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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.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III joined with attorneys general from 35 other states last week to file suit against the makers of Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction. The suit alleges that the companies engaged in an anti-competitive scheme to block generic competitors and cause consumers to pay artificially high prices. “Opioid abuse is a serious problem and we need to make sure those addicted to opioids have treatment available,” Slatery said. “Putting a stop to anticompetitive and deceptive practices is one way to accomplish that.” Read more in this release from the attorney general's office.

Donald Trump has released a new list of possible Supreme Court picks that appears to address criticism that his prior list lacked diversity. The new list includes U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar of the Eastern District of Kentucky, an Indian-American; U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno of the Southern District of Florida, who was born in Venezuela; and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr., who is black. The one woman on the list is Judge Margaret Ryan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. See the full list in the ABA Journal.

People detained at the Shelby County Jail are waiting an “extraordinary” amount of time for state treatment of serious mental illness, Shelby County’s chief public defender says in a letter to state officials. Referencing a “crisis” in admissions from the jail to state hospitals, Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush said in a letter to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services that he is “shocked” by the delay for people who are court-ordered for treatment at the Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar. The Commercial Appeal has more on the issue.

Baker Donelson has named shareholder William S. Painter as its first chief innovation officer, a new position created to focus on innovation in the delivery of client services and technology. Painter, who works in the firm’s Jackson, Mississippi, office, previously served as the chief strategic planning officer. In his new role, he will oversee legal project and knowledge management, information technology, pricing, eDiscovery/practice support and the firm’s consulting subsidiary. He also will work closely with fellow attorneys to streamline processes and develop and implement new and innovative ways to provide client value, Chattanoogan.com reports.

A scathing 23-page report from the Hamilton County District Attorney’s office details the mismanagement, misdeeds and miscarriage of justice perpetrated by the leadership of the Hamilton County Department of Education and the former leadership of Ooltewah High School, columnist Jay Greeson writes in the Times Free Press. Summarizing the report, Greeson says the DA’s office found that the department failed to train its employees, supervise its students and appropriately handle the Ooltewah rape case last December. It also found examples of inappropriate activity at other area schools.

Nashville Public Television and the First Amendment Center at the Newseum Institute will host a free screening of the film “Best of Enemies” this Wednesday. The event will start with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by the screening at 6 p.m. After the documentary, Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center and dean of MTSU’s College of Communications, will lead an audience discussion. The film captures the legendary 1968 debates between two famed intellectuals and ideological opposites: Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. The free event will take place at the First Amendment Center, 1207 18th Ave. S. in Nashville.

Mark your calendar for the 32nd Annual TBA CLE SKI, being held Jan. 22-27, 2017, at the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass, Colorado. Participants will be able to attend CLE sessions each morning and afternoon with plenty of time to hit the slopes in between programs. Topics will cover entertainment law, social security disability, updates on labor and employment law, ethics and a U.S. Supreme Court case review.

McVeagh Named to LAET Board
September 26, 2016

Alex McVeagh, an attorney with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, has been named the newest member of the Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) board of directors, Chattanoogan.com reports. McVeagh previously chaired the group’s annual Campaign for Justice Committee and has coordinated numerous pro bono clinics in East Tennessee. The LAET board is comprised of attorneys from Chattanooga, Knoxville and the Tri-Cities areas that make up legal aid’s 26-county service area.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will not sell insurance plans on the federal exchange in the state’s three largest metro areas next year, the Tennessean reported today. The healthcare giant is grappling with hefty losses and ongoing uncertainty in the marketplace, despite winning state approval to increase its rates. The decision means that consumers in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville will have to look to another insurer for coverage in 2017. The paper estimates the decision will impact nearly 115,000 people.

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, who last month announced a challenge to House Speaker Beth Harwell for leadership of the chamber, has sent out a “Covenant with the Caucus” to House Republicans. In an email Matlock said the document “addresses the guiding principles that have inspired me to seek the office of Speaker.” The one-page document does not offer specifics about Matlock’s legislative priorities, but instead lays out his commitment for how he would run the House. The Nashville Post has more on the story.

Starting this week, Dr. Kim Collins with the University of Memphis Counseling Center will provide downtown counseling services to law students on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The school reports that bringing a counselor to the law school has been a multi-year collaboration among law students and administrators. Initial appointments are available by calling the counseling center at 901-678-2068.

Robert C. Anderson, 64, died Saturday (Sept. 24) in Woodstock, Georgia. A graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, Anderson served in the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps as an assistant district attorney in Fairbanks, Alaska, and as an assistant U.S. attorney in Nashville and Chattanooga. He spent 20 years with the Justice Department, retiring only because of his diagnosis of Multiple System Atrophy. A graveside service with military honors will take place tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. The Times Free Press has more on his life.

University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds has issued a public apology for his controversial tweet this week about protestors in Charlotte, North Carolina. Reynolds, who writes for USA Today in addition to teaching, said, “I didn’t live up to my own standards, and I didn’t meet USA Today's standards. For that I apologize to … readers and to my followers on social media.” USA Today has suspended his column for one month.

The U.S. Department of Education will not implement a panel recommendation that called for suspending the ABA from accrediting new law schools for one year, the ABA Journal reports. The department rejected a call from the National Advisory Council on Institutional Quality and Integrity to suspend the group for one year based on questions of whether the ABA was in compliance with federal regulations requiring accrediting agencies to monitor, re-evaluate and enforce programs and standards. The department said it did not find enough evidence that the ABA was out of compliance with those mandates to justify a suspension.

