thorough and fair investigation while respecting the process and those involved.” Durham, R-Franklin, is accused of having an affair with a former representative and sending inappropriate text messages to women. Read more from the Nashville Scene

The American Bar Association House of Delegates today passed a resolution urging the Federal Bureau of Prisons to amend its policy of monitoring emails between federal prisoners and their attorneys. The federal government requires that users of TRULINCS, the email system for federal prisoners, waive attorney-client privilege. Carol A. Sigmond, the resolution’s sponsor, argues attorney-client privilege “is what distinguishes us from LegalZoom.” Read more from the ABA Journal.

Students at the University of Tennessee College of Law will offer free tax preparation help through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. The VITA program, which runs through April 14, offers free tax help and electronic filing to persons with disabilities, limited English-speaking taxpayers and more. Assistance is available from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday in Suite 157 of the College of Law. Call 865-974-2492 for more information.

Former Metro Nashville Councilman Loniel Greene was indicted Friday on a felony charge of coercion of a witness, The Tennessean reports. Greene admitted last week he phoned a jail to speak with his cousin, Travis Buchanan, and said he would “work on” the woman Buchanan was accused of assaulting. Last week, Nashville prosecutors announced Greene would not face charges for lying in court.

Nashville attorney Bill Ramsey of Neal & Harwell and Anne-Marie Moyes, a federal public defender in Nashville, will join others in the criminal justice system for a panel discussion of the Netflix show "Making a Murderer." The panel, hosted by The Tennessean, is planned for Feb. 11, 6 p.m., at Flying Saucer, 111 10th Ave South #310. 

The ongoing investigation of Memphis attorney Keith K. Dobbs, a Department of Veterans Affairs-appointed fiduciary, means veterans he represents are unable to access their accounts. Tennessee law limits an individual other than a family member to no more than 13 VA guardianships at a time; The Commercial appeal reports Dobbs may have been in control of 14 VA estates. Dobbs has been removed from control of estates for four Memphis veterans thus far, and more removals are expected.

The Blount County Recovery Court is seeking additional federal grant money funneled through the state, the Daily Times reports. The funds are to offset the costs the court incurs when it sends some of its participants to a residential facility in Morgan County, which offers a more intense recovery program for addicts.

The Tennessean reports an anti same-sex marriage lawsuit has been filed in Bradley County challenging the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning bans on same-sex marriage. The suit, filed by attorney David Fowler, is the second case filed by the former state Senator challenging the landmark ruling. “These lawsuits have had the additional positive effect of helping an increasing number of Tennesseans begin to appreciate the important constitutional boundaries that the United States,” Fowler said.

David Harris used his time behind bars for armed robbery to conduct legal research and successfully convince an appeals court to overturn a state-imposed sentence. Now after a long and difficult journey, Harris is a Davidson and Rutherford County attorney specializing in appeals after having won approval to practice in Tennessee from the Board of Law Examiners. His story is featured in The Tennessean. “His adversity doesn’t define him. It refined him,” said Verna Wyatt, executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims.

Aubrey Harwell of the Neal & Harwell law firm in Nashville will be honored by the T.J. Martell Foundation, which funds innovative medical research focused on finding cures for leukemia, cancer and AIDS. The Tennessean shares Harwell’s personal connection with the organization’s work through the loss of his grandmother. Harwell, along with country star Kenny Rogers and others, are honorees at the organization’s gala planned for Feb. 29.

Judge Camille R. McMullen of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals will be the featured speaker at Middle Tennessee State University's annual Unity Luncheon on Feb. 18. The event, scheduled from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., is part of the university's observance of Black History Month. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased online before Feb. 11. Read more from the Shelbyville Times-Gazette

Photo credit: Allan Ramsaur

The Marshall County Bar Association was recognized for providing the Most Innovative Law Day Program during the American Bar Association’s Mid-year Meeting in San Diego. Working in partnership with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, Marshall County lawyers launched a kiosk at the courthouse with an interactive Help Button that provided information on bankruptcy, housing, custody, debt and other legal services. MCBA members also partnered with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to honor the Charter of the Forest, a charter established in 1217 with the reissuance of Magna Carta, and it conducted a Symbol of Freedom discussion with high school students on Magna Carta.

