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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.

Two lawmakers filed legislation this week to establish strictly-defined parameters for the terms mother, father, husband and wife based on “biological distinctions between women and men,” the Tennessean reports. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, comes following a 2016 child custody case in Knoxville involving same-sex parents. If the bill passes, the definition would apply any time those words are used in Tennessee law, no matter the law’s topic. A Tennessean search of the 2016 Annotated Code found just the word "mother" alone appeared in 110 sections. A similar bill died in the state legislature last year.

The TBA recognized its Public Service Award honorees Saturday during a luncheon at its 2017 Leadership Conference. Harris Gilbert Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year winner Susan Gruber, Ashley T. Wiltshire Public Service Attorney of the Year winner Richard Taylor and Law Student Volunteer of the Year winner Kirsten Jacobson were recognized for their public service contributions and achievements. TBA President Jason Long emceed the event, which also featured a keynote address from former Nashville Mayor and Public Defender Karl Dean. Watch the program now.

New figures compiled by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) show that law students in 2016 performed more than 2.2 million hours of pro bono work while in school, according to Law.com. The survey was conducted among American Bar Association-accredited schools, and AALS said it was the first of its kind. The legal work was valued at more than $52 million. AALS Communications Director James Greif said the stats show "what the value of law schools is to communities."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is hosting a pair of town hall meeting for lawyers next week in Memphis. Sen. Kelsey will host criminal law practitioners on Jan. 26 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST, and civil law practitioners on Jan. 27 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST. Please contact TBA Public Policy Coordinator Brenda Gadd if you are interested in attending. She will provide location information once it is determined.

The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section has formed a Task Force on College Due Process Rights and Victim Protections, which will research and develop best practices to ensure due process for victims and the accused in sexual misconduct cases on college campuses. The findings will be drafted into a report along with recommendations and submitted to the section and ABA House of Delegates.
Bankruptcies in Knoxville reached a 10-year low in 2016, despite the fact that the state leads the nation in number of bankruptcies, according to Knoxnews. Statistics from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s Eastern Division of Tennessee show 3,862 cases, down from a 7,189 peak in 2009. Total cases statewide for last year were at 36,052, a decline from 2015. Factors cited include rising incomes and property values, lower fuel prices and lower interest rates.

Eight lawyers have been reinstated after being suspended for administration violations. Of that group, four had failed to comply with 2016 CLE requirements; one had failed to pay the 2016 registration fee and file notice that funds are held in accounts participating in the IOLTA program; one had failed to comply with 2015 CLE requirements; one had failed to pay the 2015 registration fee and file notice that funds are held in accounts participating in the IOLTA program; and one had failed to pay the 2014 registration fee

Former Cleveland police officer Edwin Millan was sentenced to three years today, after his conviction in October for making a false report, tampering with evidence and insurance fraud. According to WRCB-TV, Millan paid someone $500 to drive his car over state lines and burn it so he could collect insurance money. 
Insurance claims stemming from the devastating wildfires in east Tennessee have reached more than $842 million from 3,947 claims, according to USA Today. This figure comes from the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, and is well above the $500 million estimated previously. It does not include damages to uninsured structures. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been offering assistance for businesses and home owners who experienced damages to building which were uninsured or under-insured. Information on disaster legal assistance is available from the TBA. 
Former Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold pleaded guilty today to three counts of the 14-count federal grand jury indictment in the JailCigs case, in which Arnold was accused of illegally profiting from inmates in the Rutherford County Jail. According to the Daily News Journal, Arnold pleaded guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion. Joe Russell, the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office chief of accounting and a co-defendant in the case, is scheduled to appear for a guilty plea on Friday.

Rutherford County lawyer Walter Alan Rose was suspended from the practice of law for three years on Wednesday, retroactive to Oct. 30, 2015. Rose agreed to a conditional guilty plea for violating federal criminal law. In imposing the suspension, the Tennessee Supreme Court directed Rose to contact the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) for evaluation, comply with the provisions of any monitoring agreement, satisfy all continuing legal education requirements, and pay all outstanding registration fees and professional privilege taxes. 

Hawkins County lawyer Renfro Blackburn Baird was censured on Friday for failing to file a brief, notify the Court of Criminal Appeals of the status of the appeal and comply with show cause orders. Based on this misconduct, the court held Baird in willful criminal contempt.

The law license of Tipton County lawyer Thomas Dale Forrester was transferred to disability inactive status today. While on inactive status, Forrester may not practice law. He may petition the court for reinstatement by showing by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law.

