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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.

Photo credit: Next City

An in-depth profile of the Shelby County Juvenile Court system published by the nonprofit organization Next City argues that four years after the Department of Justice found that Memphis treated black juvenile offenders more harshly than white peers “little has changed.” The piece acknowledges that there has been progress, but alleges there is still “a serious lack of movement” to address racial disparities. The report also found “across-the-board deterioration … since the transfer of the [juvenile] facility to the sheriff” and continued patterns of trying black juveniles as adults.

Working Mother & Flex-Time Lawyers have named this year’s 50 best law firms for women, based on factors such as whether women are paid the same as men, receive substantial paid leave, serve as equity partners, and are on track to achieve leadership positions. Firms on the list with links to Tennessee include Bradley Arant Boult Cummings and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman -- both with offices in Nashville -- and Littler and Ogletree Deakins with offices in Nashville and Memphis.

A federal judge gave preliminary approval today to a sweeping settlement between Volkswagen, U.S. regulators and owners of VW diesels who will receive thousands of dollars in compensation, the Tennessean reports. Judge Charles Breyer with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, set the settlement in motion, allowing the automaker to begin collecting information from 475,000 consumers who bought cars that were rigged to cheat emissions standards. Final approval of the settlement could come at a hearing set for Oct. 18. .

The Washington County Bar Association reports that it has a new treasurer following John Jolley’s move to Chattanooga to work with Legal Aid of East Tennessee. The association’s executive board has appointed Brian Puster, an attorney in the Johnson City office of Legal Aid of East Tennessee, to take over the post. Puster relocated to the area from Knoxville.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is renewing his call for state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, to resign, but says he will not interfere in the process for convening a special legislative session to oust him. Haslam told reporters today that he will leave it to lawmakers to decide when to call the special session, Humphrey on the Hill reports. The effort to expel Durham gained ground when reports surfaced that he would qualify for a state pension if not ousted. The Tennessean reports today that even if he is removed, he still will qualify for a lifetime of state health care benefits.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has filed a federal lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Corrections alleging that its “systematic denial of treatment to inmates affected with Hepatitis C” is cruel and unusual, Fox 17 reports. The ACLU brought the suit on behalf of inmates at Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville and Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, who were diagnosed with the disease years ago but were never treated. Read the complaint here.

A Miami judge has found that bitcoin is not the same as money and therefore tossed criminal charges against a man accused of selling $1,500 worth of the virtual currency to undercover agents. The case is believed to be the first money-laundering prosecution involving bitcoin and was “closely watched in tech, financial and legal circles,” according to the Miami Herald. Nashville lawyer Kathryn Edge wrote about bitcoin in the August 2014 issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal. She says the decision may prompt lawmakers to figure out how to regulate bitcoin and similar means of exchange. The ABA Journal has a synopsis.

Photo credit: Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge John McClarty’s law clerk, Stephanie Slater, has published an article about Justice Edward T. Sanford’s tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sanford is believed to be the only known Knoxvillian and University of Tennessee graduate to sit on the high court. The article is part of an upcoming book, Emerging from Obscurity: Edward Terry Sanford, Tennessean on the United States Supreme Court that is to be published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2017. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

An execution drug obtained by the Arkansas prison system this month appears to have been made by a subsidiary of Pfizer, even though the pharmaceutical giant says it does not want its drugs to be used in executions. The Associated Press reports that because Arkansas has an execution secrecy law, it may be difficult for the manufacturer to find out who sold the drug to the state. A comparison of the labels, however, suggests that the drug may have come from Hospira Inc., which Pfizer bought last year. WRCB-TV has the story.

The Nashville Bar Association will host its annual member picnic on Sept. 22 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Walk of Fame Park. The family-friendly event, co-sponsored by the Metro Law Department, will include a catered dinner and open bar. Members can attend for free. Nonmembers can buy tickets for $20 per person. Get details or RSVP online.

On Aug. 2, Lars Daniel with Guardian Digital Forensics in Raleigh will present a special CLE webcast on computer forensics. He will use real life examples to show how forensic artifacts recovered from computers are used in legal cases. Other topics will include best practices in data collection, understanding deleted data, challenging digital evidence and expert testimony. If you cannot join the webcast live, the program will be available on the website for up to one year. Learn more or register here.

Photo credit: University of Tennessee College of Law

The University of Tennessee College of Law has named Renee Allen the first director of its Academic Success Program, which is designed to help students excel throughout law school and prepare for the bar exam. Allen, who will start in August, is currently a faculty instructor at Florida A&M University College of Law, where she has also served as the acting director of the Academic Success and Bar Preparation Program. Allen holds a law degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Mercer University. Read more in this release from the school.

Photo credit: Governor Bill Haslam's Office

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today that attorney Stephen Smith will join his office Aug. 2 as senior advisor for policy and strategy. Smith is currently the deputy commissioner for policy and external affairs at the Tennessee Department of Education, where he has been central to the administration’s push for accountability, teacher tenure reform, expansion of school choice, modernization of the teacher salary schedule and enhancement of the state’s funding formula for education. Smith replaces Will Cromer, who is now deputy director and chief of staff of TennCare.