Formal sex abuse allegations against guards and other staff in state juvenile justice facilities have doubled, according to a study released last week by the the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to ProPublica, the report also claims that when investigations done by facility administrators confirm staff members sexually abused a juvenile, the staff members often receive no punishment beyond losing their jobs.  “We are talking about known perpetrators, adults who are typically employed in public facilities supported by our tax dollars,” said Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International.

Marion County attorney and former state representative Howard G. Swafford died yesterday (Feb. 4). He was 96. Swafford attended law school at the University of Tennessee College of Law after serving in World War II.  A Republican, he was elected to the state legislature in 1972, practiced law and won his last jury trial at age 92. He is survived by fellow lawyers, his wife Claude Galbreath Swafford; a son, Howard Graham Swafford Jr. of Jasper; a daughter, retired Magistrate Claudia Swafford Haltom and son-in-law, former Tennessee Bar Association President William Haltom, of Memphis. Visitation is Feb. 7 at 1 p.m., at the First Baptist Church of Jasper. The funeral will follow at 3 p.m. The family requests no flowers, but contributions may be made in Swafford’s honor to the First Baptist Church of Jasper, the Family Life Center Fund at McKendree Methodist Church of Jasper, and A Step Ahead Foundation of Memphis or Chattanooga. Read more about his life.

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk filed a $200 million lawsuit against NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams and Scripps Media Inc., the station's parent company, after the station aired a story Wednesday alleging Funk blackmailed David Chase. Funk disputes those claims in the lawsuit, but acknowledges that his office did dismiss criminal charges against Chase in exchange for Chase dropping his federal lawsuit against the Metro Police Department.  NewsChannel 5 says that it stands behind the story. Read more from The Tennessean

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments is accepting applications for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy that will occur if the general assembly confirms Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointment of Roger A. Page to the Supreme Court. Applicants must be a licensed attorney who is at least 30, a resident of the state for five years and a resident of the Western Tennessee Grand Division. Applications must be submitted to the Administrative Office of the Courts by Feb. 26 at noon CST. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will interview all qualified applicants in Jackson in March.

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III today announced a $470 million joint state-federal settlement with HSBC, a mortgage lender and servicer. The settlement, which includes 48 other states and the District of Columbia, requires the company to provide 2,600 Tennessee borrowers with loan modifications or other relief. It also requires HSBC to change how it services mortgage loans, handles foreclosures and ensures the accuracy of information provided in federal bankruptcy court.

WKRN reports more than a dozen Nashville residents graduated from the Davidson County Drug Court after completing a treatment program required to clear their arrest history. The rehabilitation program, which includes counseling and GED classes, lasts between 12 and 18 months.

Knoxville Republican Reps. Eddie Smith and Jason Zachary are donating campaign contributions they received from Rep. Jeremy Durham to a Knoxville women’s charity. Smith and Zachary say they knew nothing of Durham’s alleged sexual harassment when they accepted the money from the Franklin Republican. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports campaign finance disclosures also revealed former Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville, donated money she received from Durham to the House Republican Caucus. Attorney General Herbert Slatery III is currently investigating Durham's alleged behavior. 

Live programs in The Business of Lawyering Series and other ethics credits programs are planned this month in Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville. The programs offer three hours of dual credit. Sessions include managing yourself and your support staff, engaging clients, ending the client relationship ethically and using social media to advertise. Online courses are also available on accounting basics, the state Department of Revenue and popular financial issues.

The Tennessean complied a list of 10 state officials who have resigned over the past few weeks. Rep. Jeremey Durham, who resigned as House Majority Whip, along with resignations from Davidson County Election Administrator Kent Wall and Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) CEO Patricia Weiland are included.

The legislation known as the "Workers' Comp Opt-Out" bill is dead for this session. The Tennessee Employee Injury Benefit Alternative legislation, SB721, HB997, by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, was taken off notice this week. Proponents of the bill stated that at this time they do not plan to run it this legislative session. A hearing on the bill scheduled for Feb. 10 in a House committee has been cancelled.   

The state House of Representatives this morning approved the call for a Constitutional Convention in an attempt to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, Nashville Public Radio reports. Tennessee is now the fifth state to take the action; 34 states are required to call for a convention in order to propose new amendments to the U.S. Constitution. "If there was ever a time in the history of our republic that states need to take advantage of having that constitutional authority, it is now," Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, said.

An 11-year-old White Pine boy was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2015 killing of an 8-year-old girl, the Citizen Tribune reports. Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said the juvenile court “ordered the boy to be sent to the Department of Children’s Services for a determinate sentence until his 19th birthday."