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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 this week decided to hear a case that could affect state employees in judicial offices across the state, the Nashville Post reports. At issue is the case of Judith Moore-Pennoyer, a former judicial assistant in Knox County Circuit Court, who was fired by Judge Bill Ailor after he was elected in 2014 but before he was officially sworn in. The court will look at that issue as well as whether judicial assistants are “at-will employees” that can be fired at any time and whether their jobs are secure only so long as the judge who hired them remains on the bench. The trial court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals have sided with Moore-Pennover that her firing was illegal.

Some areas of the Shelby County Juvenile Court, including a number of courtrooms, have been without air conditioning for two weeks, the Commercial Appeal reports. Juvenile Court Chief Administrative Officer Pam Skelton said the court’s HVAC vendor has been onsite during that time working to get things fixed. Skelton said the court is using fans and portable air conditioning units, and keeping a close eye on the detention facility. But an attorney interviewed for the story said they had to turn the fans off to hear witness testimony earlier this week.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today transferred the law license of Wayne County lawyer Robert Wesley Freemon to disability inactive status. Freemon may not practice law while on inactive status. He may petition for reinstatement by showing clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law. Read the BPR notice.

Texas and four other states filed another lawsuit this week seeking to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen transgender rights, saying new federal nondiscrimination health rules could force doctors, hospitals and insurers to act contrary to their medical judgment or religious beliefs. Kansas, Kentucky Nebraska and Wisconsin joined the suit, which argues that the rules could force doctors to help with gender transition procedures against their beliefs. The Associated Press has the story.

A state board has approved a request by Erlanger Hospital to build a new $25 million, 88-bed mental health hospital in Chattanooga, the Times Free Press reports. While opponents argued that the real need in the state is not new beds, but more staffing for existing beds, Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes backed the project, saying too many of the people he sees in his courtroom have significant mental health issues but no place to go for treatment. “This week, I have seen 12 individuals who needed care at [the state mental health facility], but they can’t get in. So we try to keep them in a jail cell,” he told the panel.

At the request of Knoxville Police Department, the city court will not be in session on the evening of Sept. 1 due to the University of Tennessee’s football game. The police department had expressed concerns about traffic, parking and the inability of officers to be in court, the Knoxville Bar Association reports. The court clerk’s office will remain open during regular business hours from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Tennessee’s two largest cities – Memphis and Nashville – are considering proposals that would make possession of a small amount of marijuana more like getting a speeding ticket. But Local Memphis reports that Gov. Bill Haslam is not a fan of the idea. “While I do think we’ve had some people who have spent more time in jail than they need to for that. I’m not in favor of decriminalizing that,” he told the station.

Responding to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s contention last week that changing the state’s voter identification law for this year’s election would create confusion among voters and poll workers, the U.S. solicitor general argued to the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday that keeping the photo ID mandate in place would harm black voters. “Once an electoral law has been found to be racially discriminatory, and injunctive relief has been found to be necessary to remedy that discrimination, the normal rule is that the operation of the law must be suspended,” the government argued. The Greenville Sun has more from the AP.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today suspended Akron, Ohio, lawyer Terence Joseph Fairfax from the practice of law after finding that he misappropriated funds. The court also determined that Fairfax, who is licenced in Tennessee, posed a substantial threat of harm to the public. The suspension will remain in effect until dissolution or modification by the court. Read the BPR notice.

If you missed the TBA Family Law Section's annual family law forum, the sessions are now available online. Speakers focused on legislative updates, criminal implications in divorce and using digital evidence to win your case.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society, in cooperation with the Knoxville Bar Association, will hold its annual cocktail reception and “Night with the Chiefs” on Oct. 13. The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a program following at 6:30 p.m. The event, held each year to honor the members of state Supreme Court, will be held at the East Tennessee Historical Center in Knoxville. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Amanda Messer.

Serving on a jury is a civic duty that far too many Americans go out of their way to avoid, the editors of the Johnson City Press write in today’s issue. “Serving as a juror is not always appreciated in our society. That’s unfortunate because jury duty is a vital civic responsibility essential for maintaining our system of justice. It is a job that must never be shirked.” The editors indicate the opinion piece was motivated by a recent Washington County murder trial in which 11 people failed to show up for jury duty.

Photo credit: Murfreesboro Post

New General Sessions Court Judge Lisa Eischeid will begin hearing cases Sept. 1 at the Rutherford County jail because the courtroom being prepared for her is not slated to be ready until November, the Murfreesboro Post reports. “It’s moving in the right direction, and our judge-elect understands the situation, and she’s equipped mentally to manage through the transition period,” Mayor Ernest Burgess said. The position was created to cut down on the jail population and ease the burden on the other three judges. County officials also are looking at other ways to reduce inmate numbers, including a pre-trial release program in which low-risk defendants would be screened as quickly as possible for release on bond or their own recognizance.