Davidson County lawyer Karl Emmanuel Pulley was censured on Friday for communication with a person represented by counsel. While representing a defendant in a criminal case, Pulley met with and obtained a statement from a co-defendant who was represented by another attorney. Pulley failed to notify or obtain permission from the attorney before communicating with the individual.

Wilson County lawyer Adam Wilding Parrish was censured on Friday for not diligently representing a client in an uncontested divorce. Parrish delayed filing the divorce petition with the court for four months, allowed three months to pass with no action in the case and failed to communicate with his client. Only when the client complained did Parrish take action to have the final divorce decree issued.

Madison County lawyer Jack Colin Morris was censured on Friday for not diligently representing a client in a post-conviction proceeding. When his petition was denied, Morris was supposed to pursue a direct appeal. However, he failed to file a notice of appeal, and when his client inquired about the status of the matter, Morris misled the client, saying the court had not yet issued an opinion. Later, Morris advised his client that he had neglected to file the notice of appeal and sought permission to late-file but the court did not allow the waiver.

Davidson County lawyer Jeffrey John Miller was censured on Friday after pleading guilty to the Class A misdemeanors of harassment and domestic assault with fear of bodily injury. The court found that Miller engaged in a domestic altercation with his wife and threatened her with a gun while he was intoxicated. Since his convictions, Miller has been treated for substance abuse.

President Barack Obama today reduced or eliminated the sentences of hundreds more drug offenders, CNN reports. The move brings his total commutations to 1,385 individuals, the vast majority of whom have been serving mandatory minimum sentences for crimes related to distribution or production of narcotics. The group approved today also included Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of passing classified information to WikiLeaks, and James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was convicted of making false statements to investigators when questioned about leaking classified information to two journalists. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Justice Department officials have been working nonstop to complete their review of more than 16,000 clemency petitions filed by federal prisoners.

If you bought milk in Tennessee or one of 15 other states in the past 13 years, you might be eligible for part of a settlement from a class-action suit alleging dairy co-ops conspired to reduce the size of their herds to raise the price of milk. A $52 million pool will be divided among lawyers and consumers who sign up at www.boughtmilk.com. The deadline to register is Jan. 31, WJHL reports.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, appointed Rick Nicholson as Senate Chief of Staff on Friday. A 26-year veteran of the General Assembly, Nicholson started in the chief clerk’s office, later being appointed assistant chief clerk. In 2001, he went to work for McNally as a committee research analyst and in 2012, he was appointed Senate budget director by then Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. Nicholson replaces Lance Frizzell, whose appointment expired in January. Humphrey on the Hill has the news from McNally’s office.

Judge Pryor

President-elect Donald Trump says he expects to announce a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court within two weeks of his inauguration. According to Above the Law, Trump has met with 11th Circuit Court Judge William Pryor, reportedly the leading candidate for the post. The ABA Journal also reports that the president-elect has identified Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo, Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint and a number of Republican lawmakers as advising him on the choice.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday announced several changes to the Horse Protection Act aimed at ending the practice of soring, the Tennessean reports. The new rule, which would go into effect on Jan.1, 2018, bans much of the gear used in the process, including chains that are placed around a horse’s ankles and weights that are attached to the front hooves during training. The rule also directs industry inspectors to become trained and licensed through the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, based in Shelbyville, said it plans to challenge the regulatory action.

A judge on Friday ordered Nashville television reporter Phil Williams to turn over documents from his investigation of District Attorney General Glenn Funk, the Tennessean reports. After a nearly two-hour hearing, Senior Judge William Acree agreed with Funk’s lawyers that the documents will shed light on whether Williams acted with malice in publishing stories about Funk and his relationship with Nashville developer David Chase. Despite arguments by Williams’ legal team that the documents should be protected, Acree said no protections apply because the state’s shield law includes an exception for defamation cases.

Photo Credit: Commercial Appeal

James W. Hodges Sr. died Thursday (Jan. 12) at 87. Originally from Arkansas, Hodges attended the Southern School of Law in Memphis and began his legal career with the U.S. Department of Defense in the Washington, D.C., area. Following his retirement, Hodges returned to Memphis, where he started his own law firm and became one of the founding members of the Memphis Federal Bar Association. A memorial service was held today at the West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Germantown. The Commercial Appeal has more on his life.

A federal grand jury in Detroit has indicted three former employees of Takata Corp., charging them with concealing deadly defects in the Japanese company’s automotive air bag inflators, the Associated Press reports. The indictments on six counts of conspiracy and wire fraud were unsealed Friday, just hours ahead of a Justice Department news conference to announce a corporate penalty against the company. The FBI has been investigating allegations that the company deceived federal regulators and tried to cover up the air bag problems.