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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.

Photo credit: Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee recently spoke to chief justices from across the country at a national conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Lee focused her remarks on accomplishments achieved during her tenure as chief justice. She steps down from that role at the end of the month. Lee praised the state legislature for funding the court’s new electronic filing system and raises for staff. She also talked about efforts to ensure consistency of process and procedures in the state’s juvenile courts and highlighted the Access to Justice Initiative, civics education through the SCALES program, a new business court, a new human trafficking court and an indigent representation task force. Read her full remarks and see a photo gallery of her time as chief justice.

Photo credit: Norman Family

Nashville lawyer Jack Norman Jr. died Sunday (Aug. 28) at 89. Norman practiced law for 50 years and retired as settlement judge for the Circuit Courts of Davidson County. He was a member of the Nashville and Tennessee Bar Associations and a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. As a young man, Norman served in the Air National Guard during World War II. Visitation will be Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. at Calvary Methodist Church, 3701 Hillsboro Pk. Nashville 37215. A memorial service will follow at 3 p.m. The Tennessean has more on his life.

The U. S. Commission on Civil Rights recently announced the appointment of all Tennessee Advisory Committee members. TBA Today had previously reported on the appointment of Brian Krumm and Valerie Vojdik with the University of Tennessee College of Law, and Middle Tennessee State University professors Amy Sayward and Sekou Franklin. Other attorneys on the panel are Tiffany Cox, J. Gregory Grisham, Daniel Horwitz, Diane Di Ianni and Justin Owen. Each will serve a four-year term and be responsible for reporting on and recommending action on state and local civil rights issues such as justice, voting, discrimination, housing and education.

The Gloucester County, Virginia, school board asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to find that the U.S. Department of Education does not have the authority to tell public schools they must let transgender students use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. The school district is facing a lawsuit by a transgendered student seeking to use the bathroom that matches his gender identity. An appeals court found in the student’s favor but the Supreme Court issued a temporary reprieve in the case. The court has yet to decide whether it will hear the Gloucester case in its next term. The Crossville Chronicle has more from the Washington Post.

After 35 years in the same location, the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands’ Tullahoma office has moved to 281 Industrial Blvd. All phone numbers remain unchanged. Six employees work at the office providing free legal assistance to low-income individuals in Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Lincoln, Moore and Warren counties. The organization announced the move in a recent newsletter to supporters.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today published the annual package of recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Proposals include changing the place for filing a notice of appeal to the appellate clerk’s office, requiring payment of fees and taxes to the appellate court clerk at the time of initiation of an appeal, and changes to the Juvenile, Criminal and Evidence rules. Six TBA sections – Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law and Juvenile and Children’s Law – will be asked to review the recommendations and propose comments on behalf of the association. Comments on the proposals are due Nov. 23.

The Knoxville Bar Association’s inaugural Veterans’ Legal Advice Clinic will take place Sept. 7 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, 1101 Liberty St., Knoxville 37912. The clinic is a joint project of the Knoxville Barristers and their Access to Justice Committee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Knox County Public Defender’s Office, the University of Tennessee College of Law and the local VA office. Lawyers are needed to volunteer to help veterans with a wide variety of issues, including family, landlord/tenant, bankruptcy, criminal defense, consumer protection, contract disputes, child support and personal injury cases. WATE reports on the event.

The TBA’s 2016 Court Square series will head to Clarksville on Sept. 13. The three-hour course will be held at the Customs House Museum. Parke Morris, Judge William Goodman, Sherry Wilds and Elise McMillan will address privilege law in Tennessee, best practices from the bench, occupational diploma and hiring persons with disabilities.

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued an order amending Supreme Court Rule 32 to make several changes to the way the court’s chief justice is selected. The amendment (1) removes the deadline of Sept. 1 for selecting a new chief justice, (2) extends the initial term of the chief justice from one to four years, (3) allows the chief justice to serve additional unlimited consecutive two-year terms, and (4) allows three justices to remove the chief justice for cause (down from the previous requirement of four).

The State Election Commission has voted to remove Democrat Michael Fitzgibbons from his post as Sevier County Election Commission chair after he refused to step down. Fitzgibbons is the only Democratic chair in the state, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Under a new law that took effect on July 1, all county chairs must be members of the political party representing a majority of the commission. Fitzgibbons was elected chair on a 3-2 vote after a Republican on the body mistakenly voted for him. The commission reorganized on Aug. 12 and elected Republican Jack Ogle as its new chairman, but Fitzgibbons has discounted that action.

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has tallied its annual impact on the region and found it provided $23.3 million worth of free legal assistance in 2015 – a 2.6 percent increase over 2014. The group also reported that it handled 7,022 cases across its 48-county service area; organized 76 free legal clinics, which served 1,447 attendees; coordinated 733 free legal educational seminars with almost 29,400 attendees; and distributed 64,607 self-help brochures. The agency this year also launched a re-entry program that helps people with criminal records deal with civil legal issues such as fairness in housing, employment and health care. Read more from the agency’s year-end report.

Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into campaign expenditures by Franklin Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham, the lawmaker’s lawyer confirmed to the Tennessean today. The U.S. attorney’s office reportedly has issued two subpoenas for records related to campaign finance issues and a possible tax violation. Durham’s lawyer Peter Strianse said his client was complying with those orders. The move comes in addition to an investigation by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which is looking at alleged discrepancies in Durham’s campaign records.

