Filter Content

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.

Rutherford County attorney James Carl Cope was suspended today based on his guilty plea to the crime of insider trading. In imposing the suspension, the Tennessee Supreme Court also directed the Board of Professional Responsibility to institute a formal proceeding to determine the extent of final discipline. Read the BPR release.

Photo credit: Cope, Hudson, Reed & McCreary

Former Rutherford County Attorney James Cope pleaded guilty Friday to insider trading charges in connection with Pinnacle Bank’s 2016 acquisition of Avenue Financial Holdings, according to federal prosecutors. “I made a mistake in the timing of my purchase of stock, and I accept the consequences,” Cope told The Daily News Journal. Under the deal he will serve two years of federal probation, the first nine months to be served on home confinement. He also will pay a fine of $55,000. Cope was released until his sentencing date of Nov. 14. The Securities and Exchange Commission is pursuing a parallel civil case. Anticipating the suspension of his law license, Cope said he would take a temporary leave of absence from his firm Cope, Hudson, Reed & McCreary. He also resigned as the county’s attorney on Friday. Josh McCreary, who has served as assistant county attorney, will take over as primary counsel.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nashville has announced plans for handling complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses during the upcoming general election, Williamson Source reports. U.S. Attorney David Rivera has designated Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steve Jordan and Henry Leventis to lead local efforts in connection with the Justice Department’s nationwide Election Day Program. Members of the public can report violations to them by calling 615-289-8574. Local FBI agents also will be on hand on Election Day and can be reached at 615-232-7500. Complaints about possible violations of federal voting rights laws can be made directly to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., by calling 800-253-3931, emailing or filling out an online complaint form.

A new report that was commissioned by an ABA committee of media lawyers calls Donald Trump a “libel bully” and outlines seven free-speech related lawsuits he or his companies have previously filed. The 15-page report, which was made public by the Media Law Resources Center, was prepared by former journalist and First Amendment lawyer Susan E. Seagar. According to the New York Times, the ABA refused to publish the report because it feared that Trump would sue it. A spokeswoman for the ABA, however, denied that fear of a libel suit had anything to do with its decision to withhold the report. has the story from CBS.

Nashville-based Gideon’s Army, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to keeping the city’s children out of the criminal justice system, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice over Metro Nashville Police Department’s traffic stop policies and practices. The group based its complaint on a study of nearly two million traffic stops that occurred over a five-year period. It says the review shows severe and institutional racial discrimination by the city’s police force. The group also issued a 200-page report called “Driving While Black” to support its claims. The report outlined 12 key findings and 11 demands. Nashville Public Radio has the story.

Comcast is suing Metro Nashville over its “One Touch Make Ready” ordinance, which is aimed at helping Google Fiber expand its gigabit Internet to the city. The law passed last month allows companies that need to attach to utility poles to move competitors’ equipment. AT&T also sued over the law last month. Both companies say the city does not have the authority to regulate utility poles in the way it is trying to do. The Nashville Business Journal reports on the development.

Photo credit: Tennessee Public Defenders Conference

Three assistant public defenders received the President’s Award at this year’s Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference in Knoxville. Collier Goodlett received the award for the Middle Tennessee region. He has served in both the 19th and 21st Judicial Districts. Eighth Judicial District Assistant Public Defender Tina Sloan received the award for the Eastern region. And 25th Judicial District Assistant Public Defender David Stockton received the award for the Western region. Jeffery Harmon, past president of the Tennessee Public Defenders Conference, presented the awards. Read more about each recipient.

Disability Rights Tennessee awarded its 2016 Freedom Awards at the Third Annual Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon last week in Nashville. Joey Hassell, an assistant commissioner for special populations in the Tennessee Department of Education, was recognized for implementing a holistic approach to aligning services for all students. Martie Lafferty was honored for 13 years of service with DRT, including her work as the organization's legal director. During her time with the organization, Lafferty won cases that granted access to Tennessee courts and Medicaid waiver services for thousands and ensured equal access to health care for Tennesseans who are deaf and hard of hearing. Lafferty is now a litigator at the Washington, D.C., civil rights firm Stein & Vargas.

