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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.

Lawyers for Andrew Deke, a Nashville police officer charged with murder, asked the Tennessee Supreme Court late today to consider calling an outside jury for the murder trial, the Tennessean reports. A jury trial is scheduled to begin in March but lawyers said if a change of venue is granted the trial should be delayed. Delke, who is white, was charged with first-degree murder after he shot Daniel Hambrick, who was black, in the back during a 2018 foot chase. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled this week that it would not overturn a lower court's decision denying a venue change.

The Supreme Court of Tennessee today suspended Sullivan County lawyer Steven Carl Frazier from the practice of law after finding that he failed to respond to the Board of Professional Conduct regarding a complaint of misconduct.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today suspended Williamson County lawyer Bradley Michael Carter after finding that misappropriated funds and posed a threat of substantial harm to the public. The suspension will remain in effect until dissolution or modification by the court.

Academics, district attorneys, training experts and policy advisers sponsored by a component of the U.S. Department of Justice are expected in Nashville next week to determine the best way to move forward with implementing body-worn cameras in the city’s police force. Mayor John Cooper announced the visit from the Bureau of Justice Assistance team, which helps provide expert consultation as part of its efforts to support cities exploring body camera programs. Body camera rollout in Nashville has been on the table for years but has been stymied by budget concerns. The team also will visit Memphis to analyze the implementation of body cameras there, the Tennessean reports.

U.S. Senate Democrats are wading into the open Tennessee Senate race, backing Nashville attorney James Mackler over other announced Democrats, the Nashville Post reports. The endorsement from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee favors Mackler over Marquita Bradshaw, a Memphis environmentalist, and Diana Onyejiaka, a Nashville-based consultant and professor. All three are seeking the Democratic nomination to vie for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

A retirement celebration is planned for Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge Charles D. Susano Jr. on Feb. 28 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 South Gay St. Knoxville 37902. After more than 25 years of service, Tennessee’s longest-serving state appellate judge announced earlier this month that he would retire from the bench effective April 30.

Nashville-based law firm Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis has added a group of attorneys from the Birmingham-based law firm of Balch & Bingham. Jesse Vogtle, Randolph Lanier, Eric Ray and Paul Greenwood join Waller as partners, the Nashville Post reports. They all handle finance and real estate matters and will work out of Waller’s Birmingham office.

Atrium, a company that launched in 2017 with the promise of transforming the delivery of legal services, has laid off most of its legal staff in a restructuring, the ABA Journal reports. The company says it will keep a small group of partners to serve clients with strategic services and work with its network of law firms to deliver general corporate legal services, but will now focus on building a professional services network that supports startups. Atrium launched in 2017 as two companies: Atrium Legal Technology Services, which was created to develop technology to automate repetitive tasks, and Atrium LLP, which was to provide legal services to startups.

Lawrence County lawyer and an assistant district attorney general Christi Leigh Thompson was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court today. The court imposed the censure after determining that she made several inappropriate comments during an opening statement and closing argument that “were clearly impermissible and prejudicial to the defendant.” The court found that her conduct negated the defendant’s right to a fair trial and that the case was reversed on appeal for prosecutorial misconduct. These actions were determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 3.4(e)(3) and 8.4(d).

State Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, filed legislation this week that would remove Nathan Bedford Forrest Day as a day of special observance in Tennessee, the Nashville Scene reports. Governors dating back nearly a century have been required to declare the day a special observation. In 2019, Gov. Bill Lee drew national attention when he signed the proclamation. Lamar’s push comes amid growing attention to the state’s celebration of Forrest. Many have sought the removal of a bust honoring Forrest from a prominent place just outside the House and Senate chambers for years to no avail.

The General Assembly is back in session and so are TBA’s Legislative Updates! Hosted by Berkley Schwarz, TBA’s director of public policy and government affairs, and Adams and Reese attorney and TBA lobbyist Brad Lampley, the Legislative Updates podcast provides a weekly breakdown of what’s going on at the state legislature. The show livestreams on the TBA’s Facebook page every Thursday and is run in podcast form each Friday. The Legislative Updates podcast is available on the TBA’s website and anywhere you listen to podcasts. Don't miss the first episode featuring special guest Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, who talks about life as a lawyer legislator and the future of the professional privilege tax. 

Nashville Post Photo

Tennessee Division of TennCare director Gabe Roberts is stepping down from his position to return to the private sector, effective March 2, the Nashville Post reports. The resignation comes months after he led the drafting of Tennessee’s proposed Medicaid block grant amendment. He also led the design and implementation of the Tennessee Health Care Innovation Initiative, the Employment and Community First CHOICES program and the agency’s strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, according to the agency. Roberts joined TennCare in 2013 as general counsel. He was named deputy director in 2016 and director in 2018. No successor has been named.

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee & the Cumberlands has two free legal clinics planned for Tuesday. The Oak Ridge office will hold a clinic at its office at 575 Oak Ridge Turnpike, Oak Ridge 37830 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Prospective clients can call 865-483-8454 for an appointment. In Clarksville, a clinic will take place from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Operation Stand Down, 400 Madison St., Clarksville 37040. Contact Kendra Cheek, 615-780-7131 for more information.

