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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 Tennessee Supreme Court is soliciting comments on a proposed rule change that would make delinquent professional privilege tax fees payable via an online portal and remove the requirement of a Privilege Tax Delinquency Notice to be sent via mail, requiring only an email notice. The deadline for submitting written comments is Feb. 4. Written comments may be emailed to or mailed to James M. Hivner, Clerk, Re: Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, section 26 Tennessee Appellate Courts, 100 Supreme Court Building, 401 7th Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee 37219-1407.
The descendants of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest have filed a lawsuit against the City of Memphis, demanding the return of a statue of him that was removed late last year, The Commercial Appeal reports. The descendants want the city to pay for the return of the statue to a location of their choosing, as well as return "all pedestal, base, burial vault, copper caskets, and the earthly remains of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest." They want an unspecified amount in compensatory damages for the "embarrassment, humiliation, and mental anguish caused by the defendants."

After yesterday’s announcement that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander will retire at the end of his current term, Gov. Bill Haslam said he is considering making a run for the seat, The Tennessean reports. “Obviously, you want to think seriously about an opportunity like that," Haslam said. "It's too important of a role and I care too much about the future of our state and country to not at least seriously consider it." He did not provide a timeline on when he might reach a decision.
Nashville Mayor David Briley named his two nominees for the new Community Oversight Board, which will provide citizen oversight of police. The Tennessean reports. Briley chose Phyllis Hildreth, an administrator at American Baptist College, and Bob Cooper, former Tennessee Attorney General. The city had received more than 100 public nominations leading up to today's deadline for submissions. The Metro Council will take up the slate of nominees to choose the 11-member panel next month.
The Shelby County Election Commission filed a motion to dismiss a complaint filed by Germantown mayoral candidate John Barzizza, saying his claims for a recount are without merit, The Daily Memphian reports. Barzizza filed the lawsuit after the Nov. 6 municipal election, challenging Mike Palazzolo's 120-vote win by claiming 543 absentee votes were cast in the Germantown election, while only 476 were counted. The election commission states the facts in Barzizza’s complaint are false, but if they were true, he still would have lost to Mike Palazzolo by 50 votes.

A federal judge in Miami has dismissed a lawsuit filed by 15 students present during the Valentine’s Day shooting at their school in Parkland, Florida, The ABA Journal reports. U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom ruled last week that school and sheriff’s officials had “no legal duty” to protect the students. Among those named in the suit are officials at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the Broward County sheriff’s office. Bloom said the students’ suit arises from the actions of the shooter, rather than a state actor.

A recent opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery has created a path for legislation to allow gambling on sporting events, The Daily Memphian reports. The opinion, issued Dec. 14, says the General Assembly “may legalize the contest solely through legislative action without a constitutional amendment” as long as the sport is based on skill and not predominantly on “chance.” Sen. Brian Kelsey, who is considering legislation related to the matter, said that if allowed, sports betting should be limited to the four largest cities in Tennessee.
The U.S. Department of Justice will impose a ban on bump stocks, the firearm modifying devices that were used in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, The Washington Post reports. Officials announced today that owners of the devices will have 90 days from Friday to destroy them or turn them over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Gun rights groups have already responded by promising to sue the government to stop the new regulation. 

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After a federal judge in Texas issued a decision in which he deemed the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he was skeptical that U.S. Supreme Court would agree, The Tennessean reports. He said that if such a thing were to happen, however, that he is confident any new federal law to replace it would “continue to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.” Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued a statement today clarifying that “nothing will change until the appeals are final” and issued a challenge to lawmakers, saying “it is up to Congress to provide lawful solutions to healthcare coverage, not just debate or campaign on it.”
A new report shows that for the fourth year in a row, U.S. courts imposed fewer than 50 new death sentences and states performed fewer than 30 executions in 2018, The ABA Journal reports. This year the death-row population reached a 25-year low, and Washington became the 20th state to abolish the death penalty.

A Murfreesboro psychologist was arrested Friday on two counts of health care fraud for fraudulently billing TennCare for more than 24 hours of services in a single day, a practice he allegedly repeated more than 350 times, The Nashville Post reports. Donald McCoy received more than $2.2 million from TennCare from 2014 until this year. He also submitted TennCare claims on major holidays and weekends, with most of the alleged fraudulent claims involving psychotherapy sessions provided to minors in the care of the Tennessee Department of Child Services. 