The Hispanic National Bar Association this week announced a new Cuba Task Force designed to provide legal analysis and policy recommendations connected to the revitalized relationship between Cuba and the United States. “We must ensure that the policy changes that are advanced not only improve business and economic opportunities between our nations, but also promote the civil and human rights of all Cubans on the island,” bar president Robert Maldonado said in announcing the entity. Among the task force members is Annie Hernandez, president of the Cuban American Bar Association. Read more from Associations Now.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued an order amending Rule 40A of the Rules of the Supreme Court to remove “contested private guardianship cases” from the definition of “custody proceeding.” The court said that including guardianship cases in the definition is an apparent conflict with Rule 40A(6)(b) and Tennessee code section 34-1-107(d)(1). The court solicited comments on this proposed change between May 16 and July 15 but reports that it did not receive any comments.

Photo credit: Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

An investiture ceremony for William E. “Bill” Young as a new Davidson County chancellor will take place tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the Chancery Part II courtroom of the Historic Davidson County Courthouse, the Nashville Bar Association reports. Young was appointed to the court on Aug. 5 in anticipation of the retirement of Chancellor Carol McCoy on Sept. 1. Young has been serving as an associate attorney general in the office of the Tennessee Attorney General. He previously was administrative director for the AOC; solicitor general; general counsel for BlueCross BlueShield, Vanderbilt University and HCA; president of the Hospital Alliance of Tennessee; deputy commissioner of TennCare; and senior counsel in tax division of the attorney general’s office.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously yesterday that several restrictions on what Kentucky judicial candidates can say while running for office violate the First Amendment. The court struck down a clause that prohibits judicial candidates from campaigning as a member of a political party or organization, a clause that bans candidates from making speeches for or against a political organization or candidate, and a ban on misleading statements. Kentucky judges run in nonpartisan elections and are bound by the Kentucky Code of Judicial Conduct. The ABA Journal looks at the decision.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee has announced that Alistair Newbern and Jeffery S. “Chip” Frensley have been selected to fill the magistrate judge positions being vacated by retiring judges John S. Bryant and E. Clifton Knowles, respectively. Newbern, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School, will take office Aug. 31. Frensley has over 20 years of litigation experience in the areas of criminal defense, employment law and civil rights litigation. He will take office on Oct. 9. Read more about the new judges in this announcement from the court.

Nashville General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell has responded to a complaint filed with the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, arguing that allegations she was late to court, took too long a break or favored one side over another during a case in April are unfounded. The response, which also called on the board to dismiss the complaint, came in a five-page letter from Bell’s lawyer, Charles Grant of Baker Donelson. The Tennessean says it obtained a copy of the letter Tuesday.

Tennessee is one of nine states participating in an opioid abuse summit taking place in Cincinnati this week, the Times Free Press reports. The primary goals of the group are to improve cooperation across borders and jurisdictions, identify best practices for testing and treatment services and increase access to prescription drug data. Other states involved are Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Speakers were to include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton. In related news, the U.S. Surgeon General has taken the unprecedented step of contacting 2.3 million prescribers in America to ask them to help change the way the country thinks about addiction as opioids cause more than 1,000 emergency room visits and 78 deaths each day.

Nominations for the TBA’s three annual Public Service Awards are due Sept. 9. Submissions should include a narrative of the individual’s accomplishments, the nominator’s reasons for selecting the individual and a description of how the nominee meets the award criteria. Nominations may be submitted via the TBA website or by email to Liz Todaro. The awards recognize pro bono service in three categories: work performed by an attorney employed by an organization providing indigent legal representation, work performed by a private attorney and work performed by a law student volunteer. Awards will be presented at the Annual Public Service Awards Luncheon in January 2017.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 42 percent job approval rating is down slightly from September 2015 and matches the low point in the Gallup poll's 16-year history. The earlier mark was recorded in 2005 just after the court allowed the use of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development. Among its other findings, the poll indicates that Democrats are still more likely than Republicans to approve of the court, though the differential has narrowed. Read more or view survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

The law license of Hamilton County attorney Matthew Jack Fitzharris was transferred to disability inactive status on Aug. 23. Fitzharris may not practice law while on inactive status but may petition for reinstatement if he can show by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law. Read the BPR notice.

Photo credit: Tennessee Attorney General's Office

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III announced today that Paul C. Ney Jr. will join his office as chief deputy. In this role, Ney will coordinate and supervise the substantive legal work of all five sections of the office. “I am delighted Paul will be joining our leadership team,” Slatery said. “His extensive legal and management experience in both the public and private sectors will add immediate value.” Ney has practiced law for 31 years, most recently with Patterson Intellectual Property Law in Nashville. He previously worked as director of the Nashville Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Defense and acting general counsel of the Department of the Navy. Ney also has served the TBA as treasurer and general counsel. He succeeds Lucy Honey Haynes, who retired after 34 years of service.

The 2016 Court Square series is heading to Jackson! On Sept. 9, Nancy Choate, Sherry Wilds and Linda Warren Seely will address Medicaid planning, occupational diploma, hiring persons with disabilities and how lawyers can best thrive. The course will take place at the Chamber of Commerce.