The Tennessee Bar Association will be closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The office will reopen at 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today adopted several amendments to the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure that will become effective on July 1, subject to approval by resolution of the General Assembly. Amended are: Rule 5, relating to service and filing of pleadings and other papers; Rule 5B, relating to electronic filing, signing, verification and service; Rule 33, relating to interrogatories to parties; and Rule 34, relating to production of documents and things and entry upon land for inspection and other purposes. Read the full order and appendix showing the changes. 

Maria Saez Tatman has joined the University of Tennessee College of Law as the assistant dean for student affairs, according to the school’s website. She will also serve as the director of diversity and inclusion. Saez Tatman earned her law degree from the University of Illinois and was most recently the associate dean of student services and advising at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where she was responsible for student services, academic support, diversity and inclusion and the registrar’s office. Dean Melanie Wilson said Saez Tatman “will be an incredible asset to our college and our students.”

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, USA Today is honoring Tennessee women who have made a significant and lasting impact on the state with its Women of the Century project. Nominations are now being accepted for an array of categories, including civil rights, politics and law. Submit your nominations online by the final deadline on Jan. 31 at 4 p.m.

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is currently recruiting volunteers to conduct poll site accessibility surveys for its Voting Access Program. This survey is important for helping DRT work with counties to assess and resolve voting accessibility issues. This year, surveys will be conducted during the primaries on March 3 and presidential election on Nov. 3. DRT is actively recruiting volunteers, including firms and legal aid societies, to help gather this data. Those interested in helping with this project can go online and fill out an interest form.

Belmont University College of Law has issued an apology one month after four past and present female students claimed the law school’s attendance policy discriminated against pregnant women. Interviews with the group of women claiming the school treated them unfairly during pregnancy were published in Belmont’s student-run newspaper, The Vision, in December and prompted an investigation by the university’s Title IX Office. In a statement, the school said the investigation found no discriminatory or illegal practices, but still apologized for any “misunderstandings” and said it would take steps to clarify how pregnant students can obtain pregnancy-related accommodations. The Vision has the full story and statement.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday scheduled execution dates for two death row inmates, the Tennessean reports. Oscar Franklin Smith, who was convicted of murdering three people in 1989, will be put to death on June 4. Harold Wayne Nichols, convicted of a 1988 rape and murder, now has an execution date of Aug. 4. Death row inmate Nicholas Todd Sutton already has an execution date set for Feb. 20 and the state attorney general has filed pending execution requests for seven additional inmates. Since resuming capital punishment in August 2018, Tennessee has executed six death row inmates.

Legal Aid of East Tennessee will host a new client intake clinic tomorrow in Madisonville. Members of the public may qualify for free legal assistance if they are having legal problems in the following areas: housing, mortgage or foreclosure; consumer; health, benefits or food stamps; family; unemployment; senior. Applicants must meet federal poverty and LAET priority guidelines. The clinic will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Monroe County Courthouse, 105 College St. in Madisonville. For more information, please call 423-303-2266.

The Knoxville Bar Association Barristers Law School Mentor Committee is looking for volunteers for its upcoming series of mock interviews. The first round of interviews will take place at the Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law on Jan. 20-22 and the second round will be at the University of Tennessee College of Law on Jan. 23-29. Each interview time slot runs for approximately 25 minutes. Please contact Katie O'Neal or Patrick O'Neal if you are interested in volunteering.

Cross border taxation, dangers of distribution and foreign investment will be the hot topics of discussion at the TBA’s International Law Spring Forum on March 27. Hear from various speakers who will discuss those issues and others that are impacting international law, all while earning five CLE credits. Programming begins at 9 a.m. at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. Get registered online or join the international law section for additional savings and benefits.

Tchiki Davis, author of “Outsmart Your Smartphone Technology,” writes that our smartphones and other devices have given us access to “near-infinite amounts of information, tools to help us increase productivity, and even ways to socialize,” but questions whether they have they made us happier. While the answer to that question is complicated, she suggests four tips for building happiness in the digital age: (1) stay in the present moment, (2) make meaningful connections, (3) learn how to manage emotions without your phone, and (4) be authentic both on- and offline. Read more about her tips.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today announced Larry Bridgesmith has been selected as chair of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission. Bridgesmith is an adjunct professor of law at Vanderbilt University Law School and coordinator of its Law and Innovation program. He co-founded LegalAlignment, which provides technology tools to assist lawyers in managing the delivery of legal services more efficiently, and is the co-founder of Accelerate Institute, a knowledge management company focused on implementation of artificial intelligence. Before joining the law school, he was the founding executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management at Lipscomb University. He replaces Ed Silva, whose term as chair expired earlier this month. The court also announced today that J. Marcus Rudolph and Lori Thomas Reidwill have joined the commission. They replace Mary Ann Zaha and Virginia Lee Story.