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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.

An order was filed this week for attorneys who failed to meet CLE requirements in 2016 and have been suspended by the Board of Professional Responsibility. Read the full list of suspensions here.

The National Legal Mentoring Consortium will host a national conference in Columbia, South Carolina, April 12 - 14. The conference will focus on recent changes, trends and culture of the legal profession affecting mentoring programs. Keynote speakers include David B. Watkins of Harvard Law School and William C. Hubbard, past American Bar Association president.
Brandon Banks was sentenced to 15 years for his role in the Vanderbilt rape case, the Tennessean reports. Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins handed down the sentence this morning. Two other former Vanderbilt football players, Corey Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, have already been convicted and sentenced for their roles in the 2013 rape.

The University of Tennessee College of Law has added two new faculty members for this fall. Jonathan Rohr comes to UT Law from the Cardozo School of Law and specializes in corporate law, securities regulation and contracts. Eric Amarante taught four years at the University of Nevada Las Vegas before joining the UT Law faculty. In addition to teaching, Amarante will assist non-profit businesses through work with the Small Business and Nonprofit Legal Clinic.

Tony Bigoms, a man convicted of murder in 2014 but granted a new trial, pleaded not guilty in Hamilton County Criminal Court this week, the Time Free Press reports. The Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals reversed his conviction of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse, citing issues with jury sequestration and the local judge’s decision to allow testimony about a different murder for which Bigoms was acquitted. He will next appear in court on Nov. 1.
The American Civil Liberties Union won’t defend the right of hate groups to march if they bring firearms with them, the ABA Journal reports. Despite the ACLU’s Virginia chapter arguing for the rights of white supremacists to rally and exercise free speech, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero clarified that the group will consider potential violence before representing clients on First Amendment issues. Armed protestors can suppress free speech by intimidation, Romero noted.

See how inventors and lawyers interact and learn at this unique CLE held in Knoxville on Sept 20. Find out about TBA’s patent pro bono program and connect with panelists, attorneys, makers, inventors, entrepreneurs and community leaders during the reception.

The Virginia State Bar recently named Memphis lawyer and former TBA President George T. "Buck" Lewis as one of its Pro Bono Heroes for inspiring lawyers to pro bono service and helping the bar launch an online pro bono program. The award was made on the first anniversary of the bar’s, a platform modeled after Tennessee’s (now rebranded as So far, the Virginia site has involved more than 200 attorneys and answered more than 450 questions. More than 40 states have now launched online pro bono platforms based on the Tennessee model developed jointly by the TBA, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the Baker Donelson law firm.

LAVPA, the patent pro bono program of the Tennessee Bar Association, is joining forces with the Knoxville Business Support Network to present an Inventor Legal & Business Bootcamp for students, makers, inventors, artisans, small businesses and the attorneys who represent them. The program will feature attorneys, business representatives, professors, community business leaders and the director of the regional office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The program will be held in Knoxville on Sept. 20, as part of Innov865 Start Up Week. The program will focus on the invention process, business organizations, business plans and investing, including crowdfunding. It is open to the public and free to attend. You may register through Eventbrite. Attorneys who want to receive CLE credit may register and pay for CLE through the TBA

The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners this week proposed several amendments to Supreme Court Rule 7, which governs licensing. The proposed changes would alter a number of sections in the rule, including the waiver of educational requirements for candidates, the setting of MPRE scores and the establishment of practice requirements for out-of-state candidates. The state's educational requirements were questioned earlier this year in a lawsuit filed by an Argentinian student who was denied the opportunity to sit for the Tennessee Bar Exam. The Tennessee Supreme Court on Aug. 4 ruled in his favor.

Services will be Sunday for Nashville lawyer Yvette Sebelist, who died Tuesday. She was 55. Sebelist graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1996, where she was president of the Law Women and staff editor for the Tennessee Law Review. She received an American Jurisprudence Award in Appellate Advocacy and the American Association of Women Lawyers Award. She worked as an immigration attorney with Sebelist Buchanan Law LLC, and served on a number of state, local and regional bar committees. She also served on numerous community nonprofit boards. Graveside services for Sebelist will be at the Temple Cemetery, 2001 15th Ave. North, at 12:30 p.m.

Tomorrow is the last day to register for the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services’ annual Equal Justice University. Guest speakers this year include new TBA Executive Director Joycelyn Stevenson and TBA President Lucian Pera. Also scheduled to speak are Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivins and Nicole Austin-Hillery, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C. office. This year’s EJU will take place in Murfreesboro on Aug. 30 through Sept. 1.