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands will hold a free legal help clinic this Saturday on the Tennessee Tech campus in Cookeville. Volunteers are needed to help answer general civil legal questions from 9 a.m. to noon. The clinic will take place in the Roaden University Center, Room 101 at 1000 N. Dixie Ave. Contact Legal Aid at 931-528-7436 with questions or for more information. Access a flyer for the clinic.

The Putnam County Bar Association has elected officers for the upcoming year. Taking over as president in 2017 will be Cookeville lawyer Tessa Lawson. She will be joined in leadership by Vice President Gordon Byars with Byars Law, Secretary Ashley Waters with the Law Office of Joy Buck Gothard, and Treasurer Richard “Dale” Bohannon.

Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America Inc. and its owner, Forrest L. Preston, have agreed to pay $145 million to resolve a government lawsuit alleging that the company violated the False Claims Act by knowingly causing skilled nursing facilities to submit false claims for rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable, necessary and/or skilled, the Department of Justice announced today. The news follows an announcement by the department earlier this month that a settlement had been reached in the case. It is now one of the largest settlements with a skilled nursing facility chain in the department’s history, and the largest civil False Claims Act settlement in the Eastern District of Tennessee. has the latest.

Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) will hold a Thursday afternoon Courthouse Advice & Counsel Clinic this week starting at 1:30 p.m. at the Shelby County Courthouse, 140 Adams St., Room 134. Volunteer lawyers are needed to help clients navigating the court system. For more information or to sign up call 901-523-8822 or visit

A proposal to tighten bar passage rate standards for ABA-approved law schools was approved Friday by the council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Under the proposal, 75 percent of a school’s graduates must pass a bar exam within a two-year period. Under the current rules, schools have several ways to meet the requirement. According to the ABA Journal, the proposal is expected to go the ABA House of Delegates in February 2017. Most council members voted in favor of the proposal, though there was discussion that the change might decrease diversity in the profession. Those supporting the measure argued that such concerns were based on anecdotal evidence only.

The short-handed Supreme Court may be showing signs it is having trouble getting its work done, the Associated Press reports. The justices have yet to schedule three cases for arguments that were granted full review in January – an indication they may think the issues involved (separation of church and state, class-action lawsuits and property rights) will lead to a 4-4 split. "It’s much more difficult for us to do our job if we are not what we’re intended to be – a court of nine,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Monday. The justices have divided evenly in four cases since Antonin Scalia’s death last term. WRCB-TV has the story.

Photo credit: Johnson City Press

New security measures designed to prevent a potential vehicle attack have been installed outside the Washington County Justice Center, the Johnson City Press reports. Three metal bollards (short vertical posts used as a traffic barriers) are now positioned between the four large columns that form the front entrance to the center. The county commission realized the barriers were needed when a TV news van pulled between the columns and under the covered entrance during a murder trial.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced Friday that she removed the head of the U.S. Copyright Office. Maria Pallante, who had served as copyright head for five years, told Congress last year that the office should be independent and no longer under the library umbrella, citing “mounting operational tensions” and a number of other concerns with the current structure. She now will become senior adviser for digital strategy. Karyn Temple Claggett, currently the associate register of copyrights, will head the office while a national search is conducted. Roll Call looks at the decision.

Photo credit: Office of Governor Bill Haslam

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Memphis lawyer Mary L. Wagner as circuit court judge for the 30th Judicial District. The vacancy was created by the retirement of Judge Donna M. Fields. Since 2011, Wagner has been with Rice, Amundsen & Caperton, where she has worked in general practice with an emphasis on family law and non-profit/business organization and defense. She also has taught at her alma mater, the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, and served on the Post-Conviction Defender Oversight Commission. She was a member of the 2016 TBA Leadership Law class as well. A press release with more details about her background is on the governor’s website.

