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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.

The University of Tennessee College has announced that Professor Emeritus Otis Stephens died today. Stephens joined the university in 1967, teaching in the undergraduate political science department and the law school. He was named the law school’s Resident Scholar of Constitutional Law in 2000. He retired in 2012. During his long academic career, Stephens authored, co-authored, or edited six books on the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court, held a fellowship at Harvard Law School and taught at Johns Hopkins University and Georgia Southern College. He earned his doctorate from Johns Hopkins in 1963 and his law degree from the University of Tennessee in 1983. Funeral arrangements were not yet available.

Tyler Technologies, the company responsible for installing a new computer system at the Shelby County jail and courthouse, faces criticism not just from leaders in Memphis but from a number of other jurisdictions that bought its product, Local Memphis reports. The paper indicates that justice systems in California, Florida, Indiana, Texas and Washington have reported troubles with the company’s Odyssey computer system. Tyler has had six people in Memphis working to fix problems but they were expected to leave at the end of this week, even though court officials estimate the system is only working at 85 to 90 percent capacity.

Sen. Bob Corker is one of four finalists to become President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state, one of Trump’s senior advisers said Friday, the Tennessean reports. Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s presidential campaign, confirmed the Tennessee Republican is on short list. “We publicly have said there are probably four people right now that have been the narrowed down choices,” Conway said. “That includes Gen. [David] Petraeus and Sen. Bob Corker from Tennessee.” Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani are also still in the mix, according to Conway. 

Two U.S. senators are working to give young undocumented immigrants legal status, possibly before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, Roll Call reports. Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, reportedly are drafting legislation to protect the so-called “DREAMERs” – undocumented immigrants who came to the states as children and meet the requirements of federal law. The pair decided to act after President Barack Obama said he would not pardon the young people.

The TBA Special Committee on the Evolving Legal Market (ELM) held its second CLE in the Modern Law Practice Series this morning. The program covered legal services management companies, such as Counsel on Call, Latitude and Cobra Legal Solutions, and their role in the changing legal market. Professor Milan Markovic from Texas A&M University School of Law also spoke on the ethics of alternative legal service providers like LegalZoom and Avvo. The program is available on demand as oniline video.

Washington Post opinion writer Robert Gebelhoff argues in a recent piece that judicial elections are looking “more and more like other legislative elections,” illustrating the trend toward politicization of the court system. Gebelhoff cites this year’s record-breaking spending on judicial campaigns as well as the influx of partisan rancor in judicial races as two indications of this trend. And what makes this so dangerous, he argues, is that the “legitimacy of our courts is based solely on the public’s trust in the law” and if the public does not trust the impartiality of judges, the entire system becomes “desperately ill."

This month the TBA is launching a new way to purchase CLE courses. The 1Click series allows lawyers to sign up for multiple course with one click. Look for sets of programs in a variety of categories, including ethics programs and courses by practice area. Current offerings include two three-hour ethics series, an eight-hour general practice series and a five-hour tax law series.

McMinnville lawyer Frank Davis Farrar died Nov. 29 at the age of 74. Visitation will take place Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Farrar residence, 349 W. Main Street in McMinnville. A graveside funeral service will follow at 2:30 p.m. at Mt. View Cemetery. Farrar earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1972 and practiced law throughout Middle Tennessee for 44 years. He was a founding partner of Farrar, Holliman & Butler in Lafayette and Farrar, Holliman & Medley in McMinnville. He was active in the Warren County Bar Association and served as president of the Seven County Bar Association in the Upper Cumberland. High Funeral Home has more on his life.

In the new Tennessee Bar Journal, President Jason Long discusses our divided country after the recent election, urging lawyers to be “united now more than ever in our commitment to the profession and its bedrock principles.” He writes that “we can provide that opportunity in a controlled and structured environment, operating within the framework of our democratic institutions. If there is an opportunity for consensus building and unity in today’s political climate, the legal profession can and should facilitate that.” Also in this issue, learn if you are protecting your clients’ electronic information enough, in the cover article by Trey Forgety. Brian Dobbs writes to help you understand the law of construction in Tennessee. Read the December issue.

Ernest Wilson “Ernie” Williams died Nov. 30 at the age of 69. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, with a tour of duty in Vietnam, Williams earned his law degree from the Nashville School of Law. He practiced law in Franklin until being appointed U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee by President George H.W. Bush. He held that post from 1991 to 1993. He later served as a Williamson County commissioner and general sessions judge. Visitation will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home and from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday at Bethlehem United Methodist Church. Funeral services will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at the church. Burial will follow in Williamson Memorial Gardens.

Omar Ahmad is in custody at the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex after new charges were filed against him in an ongoing harassment case, the Jackson Sun reports. Ahmad previously was charged with retaliation for past action and harassment of Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Christy Little. He was arraigned on those charges yesterday morning in Madison County General Sessions Court and released on bond. After he was released, authorities took him into custody again on new harassment charges brought in Jackson City Court. Prosecutors have requested that his bond be revoked based on the new charges. A hearing is set for Tuesday on that issue.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, has filed a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College and provide for direct election of the president and vice president, USA Today reports. “For the second time in recent memory, and for the fifth time in our history, we have a President-elect, who lost the popular vote,” said Cohen, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. “The Electoral College is an antiquated system that was established to prevent citizens from directly electing our nation’s president, yet that notion is antithetical to our understanding of democracy,” he argues. The amendment would need two-thirds approval in both the House and the Senate and would then have to be ratified by 38 of the 50 states.

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands will name Butler Snow attorney James A. Beakes III as its 2016 Volunteer of the Year at the Nashville Bar Association’s Annual Meeting next week. Beakes was selected for the honor based on his work organizing and promoting a weekly virtual clinic that provides legal services to those in rural communities in Williamson, Hickman, Cheatham and Dickson counties. At the firm, Beakes handles general litigation, trucking litigation and appellate advocacy. Read more from the firm.