The American Bar Association House of Delegates this week approved a resolution backing a ban on mandatory minimum sentences, the ABA Journal reports. The resolution opposes mandatory minimums in any criminal case and calls on Congress and state legislatures to repeal laws requiring them. Kevin Curtin of the Massachusetts Bar Association told the House that mandatory minimums have produced troubling race-based inequities.
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis will bestow the 2017 Freedom Award on three individuals, including one who won a landmark legal case and co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Commercial Appeal reports that Morris Dees, who won a $7 million judgment in a lynching case that bankrupted one of the largest Ku Klux Klan organizations, will be given the award, alongside South African freedom fighter Hugh Masekela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice A. King. The 26h Annual Freedom Awards ceremony will be held on Oct. 19 at the Orpheum theater.
The Community Legal Center of Memphis will host a fashion-themed fundraiser next month called STRUT! 2017. The Sept. 21 event will feature a fashion show, wine pull, silent auction, giving wall and more. It will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Mercedes-Benz of Memphis dealership. Tickets are available here.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the defense team for two University of Tennessee football players accused of rape, allowing them access to the text messages and social media of their accusers, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Defense attorneys for accused players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams argue that the accuser is lying, and what she and her friends said via the Internet will help prove it. The court’s decision has major implications for Tennessee trials of this nature going forward, making digital communication fair game as evidence.
A federal lawsuit has been filed against White County and several local officials for their role in allowing inmates to undergo birth control procedures in exchange for 30 days off their jail sentence, the Tennessean reports. White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe, Judge Sam Benningfield and sheriff’s deputy Donna Daniels were named in the suit, which alleges the practice amounted to a “modern day eugenics scheme” and violated inmates’ constitutional rights. The lawsuit also alleges that one woman who accepted the deal did not get time off of her sentence.
In response to reports that he donated money to organizations identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as hate groups, former U.S. District Judge Robert Echols said that he believed he was making donations to a Christian school. WSMV reports that the money went to a Christian home school association that then donated the funds to the Mary Noel Kershaw Foundation, named by the SPLC as a Neo-Confederate Hate Group, which then passed cash along to the League of the South, also deemed a hate group. Echols said he was “horrified” by the revelations. “When I made the contributions, at the request of my Bible study leader, I believed that I was making donations to a Christian school and that my financial support would help families,” he said.

Topics in this 1-Click series include the Claims Commission Act and the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Learn about millennial jurors and gain perspective from both sides on the West and Dedmon cases.

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in the case of Jason Ray, who alleged his civil rights were violated by a trial judge who did not have authority to include a 75 percent minimum jail service requirement under Tennessee law. The Court concluded that sentencing laws implicitly authorize trial courts to do so by granting trial courts broad authority to fashion appropriate sentences and by encouraging trial courts to impose sentences other than incarceration when appropriate. The Court also answered the question of whether sheriffs have a duty to challenge potentially improper jail sentences, ruling that they do not.
A former federal judge contributed nearly $3,000 to a nonprofit group tied to the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Tennessean reports. Robert L. Echols, a lawyer with Bass Berry and Sims, donated $2,950 to the Mary Noel Kershaw Foundation, which funds firearms training for the League of the South. Both organizations are defined as “neo-confederate” hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bass Berry and Sims said in a statement that it will conduct its own internal investigation into the matter, and that it condemns “views espoused by hate groups such as this one.”

Hope Shimabuku, the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark's Texas Regional Office, will speak on “Patent Prosecution from the Examiner’s Side” at in Nashville on Tuesday from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Waller, Landsen Dortch & Davis LLP, 511 Union St. Lunch will be provided. Following her presentation, Shimabuku will meet from 1:30 to 2:15 p.m. with lawyers that have, or are interested in, participating in the TBA's Patent Pro Bono Program. This presentation and roundtable are co-sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association Intellectual Property Law Section and Nashville Bar Association Intellectual Property Law Committee. If you wish to attend the main program with lunch, please RSVP to Jarod Word, TBA Sections and Committees Coordinator by noon (CST) on Monday.

FedEx Corp. has named Mark R. Allen as the next general counsel of the company, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Allen will also serve as executive vice president and secretary, effective Oct. 1. He’s been with the corporation since 1982, and succeeds Christine P. Richards in the role.
A police detective investigating allegations in the Brentwood Academy sexual assault case told family members of the victim in March 2016 that he would discuss “appropriate charges” and the case would be moving forward, the Tennessean reports. Attorney Roland Mumford, representing the family in the case, said that the victim’s mother communicated with the Brentwood Police Department and the District Attorney multiple times and were promised that the case was progressing for more than a year. 
Shelby County Schools will seek “declaratory relief” from a judge on issues surrounding state-run schools that have added grade levels, The Commercial Appeal reports. The school board authorized General Counsel Rodney Moore in June to seek legal action against the Tennessee Department of Education and the Achievement School District. Attorney general opinions issued earlier this year said Achievement schools were never meant to expand beyond the grades that existed at the schools before they were taken over. Two schools added middle grade levels to schools that only previously held elementary school levels.