Want a good legal education while saving on living expenses? Law.com has compiled a list of the law schools that are highest-ranked by U.S. News in the nation’s most affordable cities, as determined by Forbes. First on the list is University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville. The college ranks 65 by U.S. News while the city of Knoxville ranks number two in affordability. The next best deal is a fourth-ranked city with a 144th ranked law school. The ABA Journal has the full list.

The state of Tennessee ranks ninth in the United States and first in the southeast for providing access to its courts according to the 2016 Justice Index, a nationwide study published by the National Center for Access to Justice. The center ranks states on their ability to provide access to the civil legal system regardless of the ability to afford a lawyer, speak and understand English, or navigate the legal system without an accommodation. The Tennessee Supreme Court credits the formation of an Access to Justice Commission, launch of the JusticeforallTN.com website, development of plain language forms for self-represented litigants and increased court interpreter availability. The study did note a need to increase the number of civil legal aid attorneys. In Tennessee, there are 27 legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people compared to the national average of 40.

Election finance records show that the three Tennessee Supreme Court justices facing retention election on Aug. 4 have all set up campaign accounts and raised modest amounts of money but have spent almost nothing, Humphrey on the Hill reports. This is a striking contrast from two years ago, when three incumbent justices on the ballot raised and spent more than $1.1 million, with an additional $345,000 spent on their behalf by an outside group. And unlike 2014, there is no visible organized anti-incumbent campaign against justices Jeffrey Bivins, Holly Kirby and Roger Page.

Alabama lawyer Lance William Parr was censured on Friday by the Tennessee Supreme Court after the court found he discontinued representation of a client due to his prior disbarment, failed to provide the client file or promptly refund unearned fees to the client, and failed to provide a response to the disciplinary complaint against him.  As a condition of the censure, Parr is required to reimburse $600 in fees to his former client within 90 days. Read the BPR notice.

The law license of Washington County lawyer Charles Pittman Cole Jr. was transferred to disability inactive status on July 22. He may not practice law while on inactive status but may petition the court for reinstatement by showing by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume practice. Read the BPR release.

Volunteer lawyers are needed for an upcoming Women’s Empowerment Conference organized by Women Overcoming Many Battles Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that seeks to help women overcome life’s challenges. The conference will take place this coming Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mt. Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. Attorneys are needed to lead 15-minute presentations on child support enforcement and wrongful eviction and participate in a general question and answer session. Lawyers also are needed to provide brief legal advice in one-on-one meetings with the women. Those interested in helping should contact AOC Pro Bono Coordinator Patricia Mills, 615-741-2687.

Former Nashville lawyer and Faulkner law professor John Garman died yesterday (July 24). Prior to joining the Faulkner Law faculty in the fall of 2000, Garman practiced law in Nashville and served as an adjunct faculty member at Lipscomb University. He earned his law degree from Vanderbilt University Law School. While at Faulkner, he served as faculty advisor to the Black Law Students Association and helped establish the Fred Gray Civil Rights Symposium. Visitation will be Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Oakes and Nichols Funeral Home, 320 W. Seventh St. in Columbia. Funeral services will take place at the funeral home Wednesday at noon, with burial to follow at Polk Memorial Gardens.

State House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and two other state lawmakers have been honored for their support of open government in Tennessee. The Tennessee Press Association awarded Harwell and Reps. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, and Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, its 2016 Open Government Award on Friday, Knoxnews reports. Harwell was honored for her “unprecedented policy of requiring committee chairs to give notice of unscheduled meetings” and for insisting the attorney general's report of Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, be made public. Ramsey and Sanderson were recognized for using their committees to give open-government bills a full hearing.

House Republican leaders are proposing that a special session to consider the expulsion of Rep. Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin be held on Aug.15, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Two-thirds of the members of both chambers — 66 in the House and 22 in the Senate — are needed to convene a special session. Late today, Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, circulated his own petition for a special session that includes Durham and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who is under federal indictment on fraud and tax evasion charges. The petition being circulated by Speaker Harwell only names Durham. The Tennessean has more on Casada's move.

State House candidate Steve Hall filed a police report Friday claiming he was assaulted by incumbent Knoxville Republican Rep. Martin Daniel, Knoxnews reports. This came a day after Daniel reportedly shoved the challenger during a confrontation that occurred during a radio broadcast. Knoxville police have assigned an investigator to the case. No charges have been filed. Hall also called on Daniel to suspend his re-election campaign.

Sullivan County lawyer Thomas Alan Snapp was suspended from the practice of law for five years on July 21. The Tennessee Supreme Court took the action after finding that Snapp undertook representation in a personal injury/wrongful death suit while administratively suspended and did not tell his client or another lawyer assisting with the case about the suspension. After the case settled, Snapp misappropriated $50,000 from his client and led co-counsel to believe that the client had been paid in full. Several months later, co-counsel discovered the truth and confronted Snapp, who re-paid the client's settlement funds and legal fees. Read the BPR notice.

Attorneys for Christopher M. Ferrell, the man convicted of killing country musician Wayne Mills, asked the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals this week to grant their client a new trial, arguing that erroneous jury instructions and a botched police investigation tainted his conviction. They also argued that Ferrell acted out of fear and shot Mills in self-defense, the Tennessean reports. Ferrell was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing Mills after a tribute concert to music legend George Jones. The two were drinking in a downtown Nashville bar when they got into an argument and Ferrell shot Mills.