Photo credit: The Tennessean

The use of police to enforce the social order and impose public policy changes has played a key role in fomenting tensions between communities of color and law enforcement officials, a national legal expert said Saturday in Nashville. Jeff Robinson, ACLU's deputy legal director and director of the nonprofit organization Center for Justice, cited historical examples, statistical reserach and public policy in his remarks. “When you look at the history, it’s easy to understand why they’re behaving like this,” he said. “And so now, we have to do something about breaking that connection.” The event, Broken Policing: Windows for Change, marked the launch of the ACLU of Tennessee’s police accountability campaign, which hopes to foster public safety, prevent abuse in encounters between law enforcement and civilians, and improve community-police relations. The Tennessean has more from the gathering.

Photo credit: Williamson Source

Williamson County CASA, with the help of the Franklin Firefighters’ Charities, has built a one-of-a-kind playhouse for its Fourth Annual Playhouse Raffle. Tickets are available for $20 by calling CASA at 615-591-2699 ext. 2, or emailing Tickets also will be on sale at the downtown Franklin Pumpkinfest this coming Saturday. The raffle winner will be drawn that day. Check out the playhouse on the front lawn of First Bank. Williamson Source has more details about the fundraiser.

Photo credit: Tennessee General Assembly

State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, announced Friday he will run for House majority leader, the Tennessean reports. “After much consideration and encouragement from House members across Tennessee, I have decided to formally seek the position of majority leader for the 110th General Assembly,” said Carter, who is an attorney and former county General Sessions Court judge. He will seek to replace Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who is stepping down from the post after five years. Others still considering a run are House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, initially expressed interest in running, but has bowed out of the race citing recent developments with her family. The caucus will vote on leadership races Nov. 17.

Photo credit: WSMV

A federal magistrate has revoked bond for Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold after prosecutors produced audio tapes of phone calls indicating he was trying to manipulate and coerce his wife from a Kentucky jail cell where he awaits trial on public corruption charges. In one recorded phone call, Arnold appears to encourage his wife to portray herself as the aggressor during an argument between the two. But Megan Arnold says it was her husband who was the aggressor, punching her and pinning her to a bed. In other calls, Arnold says he is considering suicide and has taken her out of his will because she is not doing all she can to get him out of jail. WSMV has the story.

Special interest groups, many of which do not disclose their donors, have invested heavily in state Supreme Court races this election cycle, including pumping more than $1.2 million in outside spending into six states over the past two weeks, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice. With three weeks to go to Election Day, the center estimates that television spending for judicial races has surpassed $25.6 million, with $11.3 million of that coming from outside groups. The center has data and early trends on races in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.

The Tennessee Supreme Court is celebrating the success of its pilot Business Court, which has been operating as part of the Davidson County Chancery Court since last year. According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, more than 100 cases have been considered for transfer to the Business Court, with 87 of those being granted. The Supreme Court now says it will stop accepting new cases after Oct. 31 so it can conduct a review of the program and make any refinements necessary to move toward statewide implementation. Comments about the business docket can be submitted to the court via email.

Men across Memphis were set to gather this evening to take a stand against domestic violence at the second annual Shine Your Light on Domestic Violence event. Mayor Jim Strickland, Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings and U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton were scheduled to address the group. Judicial Commissioner Kevin Reed, who was also on the agenda, told News 5 that it is the “silence of good men that allows domestic violence to persist.” Read more from station.

Nashville Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Jones ruled today that Metro Nashville’s ordinance regulating short-term rentals such as Airbnbs is vague and unconstitutional, the Tennessean reports. The case, brought by the Beacon Center of Tennessee on behalf of two residents of the Salemtown neighborhood, claimed the ordinance infringes on homeowners rights. The city had asked the court to dismiss the suit, claiming it had no merits.