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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.

Sunday was Constitution Day, which commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by 39 men on Sept. 17, 1787. American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass discusses the significance of Constitution Day 2017 and of this blueprint for our American government in this video. The page includes resources and information about the celebration and the document itself.

The Trial Court Vacancy Commission met Friday to consider seven applicants for the Circuit Court vacancy in the 16th Judicial District, serving Rutherford and Cannon Counties. The vacancy was created by the death of Judge M. Keith Siskin. Following a public hearing and public interviews, the commission selected Ben E. Bennett of Milton, Aaron J. Conklin of Murfreesboro, and Barry R. Tidwell of Murfreesboro. The three names now go to Gov. Bill Haslam for consideration.

The Student Bar Association and Public Action Law Society of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, in conjunction with the Memphis Bar Association Young Lawyers Division will host a Fundraiser Tailgate benefiting the Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) Campaign for Equal Justice Sept. 23. The annual campaign helps provide MALS with funds to augment its provision of critical legal services Memphians who would otherwise go unrepresented in life-altering legal matters, On Legal Grounds reports. The tailgate starts at 11 a.m. at Tiger Lane. Admission is $15.

The TBA will conduct an Inventor Legal & Business Boot Camp on Sept. 20 in Knoxville to educate all attendees about the legal and business aspects of Intellectual Property and its role in starting a business. This program is designed for those who create or own intellectual property (inventors, makers, artists, licensing organizations, etc.) and the attorneys who represent them. Click here for more information and to register.

Nashville attorney Kevin Teets Jr. says the Tennessee Equality Project will sue the city of Portland if an ordinance that would ban drag shows passes, the Tennessean reports. This comes after the Portland City Council voted earlier this month to amend its adult-oriented business rules, which would ultimately ban Elite Drag Star Productions from holding drag shows. In a letter to the Portland city attorney and the Board of the Mayor and Alderman, Teets claims banning the show is a violation of free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee also wrote the city saying "Because the Ordinance would be adopted to further the city's desire to restrict impersonators from performing or because of its disagreement with the message they convey, the regulations would be content-based and, therefore, unconstitutional." A second vote on the ordinance will be held this evening.

A Columbia, Missouri, public defender who said he was responsible for about 110 cases of post-conviction relief on the date of his disciplinary hearing, has received a stayed suspension from the Missouri Supreme Court with a one-year license probation period. According to, Karl Hinkebein had the largest caseload of anyone in his office but he provided inadequate client representation partly because of a heavy and unreasonable caseload, and had testified he believed he would be fired if he turned down a case. His lawyer argued that the case must be understood in the context of a "broken public defense system," and that the Missouri State Public Defender was taking in more cases than it believed it could handle, while requests for increased staffing were "only minimally successful."

In a survey of admissions officials from 128 law schools, released today by Kaplan Test Prep, a full 25 percent say accepting the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) instead of Law School Admissions Test ( LSAT) scores is an admission policy they plan on implementing. In a similar survey last year, only 14 percent of law schools said they were thinking of accepting the GRE. Also, this year 45 percent say they have no plans to do so, a drop from 56 percent who ruled it out in last year’s survey; and 30 percent are not sure, the same as in 2016. Above the Law has more.

On Sept. 21, this year’s Court Square series kicks off in Chattanooga at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel. Kevin Christopher will address common intellectual property issues for general practitioners. Jay Elliott will cover issues attorneys may encounter when handling matters with in-house counsel and Chris Varner will provide a summary of litigation updates. The last session will be a roundtable discussion offering point and counterpoint scenarios in connection with various contract provisions. For more information or to register.   

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order and appendix late today amending Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 34. The amendments, effective immediately, revisit the records policy for appellate courts and indicate they are adopting a separate written public records policy applicable to the appellate courts.

Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee member Rebecca Burke announced plans to challenge longtime Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, for the Williamson County district seat he has held since 1997, the Tennessean reports. Sargent serves as the head of the State House Finance, Ways and Means Committee. Burke served on the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and completes her term on the Republican Party Executive Committee as she competes in the August 2018 primary. 

The disability inactive status of Walter F. Williams of Hamilton County was removed today by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Williams was placed on inactive status on Aug. 25, 2015. In May, Williams filed a petition to be reinstated to active status, which was granted on Sept. 15.

The TBA Young Lawyers Division is seeking attorneys to volunteer at a Wills for Heroes legal clinic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Scott County Justice Center in Huntsville on Sept. 22. The clinic will provide free wills, powers of attorney and advance directives for Tennessee’s firefighters, law enforcement officers and other emergency responders. Please contact TBA YLD District 2 Representative Amanda Howard for more information or to volunteer.

The Senate has confirmed that Belmont University College of Law professor Donald Cochran and District Attorney General for the 25th Judicial District Mike Dunavant will serve as U.S. attorneys for Middle and West Tennessee, respectively. Cochran will cover Nashville and surrounding counties while Dunavant will serve the 22-county Western District, including Memphis and the surrounding area, the Tennessean reports. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Cochran "served our country in the U.S. Army and as a former prosecutor, and I am pleased he has answered the call to do so again." He also said that Dunavant “has shown great commitment to promoting public safety and enforcing the law throughout his career, and I know he will serve West Tennessee well,”. 