Already sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering Memphis police officer Sean Bolton, Tremaine Wilbourn was given an additional 38 years in prison for gun charges and a carjacking related to that murder, The Commercial Appeal reports. On Monday, Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee sentenced Wilbourn to 20 years for the carjacking, eight years for using a gun during the carjacking and 10 years for being a felon in possession of a firearm, time that will run consecutively with the life sentence.

Video footage of a Metro Nashville Police officer allegedly shooting a man in the back was accidentally erased by the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, WSMV reports. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations saved portions of the shooting video, and the judge in Friday's hearing ordered the District Attorney's office to turn everything they have over to defense attorneys for Officer Andrew Delke, who faces a murder charge in the shooting.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced today that he will not seek re-election in 2020, The Tennessean reports. The former Tennessee governor and U.S. Secretary of Education was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002. He currently serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. His retirement will set up the second battle for an open Senate seat in the past two years.
Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster has named “justice” the word of the year for 2018, The Associated Press reports. The word had major prominence in the news cycle this year, from the bipartisan political support for criminal justice reform, to use of the word on the President’s Twitter account, to shake-ups in the U.S. Department of Justice. The Merriam-Webster website posted a 74 percent increase in searches of the word “justice” over 2017’s results.
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The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility voted on Friday not to alter or rescind Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163, which deals with a prosecutor’s ethical duties to disclose information. The opinion faced pushback from sectors of the legal community, including the U.S. Department of Justice. The opinion guides prosecutors to hand over all evidence that is in some way favorable to the defendant, no matter if they believe it would affect the outcome or not, and they must do so early enough in the case for the information to be used effectively by the defense team.

Thomson Reuters recently announced plans to reduce its workforce by 3,200 and close 30 percent of its offices by the end of 2020, Law Sites reports. Co-COO Neil Masterson said the reduction won't impact the “go-to-market capacity" of the company, which is the dominant provider of research and information services for the legal profession.

Four Republicans will face off in a special primary election next month for the state Senate seat most recently held by former Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, The Commercial Appeal reports. Former state Rep. Steve McManus, former Shelby County commissioners George Chism and Heidi Shafer, and Covington businessman Paul Rose will compete in the Jan. 24 Republican primary. Eric Coleman of Bartlett was the lone Democrat to file candidate paperwork for the seat before the deadline yesterday. The general election is slated for March 12. 
Amy J. Amundsen was honored this week at the Memphis Bar Association’s annual dinner meeting with the association's highest award, the Judge Jerome Turner Lawyer’s Lawyer Award. This honor is given to a member of the Memphis Bar Association who has practiced law for more than 15 years and who exemplifies the qualities in the “Guidelines for Professional Courtesy and Conduct.” Also at the banquet the MBA gavel was officially passed to new president Annie Christoff, and new board members were introduced.

At a hearing for Nashville Police Officer Andrew Delke, who was charged in the shooting death of a man who was fleeing in a foot pursuit, Judge Melissa Blackburn decided that the defense would be allowed to discuss aspects of victim Daniel Hambrick’s previous criminal history. The Tennessean reports that Blackburn ruled that Facebook photos showing Hambrick using a gun during a target practice and holding money would not be admissible. 
New data from the American Bar Association shows that enrollment of first-year students at accredited law schools is up 2.9 percent, The ABA Journal reports. An even greater bump came in non-JD enrollment – there was an 8.2 percent increase in individuals signing up for LLMs, masters and certificate programs. 

A Clarksville doctor faces 45 counts and a possible 30-year sentence in federal court for unlawfully distributing opioids and committing health care fraud, The Nashville Post reports. Samson Orusa, who is also a pastor for God's Sanctuary Church in Clarksville, was charged with multiple counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance outside the bounds of professional medical practice, health care fraud and money laundering. Beginning in January 2014, Orusa allegedly opened his medical practice with the intent of mass distribution for personal gain.

Attorneys for Nashville TV station NewsChannel5 have asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to take up the station’s appeal in a case that threatens to close some public records. The station had appealed a ruling by Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin, who sided with arguments by state attorneys that records, such as travel expenditures, cease to be public once law enforcement officials develop a potential interest in them. Station lawyers argued in their motion that the state's highest court needs to "assume jurisdiction over this appeal and decide this important issue of public concern on an expedited basis."