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Posted by: Journal News on Apr 1, 2018

Journal Issue Date: Apr 2018

Journal Name: April 2018 - Vol. 54, No. 4

E-FILING AVAILABLE FOR WORKERS’ COMP CASES

The Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) has moved workers' compensation cases online, in a new system that allows attorneys and self-represented litigants to file documents without printing copies or traveling to BWC offices across the state.

The new “TNComp” electronic filing system allows all parties to file contested case pleadings in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. BWC modeled TNComp after the PACER platform used by the federal court system, but tailored it for Tennessee.

Attorneys and litigants can now electronically file documents any time of the day, they can view any documents associated with the case and they receive notices when a new document is filed and reminders of upcoming hearings. All of the services offered on TNComp are provided to the user at no cost. Check it out at https://wc.tn.gov/TNComp.

LAW SCHOOL

Women Continue to Outnumber Men in Law School
Women outnumbered men in law school classrooms for the first time in 2016, according to a study by Enjuris.com and cited by Above the Law. Last year was similar, with 2017 data revealing that women’s enrollment as law schools once again outpaced that of their male colleagues. The 2017 data shows that 56,490 women (51.27 percent), 53,645 men (48.69 percent), and 49 people who identified as “other” (0.04 percent) were enrolled in law school. The study reports that 49 percent of Tennessee law students are women, and lists Vanderbilt Law School with 51.2 percent.

COURTS

New Courtroom Security Standards Approved
The Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Tennessee General Sessions Judges Conference have adopted new minimum courtroom security standards to promote the security and safety of the members of the judiciary, court personnel and the public. The standards were last updated in the 1990s. In the past year, there have been at least three major security breaches in Tennessee courthouses, including a serious weapons incident.

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) began the process of modernizing courthouses statewide recently by awarding 66 Tennessee counties a total of $2 million to improve courthouse security.  The AOC received 70 grant applications requesting nearly $6 million in funds during its 2017 Court Security Grant Program.

Caseload Study Finds Need for More Judges
The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury in February issued the Tennessee Judicial Weighted Caseload Study for the most recent fiscal year, 2016-2017. The study estimated a net deficit of 9.76 judges across the state in 2017, and a net deficit of 4.22 full-time equivalent judges in 2016. Meanwhile, filings in 2017 increased across the state by 1,093 cases, including a 10.5 percent increase in first degree murder cases and a 14.14 percent increase in felony assault and battery cases.

Certain Employees May Not Engage in Partisan Activity
Beginning in March, administrative employees of the federal judiciary are prohibited from making campaign donations or engaging in partisan activity, the ABA Journal reports. A spokesman from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said that the new rules are less restrictive than those governing federal judges; however, the rules are tougher than ones governing employees of the U.S. Justice Department.

Court Seeks Comments on Changes to Rule 31 
The Tennessee Supreme Court is soliciting comments on proposed changes to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 and Appendix A of Rule 31. The request comes in response to a petition filed by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission on March 9.

Written comments from judges, lawyers, bar associations, members of the public and any other interested parties must be submitted by June 12. Email comments to appellatecourtclerk@tncourts.gov or mail them to Clerk James M. Hivner.

Court Rules in Surviving Spouse, Wrongful Death Case 
In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the surviving spouse of a person killed in a vehicle accident could initiate a wrongful death action on the decedent’s behalf even though the surviving spouse’s negligence allegedly contributed to the decedent’s death. In an opinion authored by Justice Roger A. Page, the Supreme Court reversed a decision from the Court of Appeals and ruled that based on current wrongful death statutes, the surviving spouse maintained priority to institute the wrongful death action under the circumstances presented in this case.

PRO BONO

Corporate Counsel Gather to Support Pro Bono Efforts
Tennessee lawyers gathered at the Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative Gala March 3 in Nashville, hosted by the TBA Access to Justice Committee, in partnership with the TBA Corporate Counsel Section and the Association of Corporate Counsel. Over the past 12 years, the event has raised more than half a million dollars in support of pro bono efforts that engage in-house and corporate counsel with legal aid programs across the state. The program featured remarks from past TBA President Buck Lewis and Ann Pruitt, executive director of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, as well as TBA Executive Director Joycelyn Stevenson and leaders from the TBA Access to Justice Committee.

This year’s event honored an outstanding law firm and legal department for their pro bono efforts. Eastman Chemical Company was honored for its work with Legal Aid of East Tennessee and Bass, Berry & Sims received the law firm award for its ongoing work supporting the Tennessee Justice Center.

ABA President Asks to Keep ATJ Office Open 
American Bar Association president Hilarie Bass sent a letter in March to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking the Department of Justice to keep the doors open at the Office for Access to Justice.

“We urge you to make reorganization decisions that assign responsibility and provide adequate funding for the critical programs that preserve access to justice for all Americans — both rich and poor — and demonstrate the Department’s unwavering commitment to this core value and the rule of law,” Bass wrote.

ETHICS

Ethics Opinion Stresses Duty of Confidentiality While Blogging
A recent American Bar Association ethics opinion stresses the importance of confidentiality lawyers must maintain when they engage in public commentary, including online on blogs and social media. The opinion cites the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule 1.6(a), which provides: “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b).” The opinion explains that this duty of confidentiality applies even if the information about the client’s representation is found in a court record or other public record.