The Tennessean takes an in-depth look at Davidson County General Sessions Court Judge Rachel Bell’s work schedule finding that her conduct has “drawn a flurry of complaints from the public, lawyers and police officers” who have to appear before her. The paper notes that Bell’s start time is more than an hour later than her fellow judges and she uses substitute judges far more often than others. The paper used Nashville police time cards and interviewed clients with cases before Bell to formulate its conclusions.

The state has paid Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk’s former law partner more than $20,000 to represent the prosecutor in ongoing legal matters, the Tennessean reports. And that amount is expected to grow with the state paying Nashville lawyer James Kay to defend Funk in a federal case. Funk is involved in four cases connected to his office’s handling of the domestic violence prosecution of developer David Chase. The paper looks at each of the pending matters.

AT&T yesterday sued Metro Nashville government over the new “One Touch Make Ready” ordinance aimed at helping Google Fiber expand its gigabit Internet to the city, the Tennessean reports. The widely expected suit comes one day after Mayor Megan Barry signed into law a much-debated change to the city’s policy over utility poles. AT&T argues that under federal law, the Federal Communications Commission, not local municipalities, may regulate privately owned utility poles. In Nashville, 80 percent of the city’s utility poles are owned by Nashville Electric Service, while AT&T owns the remaining 20 percent. 

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins has denied a request to resentence former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey, the Tennessean reports. Prosecutors had requested a new sentencing hearing after they learned of letters sent directly to Watkins on behalf of Batey. They argued that they should have been made aware of the letters prior to the sentencing. Watkins also denied a request from prosecutors that he recuse himself from the case.

De’Ossie Dingus, a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper who was fired after being labeled a potential jihadist, has won a $100,000 damage award from the state. U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell ordered the state to pay Dingus after he was treated as a threat, subjected to humiliating circumstances and wrongfully terminated because of his faith. The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the case was so egregious it did not require a traditional proof of psychological harm to have damages awarded. That ruling led to this week’s award, Knoxnews reports.

Photo credit: Ralph Buckner Funeral Home

James Sjoberg “Jim” Webb, an attorney and former corporate executive, died in Cleveland Wednesday (Sept. 21) at 84. Webb worked in the legal department of Bowaters Southern Paper Corporation, as a partner in the law firm of Bell, Whitson, Painter & Webb, and as vice president and general counsel of Charleston Hosiery Mills. He served as Bradley County attorney for 25 years, retiring from that position to work full time in private practice. He was a past president and member of the board of directors of the Tennessee Counties Attorney’s Association. Visitation will take place tonight from 3-7 p.m. at Ralph Buckner Funeral Home with funeral services planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, both in Cleveland. The Cleveland Banner has more on his life.

Photo credit: Tennessee General Assembly

Tennessee state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, says he is considering whether to seek the House majority leader position, the Times Free Press reports. Carter, an attorney and former county General Sessions Court judge, said he has been surprised by encouragement from constituents to seek the post. “While my priority between now and Nov. 8 will be helping fellow members win re-election, I’ve decided to listen to supporters and prayerfully consider running for Majority Leader,” he said. Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, has already announced she is running. Three others reportedly are considering a run: Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland; Republican Caucus Chairman Glenn Casada, R-Franklin; and Health Committee Chairman Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville.

Kingsport attorney Everett Mechem, who was convicted earlier on 30 counts of fraud in connection to a Social Security payment scheme, has been sentenced to four years of probation, the Times Free Press reports. He also must pay $34,280 in restitution and a $3,300 fine, and perform 200 hours of community service. According to evidence presented at trial, Mechem, acting as the attorney and representative payee for his wife, schemed to defraud the government of nearly $37,000 in SSI payments for which she was not entitled. He previously was suspended from the practice of law by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

A former clerk in the Knox County Judicial Commissioner’s office, who assisted with the issuance of criminal warrants, has admitted to using his work computer to share images of child pornography. According to the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office, Joshua Ryan Fettig, 22, pled guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor in court this week and was sentenced to eight years. Investigators also searched other computers belonging to Fettig and discovered over 300 images of child pornography, WBIR reports.

Photo credit: ABA

The American Bar Association has rolled out the new ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org in eight states and plans to have it extended to the majority of states by year end. Modeled on Tennessee’s OnlineTNJustice.org, the new virtual legal advice clinic gives income-eligible users the ability to pose civil legal questions to volunteer attorneys. Joining Tennessee on the platform now are Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wyoming. Software developers at Baker Donelson in Memphis created the site, which also drew support from AT&T, FedEx, International Paper, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Pilot Travel Centers, Wal-Mart Stores, the ABA sections of Business Law and Litigation and others.

Bar exam pass rates have fallen in more than half of the 13 states that have reported results from the July exam so far, the ABA Journal reports. In Iowa, the pass rate fell from 86 to 71 percent. In Indiana, the rate fell to 61 percent, from 74 percent. Other jurisdictions reporting a decline in test scores were Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington. Rates increased slightly in Idaho, Kansas and West Virginia, and remained the same in Oklahoma. Arkansas and North Carolina released results but did not provide passage rates. The Tennessee bar pass list will be released Oct. 7.