On Sept. 19, a TBA CLE webcast presentation by Yarnell Beatty will touch on the capabilities of telemedicine, licensure requirements for providers, state and federal regulation as to how it is delivered, billing and payment, barriers to delivery, and future trends. Emphasis will be placed on helping lawyers develop a checklist for advising health care professionals, with some guidance for counseling facilities. Learn more and register.

Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan announced earlier this week that Debra C. Poplin has been selected to the position of United States magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Poplin, who currently serves as clerk of court for the Eastern District, will begin her term on Feb. 13, 2018, following the retirement of Chief Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley Jr. See the full press release here

Users of the new iPhone X from Apple will be able to unlock their phones using facial recognition technology, prompting questions from civil liberties groups about whether or not police can use the new feature to access users' information. The ABA Journal reports that, while the Riley v. California decision established that police would need a warrant to search the contents of a phone, whether they can force you to unlock it is unclear. Read the full story here

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery released an opinion on Wednesday that said school districts in Nashville and Shelby County must release student contact information, including student names, addresses, and years attended, to the Achievement School District (ASD). The opinion also said that while districts must give up the data, they can temporarily delay the information requests in order to allow parents to opt out. Nashville has already sent out letters alerting parents of their right to opt out. The ASD runs charter schools in Memphis and Nashville and wanted the information to market their schools to families. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen sought Slatery’s opinion after both school districts denied the request to hand over the data. Read the full story at the DNJ

For the first time, the charitable fund-raising arm of the American Bar Association will be part of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), the largest and most successful workplace giving drive in the world. Starting this fall, federal government employees, including civilian, military and postal service, can support access to justice initiatives by selecting the ABA Fund for Justice and Education as their CFC charity of choice. The 2017 CFC Open Season runs from Oct. 2 through Jan. 12, 2018. The ABA Fund for Justice and Education supports more than 200 ABA public service and educational programs every year, raising money for legal services that benefit veterans, military families, seniors, children, the needy and disabled, among others.

The Trial Court Vacancy Commission met today (Sept. 14) to consider seven applicants for the Criminal Court vacancy in the 16th Judicial District, Davidson County. The vacancy was created by the retirement of the Hon. J. Randall Wyatt Jr. After holding a public hearing and conducting public interviews, the commission selected the following nominees: Cynthia C. Chappell, Nashville; Angelita Blackshear Dalton, Nashville; and Dominic J. Leonardo, Whites Creek. The commission has forwarded the names to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration.

Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen today released a new report on the county’s 2016 fatal overdose victims and their interaction with the criminal justice system. The report’s purpose, she says, is to try to identify points at which intervention might have prevent their deaths. Among the findings are that nearly half of the people who died of drug overdoses in Knox County last year had been arrested and/or jailed within the past five years – and most of those fatally overdosed soon after leaving jail. The News Sentinel has more.

A portrait hanging ceremony honoring Judge Todd J. Campbell will be Sept. 29 at 3:30 p.m. in Courtroom 874 of the Estes Kefauver Federal Courthouse at 801 Broadway in Nashville. Judge Campbell will be honored for his service to the court and the people of the Middle District of Tennessee. The ceremony will be followed by a reception.

Court Addresses TEAM Act
September 14, 2017

In 2012, the Tennessee General Assembly adopted the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management Act of 2012 (TEAM Act), which comprehensively addressed the hiring and termination of state employees. The TEAM Act replaced the prior Civil Service Act. The TEAM Act established two categories of state employees, executive service employees and preferred service employees. The Tennessee Supreme Court today has determined that the TEAM Act does not create a protected property interest for preferred service employees for continued employment in their positions and that preferred service employees challenging a dismissal bear the burden of proof during the appeals process.

At least two counties plan to apply for grants from the Administrative Office of the Courts to make improvements to courtroom security. Coffee County Justice Center, Coffee County Sheriff’s department is applying for a state court security grant to be used for installing a keycard system, ballistic glass panels and doors, according to Capt. Frank Watkins with the sheriff’s department, The Manchester Times reports. Putnam County officials are also hoping to be chosen for a grant, according to the Herald-Citizen. "Recent well-publicized security breaches in other courts in our state have lent particular urgency to these issues," Circuit Judge Amy Hollars said in a letter to county commissioners. The county commission Monday will consider approval for the court to submit a grant to purchase a new metal detector and additional security cameras for areas of the justice center that currently lack coverage. Learn more about the AOC's grant program. Applications will be accepted until Oct. 16.

The deadline for the TBA Public Service Awards has been extended to Sept. 18. The TBA seeks nominations for three prestigious access-to-justice-related awards. The TBA Public Service Awards recognize service in three categories: work performed by an attorney employed by an organization providing indigent legal representation; pro bono work performed by a private attorney; and pro bono commitment demonstrated by a law student volunteer. Nominations for the Public Service Awards are due Sept. 18. Awards will be presented at TBA’s Annual Public Service Awards Luncheon on Jan. 13, 2018. For more information about these awards, contact Access to Justice Director Liz Todaro.

Baker Donelson has announced it will begin using artificial intelligence software, Kira Systems, to help conduct due diligence for transactions and contract review analysis. Kira uses machine learning technology to help lawyers extract and analyze key provisions from structured and unstructured contracts. “A combination of innovative staffing, legal process methodology and the use of AI and other advanced technology creates the opportunity for significant advances and efficiencies in the approach to contracts," says Chief Strategic Officer Bruce C. Doeg. See the full press release here