Attorneys from across the state are stepping up to volunteer to assist victims of the wildfire disasters in Gatlinburg and Sevier County. Many are responding to the call for pro bono legal assistance, both for local clinics and remote support. However, it is anticipated that more volunteers will be needed over the coming weeks and months to assist with legal needs resulting from the fires. Attorneys who want to help can access training resources and other materials on the TBA's Disaster Legal Assistance page. Legal clinics and outreach related to losses from the fires are being scheduled and volunteers will be needed. For more information or to volunteer in the area, contact Kathryn Ellis at Legal Aid of East Tennessee. Those who are not in the area but still want to help can volunteer to answer online questions at TN Free Legal Answers or respond to calls on the HELP4TN helpline. To volunteer, complete the Disaster Legal Assistance Volunteer Form.

Building on the success of expungement clinics in Nashville, Memphis lawyers Amber Floyd and Dean DeCandia are organizing an expungement clinic and resource fair in their city on Dec. 10. The clinic will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Healing Center Full Gospel Baptist Church, 3900 Tchulahoma Rd. Representatives from the General Sessions Criminal Court and clerk’s office will be on hand to facilitate the process. Volunteer attorneys, paralegals and law students are needed to assist clients with paperwork. Those interested in volunteering are invited to a training session on Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the church. For more information contact Floyd, 901-537-1054, or DeCandia, 901-378-0203.

It turns out two Tennessee lawyers were named to the ABA Journal’s Top 100 Blawg listing for 2016. In addition to “Herston on Tennessee Family Law” by Knoxville lawyer K.O. Herston, Nashville litigator Todd Presnell’s blog “Presnell on Privileges” made this year’s list. Presnell's blog offers facts and analyses about rulings from federal and state courts around the country on attorney-client privilege issues. It also covers privilege-related lawsuits, legislation and op-eds. The ABA Journal has been identifying the best blogs for lawyers for the past 10 years through its ABA Blawg 100. Other law blogs from Tennessee attorneys can be found on the website

The Nashville Bar Association (NBA) has announced the results of its recent board election. The following attorneys have been elected as new board members: Laura Baker, Law Office of John Day; Tracy Kane, LeanKit Inc.; Brant Phillips, Bass Berry & Sims; Eric Smith, Nissan North America; DarKenya Waller, Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands; and Stephen Zralek, Bone McAllester Norton.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued an order amending Rule 7, section 16.01, and Rule 9, section 30.3, which deal with reinstatement of a law license after a disciplinary or administrative suspension, disbarment or inactive status designation. The court notes that only one comment from the Tennessee Bar Association was filed. The court originally proposed the amendments in September.

Photo credit: Lewis Thomason

Lewis Thomason shareholder and former TBA President William H. “Bill” Haltom will receive the Judge Jerome Turner Lawyers’ Lawyer Award at the Memphis Bar Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting on Dec. 8. The award is given annually to an association member who has practiced law for more than 15 years and exemplifies the aims and aspirations embodied in the group’s Guidelines for Professional Courtesy and Conduct. Haltom is also an author and regular columnist for the Tennessee Bar Journal.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear four East Tennessee cases, including a Claiborne County vehicular homicide case in which a lower appellate court set the admittedly guilty driver free. Another vehicular homicide case looks at whether a police officer should have sought a warrant before seeking a hospital blood draw from the defendant. The third case looks at whether a legal malpractice claim should have been dismissed for being filed too long after the alleged wrongdoing. And the fourth case explores whether the city of Morristown overcharged liquor stores with fees totaling a half-million dollars. Knoxnews reviews each case.

Shelby County Commissioners yesterday talked about possible legal action against Tyler Technologies, the company that supplied a new computer system to the local criminal justice courts, according to the Memphis Daily News. During the meeting, General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton told commissioners he is under court order by judges to print their dockets and any other documents needed each day. He said he will need overtime pay “indefinitely” for employees to handle these additional duties. Commissioners questioned the planning that led up to installation of the new system.

Photo credit: Jill Frost

The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) announced today that Jill G. Frost has joined its office as director of communications. Frost, a licensed Tennessee attorney, also has public relations and communications experience, including stints with the American Red Cross and the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. Frost earned her law degree from Belmont University College of Law. She replaces Michele Wojciechowski, who recently was named director of communications for the Nashville School of Law.

Throughout the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised to rescind the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The 2010 law placed new regulations on banks and restricted the ways they can trade or speculate. It also created the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, amended legal protections for corporate whistleblowers and established new guidelines for corporate governance. Trump has argued the law has allowed big banks to get bigger, while putting community banks out of business. Some legal observers question whether the act can be repealed in its entirety given its scope. Several share their observations and predictions about the act’s future with the ABA Journal.

Congress had a full seven months to block a rule change for federal courts that lets judges authorize the hacking of digital devices beyond their districts. But after an attempt in the Senate to vote on the measure failed, opponents waited until the day before the rule change was to take effect to introduce three motions aimed at delaying its implementation. They were not successful, so as of today, the change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, goes into effect. Opponents of the change question its impact on privacy rights while supporters say digital devices make jurisdiction-specific search warrants impractical. Nashville Public Radio looks at the issue.

A number of CLE programs on current tax law issues are now available as online video. Programming includes sessions on the Tennessee Sales and Use Tax, including a discussion of technologies that impact tax policy; repeal of the Hall Income Tax and update on the Tennessee Tax Regulation Project; tax deferred exchanges under Section 1031 of the tax code; and proposed regulations under Section 385 dealing with inversions. Register for and watch these course at the links above.