Photo credit: Nashville Bar Association

An eight-foot-tall bronze statue of former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr. was unveiled Saturday at a ceremony in downtown Nashville, the Tennessean reports. The event also marked the 10-year anniversary of the city’s criminal courthouse, which bears Birch’s name. The larger-than-life statue, created by New Jersey artist Brian Hanlon and paid for by donations, sits at the courthouse’s main entrance on Second Ave. Among those speaking at the event were Birch’s son, Adolpho Birch III, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and Davidson County General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell.

In a victory for open records proponents, Nashville has lost a lawsuit over the amount of time it takes its police department to respond to and fulfill records requests, the Nashville Post reports. The court found that the police department was waiting seven days to release accident reports even though they were available in about three days. The department argued it had the full seven days allowed by the Open Records Act to comply. But the court said that position did not meet the law’s provision requiring promptness. “As far as I know, this is the first time in Tennessee anyone has challenged the ‘promptness’ for producing records,” the attorney for the requesters said.

Photo credit: The Commercial Appeal

A Shelby County jury has set a $30 million judgment against Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after finding the Memphis nursing home liable for negligence, violations of the Tennessee Adult Protection Act, fraudulent records of care and medical malpractice, the Commercial Appeal reports. The verdict includes $1.9 million for negligence, $129,000 for violations of the protection act, and $28 million in punitive damages against Allenbrooke, four related companies and two owners in New York. 

A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked the University of North Carolina (UNC) from enforcing the state’s bathroom law against three transgender plaintiffs. Judge Thomas D. Schroeder said the two students and one employee had “made a clear showing” that they were likely to succeed on their claim the law violates Title IX. The university said it was reviewing the order but would fully comply. Though it applies to just three people, LGBT supporters said they hoped it was the first step in bringing down a state law that requires people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. WJHL has the Associated Press story.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed a new rule Friday that would allow international entrepreneurs additional years of U.S. residency to start and build their businesses, the Upstart Business Journal reports. The International Entrepreneur Rule would allow startup founders to stay in the United States for up to two years, followed by a period of up to three years if they meet “additional benchmarks.” Factors to be considered include the entrepreneur’s ownership stake and leadership role, the growth potential of the startup, success in securing competitive research grants, and investment by qualified American investors.

The Tennessee Supreme Court last week suspended 112 lawyers for failing to comply with mandatory continuing legal education requirements in 2015. Attorneys who since have complied with the rule, and for whom notice has been received from the court, are noted as reinstated. See the list of all attorneys suspended and reinstated.

Already facing scrutiny over her work schedule, Nashville General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell now appears to have retroactively signed orders to commit 11 people to a local mental health institution, though she never heard the cases. While Bell was on vacation, she arranged for another lawyer to cover for her. But that individual forgot to sign orders keeping the patients in mental health facilities. Bell retroactively signed them six days later, pointing to the practice in Shelby County, where she says other judges sign off on orders they do not hear. Some are now questioning whether the orders are legitimate, the Tennessean reports.

After delaying jury service last December because she was on tour, Taylor Swift showed up for jury duty today. If selected she would have heard a domestic violence case involving a charge of aggravated rape. She was dismissed about 1 p.m. though. Others in the courthouse said she was smiling and happy and willing to take pictures with would-be jurors, the Tennessean reports.

Photo credit: Nixon Family

Betty Chiles Nixon, a trailblazing woman in Nashville politics and a relentless advocate for neighborhoods, died Sunday (Aug. 28). She was 80. Nixon served on the Metro Council from 1975 to 1987 and was the first woman to chair the Budget and Finance Committee. She also was the first woman to run for Nashville mayor, in 1987 and again in 1991, losing both times. And she was the first woman to run a statewide political campaign: Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign. Nixon, who previously was married to U.S. District Judge John Nixon, worked as assistant vice chancellor for community, neighborhood and government relations at Vanderbilt University until retiring in 2007. A memorial service will be held later this year. The Tennessean has more on her life.

The Sixth Annual Seersucker Flash Mob in Memphis will take place Wednesday at noon in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel. This tradition regularly draws members of the local bar and judiciary and provides an opportunity to show off your seersucker one last time before summer’s end. The event also will include a “pass the hat” fundraiser for Memphis Area Legal Services. On Legal Grounds has the announcement.

An established, family-friendly firm in Blount County is seeking a seasoned litigator with a minimum of eight years of experience. Must be independent but a team player willing to mentor a very capable litigation associate. Salary is commensurate with experience. Apply online through the TBA’s JobLink posting.

Photo credit: Knoxnews

TBA Senior Counselor and retired Knoxville lawyer B. Joe Guess, 81, died Friday (Aug. 26). Guess served in the U.S. Marine Corps before earning his undergraduate degree from Memphis State University and law degree from University of Tennessee in 1960. He was licensed in 1961 and practiced law until early 2016, most recently with Guess & Guess. Funeral services will be private. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Pat Summit Foundation. Knoxnews has more on his life.

The Tennessee Supreme Court this week decided to hear a case that could affect state employees in judicial offices across the state, the Nashville Post reports. At issue is the case of Judith Moore-Pennoyer, a former judicial assistant in Knox County Circuit Court, who was fired by Judge Bill Ailor after he was elected in 2014 but before he was officially sworn in. The court will look at that issue as well as whether judicial assistants are “at-will employees” that can be fired at any time and whether their jobs are secure only so long as the judge who hired them remains on the bench. The trial court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals have sided with Moore-Pennover that her firing was illegal.