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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 Davidson County General Sessions Court will hold its annual expungement clinic Aug. 6 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at New Covenant Christian Church, 2201 Osage St., Nashville 37208. Attorney volunteers are needed and a meeting for prospective volunteers is set for tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the General Sessions Judges Library on the fourth floor of the Justice A. A. Birch Building. Judge Rachel Bell, presiding judge of the court, is organizing the meeting and the clinic. Bell reports that more than 300 people usually attend the clinic.

The ABA House of Delegates will meet Aug. 8-9 in San Francisco for its annual meeting. Items on the agenda include a proposal that would permit law school students to earn academic credit and compensation for externships at the same time; an amendment to the model rules of conduct to add anti-discrimination and anti-harassment provisions; a proposal urging states to abolish probation systems supervised by private, for-profit firms; and initiatives that expand ABA efforts to diversify the legal profession and the judiciary.

Tennessee college athletes will be before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati this week arguing they should be paid for the use of their names and images in the college sports industry and on television, the Tennessean reports. The athletes are asking a panel of three judges to reopen their case, which a Nashville federal judge dismissed last year. Ten former football and basketball athletes, many of whom attended Vanderbilt University or the University of Tennessee, filed a $5 million lawsuit in 2014 saying their images were used without their permission by the broadcast networks and eight NCAA conferences.

The Montgomery County Courts Center was evacuated Tuesday morning after an inmate escaped from a holding cell and hid out in lower level of the building, the Leaf Chronicle reports. Jose Luis Garcia, 45, left his holding cell at about 10:45 a.m. At 12:10 p.m., a deputy and his K-9 dog found Garcia in the duct work above the holding area. Garcia was awaiting a 1:30 p.m. court hearing on charges of auto theft, property theft, fugitive from justice and two counts of driving on a revoked license. He will face additional charges for his escape attempt as well as vandalism, officials said.

Davidson County lawyer Dana L. Nero received a censure from the Tennessee Supreme Court on July 26. The court found that Nero gave her client erroneous advice about when he would be released if he pleaded guilty in a criminal matter. Nero promised the client, who had been incarcerated for 27 months, that he would go home shortly after pleading guilty and facing a sentence of six years. However, release from a sentence of that length requires the approval of the parole board. Read the BPR notice.

TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur is among those who will address the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force when it meets Friday in Nashville for the next stop on its listening tour. The hearing will take place from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Nashville School of Law, Room 200, 4013 Armory Oaks Dr., Nashville 37204. The TBA has long supported an increase in the compensation rate for those who handle court-appointed cases. After Friday's session, the task force will hold one last hearing in Franklin on Aug.11.

Photo credit: Legal Aid of East Tennessee

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) presented four awards and heard from Justice Roger Page during its Annual Pro Bono Night in Chattanooga. The Chief Justice William M. Barker Equal Access to Justice Award went to Chattanooga attorney William A. “Trey” Harris III for his service to the LAET Board. The Bruce C. Bailey Volunteer Lawyer of the Year Award went to Susan R. Gruber, who kept regular office hours at LAET. The Pro Bono Firm of the Year Award went to the Law Offices of David Coates, and the Alexander Hamilton Award, which recognizes a non-legal entity, went to Habitat for Humanity for presenting an estate planning clinic where more than 40 Habitat families were served. Read more about the award recipients.

The Chattanooga Bar Association (CBA) has asked the local Circuit Court to appoint a receiver to close out the pending cases of Matthew Jack Fitzharris, a Chattanooga attorney who was shot and arrested in Catoosa County, Georgia, on July 12. The CBA says that Fitzharris is disabled and unable to practice law and has been unable to make arrangements for another attorney to handle his cases. Police reports say that Fitzharris was shot in the arm after breaking into a home, threatening a couple and refusing to leave. He was charged with aggravated assault, terroristic threats, entering an automobile or other motor vehicle with intent to commit theft or felony, burglary, simple assault and criminal damage to property. Chattanoogan.com has more.

The Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) has announced the lineup of speakers for its 2016 Equal Justice University (EJU) conference. Among those speaking is TBA President Jason Long, who will address the group during the Leadership Lunch on Sept. 1. Registration for the conference closes Aug. 19.

Retired Tazewell lawyer and TBA senior counselor James D. Estep Jr. died Monday (July 25) at the age of 91. Estep, a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, was born in Cumberland Gap and served as its mayor in 1954. He also served as Claiborne County judge from 1956 to 1966. He later founded Estep & Estep Attorneys-At-Law in Tazewell and practiced law there for 64 years. Visitation will be Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Claiborne-Overholt Funeral Home in New Tazewell. Funeral services will follow. Burial will be Friday at 11 a.m. at the Harrogate (Meador) Cemetery in Harrogate. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the New Tazewell United Methodist Church. Knoxnews has more on his life.

Knox County lawyer Daniel Wayne Starnes was censured on Tuesday for practicing law while his license was suspended. The Tennessee Supreme Court found that in August 2015, while his license was suspended for CLE noncompliance, Starnes made various court appearances and sent legal correspondence. Read the BPR notice.

Florida lawyer Frank Alfred Baker was suspended from the practice of law on Monday until further notice. The Tennessee Supreme Court took the action after Baker was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, two counts of making a false statement to the FDIC and making a false claim against the United States. The court ordered the Board of Professional Responsibility to institute a formal proceeding to determine final discipline. Read the BPR notice.

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.