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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 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: 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.

Tennessee’s Third Judicial District Drug Task Force has received a $153,000 grant to help get drugs off the streets, WJHL reports. Task force director Adam Arrington says the agency spends 95 percent of its resources fighting methamphetamine in Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, and Hancock counties and the new funding will go a long way to help in those efforts. The money comes from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. Arrington says the agency will receive payouts over a three-year period.

Bar Center Bonanza
July 22, 2016

We're cleaning house at the Tennessee Bar Center, and there may be something we don't want that is perfect for you. Visit the Tennessee Bar Center Lobby (221 Fourth Ave. North in Nashville) any day next week and help yourself to the treasures we found while cleaning out our basement and storerooms. It's mostly furniture and office supplies or equipment. The Bar Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo credit: Bailey & Greer. Thomas Greer is the new TTLA president.

The Tennessee Association for Justice (TAJ) changed its name back to the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association during its annual convention last week. The group also elected new officers and board members. Memphis attorney Thomas Greer was named president for the 2016-2017 year. He replaces Eric Buchanan of Chattanooga. Bruce Fox of Clinton moved into the position of president-elect. See a complete list of board members in this Chattanoogan.com story.

Rosalind “Rose” Ross Akin, 91, died Tuesday (July 19), the Daily Times reports. A native of Smyrna and a long-time resident of Rutherford County, Akin earned her law degree from the Nashville School of Law and maintained a law office on the square in Murfreesboro for many years. She was living in Hendersonville at the time of her death. Visitation will be Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Woodfin Chapel in Smyrna. Funeral services will follow at 1 p.m. Burial will be in Mapleview Cemetery.

Thursday marked the grand opening of the Family Justice Center in Johnson City, News Channel 11 reports. The center serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse, bringing victims’ services together under one roof, site coordinator Heather Brack said. Agencies with representatives at the center include the Johnson City Police, Washington County Sheriff, Safe Passage, a local domestic violence shelter, Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee and the First Judicial District Attorney General’s office.

An inmate at the Maury County Jail is facing terrorism charges after allegedly sending threatening letters to government officials in Tennessee and North Carolina, including judges, district attorneys and a Tennessee Supreme Court justice, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. James Earl Dillehay of Mt. Pleasant was in the jail on unrelated charges when he began mailing the letters, 22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper said. The letters revealed he was upset because he was not going to be transferred to North Carolina, where he has a previous criminal record. The Columbia Daily Herald has the story.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada began circulating a formal petition today that would authorize the House to convene a special session and consider a resolution to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, from his seat. Harwell announced yesterday that while she originally opposed a special session, she had changed her mind. Democratic leaders had called for a special session after a report from the Attorney General was released. The Tennessean reports that the session may also consider the removal of Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who was indicted last year on federal felony fraud and tax evasion charges.

Photo credit: Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Tennessee was one of eight states selected to participate in the Three Branch Institute to Improve Child Safety and Prevent Child Fatalities. The Florida event included sessions on identifying and assessing at-risk populations, parental substance abuse and opioid impact on child welfare. Attendees from Tennessee included Amy Coble and Michael Cull; Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis; Sen. Ferrell Haile, R- Gallatin; and AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate. The AOC has more.

Photo credit: Legal Aid Society. Bob Martineau is the group's new president.

Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has announced new officers, who will each serve a two-year term on the board of directors. Robert “Bob” J. Martineau Jr., commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, is the new president. Nashville lawyers Charles K. Grant, J. Andrew Goddard and Susan L. Kay are first, second and third vice presidents; Nashville lawyer Charles H. Warfield is member at large; Gallatin lawyer Walter H. Stubbs is treasurer; and Murfreesboro lawyer John T. Blankenship is past president. Read more about each of these officers in a release from the agency.

Shelby County lawyer Keith Lamonte Dobbs was disbarred on July 21 by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The court reports that Dobbs consented to the disbarment because he could not successfully defend himself on charges that he violated the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct. Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 23, requires that his consent be maintained under seal. Read the BPR release.