TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Suzanne Craig Robertson on Dec 1, 2015

Journal Issue Date: Mar 2005

Journal Name: March 2005 - Vol. 41, No. 3

Download a PDF of this article

Download a PDF of this article.

We’re celebrating the Tennessee Bar Journal’s first 40 years all year! In each issue we will look back at an area of life in the law to see how the TBJ covered it. This month we examine legislative relationships and process.

For years the Tennessee Bar Journal’s sister publication, Tennessee Lawyer, handled most of the news of the legislature. But in 1985 at the newsletter’s demise, the Journal began a section that included legislative coverage. It covered hot issues like selection of judges, tort reform and political action committees.

As early as 1965 — and reported through various president’s columns — the TBA had been on record supporting merit selection and retention for judges, under the rubric of court modernization. By 1972 we were reporting that the appellate courts, minus the Supreme Court, would be under the so-called “Modified Missouri Plan.”

Finally in 1994 the TBA was successful in helping change the way Tennessee Supreme Court justices are chosen. What became known as the “Tennessee Plan” had been documented by the Journal since 1987 when the TBA board voted to back it. Soon after, the Journal had the honor of reporting the names of the first Judicial Selection Commission.

Also in 1987, President Don Paine addressed tort and insurance reform in his column, setting off years of advocacy by presidents in their columns. He outlined the TBA House of Delegates and Board of Governors’ positions, including that the TBA opposed any legislation that would impose a cap on non-economic damages, restrict contingent fees, abolish the collateral source rule or abolish the joint and several liability (unless there was enacted in its stead a comparative negligence statute based on the relative fault of all parties). The TBA also opposed any legislation that would change the law of punitive damages, but advocated the inclusion of Federal Rule 11 into the Tenn. Rules of Civil Procedure.

The tort law issue seemed to galvanize TBA efforts in the legislature. The next year, President Jim Emison wrote about TBA’s lobbyists and their clash with other, better-funded groups that were “dedicated to extensive legislative revision of the Tennessee tort law. ” Emison urged members to contact representatives and give money. He announced the formation of the TBA’s new political action committee, LAWPAC. He wrote that before this year when other special interest groups stepped up their legislative efforts “we were too busy to look up from our desks and become involved in law making. If ignorance was bliss, we were euphoric.”

But the TBA’s rise from complacency had its effect. In 1988, Emison reported that in that year’s legislative session the credibility of the TBA on Capitol Hill was re-established and it gave the lawyers of Tennessee a potent voice there. Efforts that year resulted in the passage of the pilot public defender’s program, a new corporation act, a limited partnership act, a General Sessions Court act, numerous probate and domestic relations revisions, and “the defeat, two years in a row, of the efforts of various powerful special interest groups to remake our tort law into an instrument of their own economic self protection.”

The January/February 1989 cover of the Journal features the long hallway at the bottom floor of the Capitol that opens out onto Charlotte Ave. It illustrates a story about the TBA’s Public Defender bill, which called for a statewide system of public defenders, to include a public defender system in each judicial district.

An overview of the year’s legislation was published for the first time in the May/June 1992 Journal, which told what had happened to bills in the General Assembly that were of interest to lawyers. The big winner that year was the increased funding secured for public defenders and the indigent defense fund, a major success for the TBA. Passage of the Professional Corporation Act was another victory that year. The $200 tax on professionals was also passed that year. Then-TBA lobbyist John C. Lyell put it this way: “ We felt like there was going to be a tax on professionals, and this was the least onerous of those proposed.”

Ellen Hobbs Lyle wrote the cover story in March/April 1993, an interview with Secretary of State Riley C. Darnell, in which he discussed politics, the shocking possibility of allowing filings by fax, upcoming legislative issues, and the role of the lawyer as legislator. He told her that he would “approach the secretary of state’s responsibilities more from the lawyer’s perspective than has been done in the past.”

In 1995, in his president’s column, Harris Gilbert urged lawyers to stay involved in the legislative process and praised Steve Cobb for doing “an unbelievable job.” Cobb is still the TBA’s lobbyist today. LegisFax, a weekly publication faxed to subscribers for free, began in 1996. The service, now called LegisFlash and available via email, is still going strong. That year, annual legislative updates became an annual TBJ standard.

—Suzanne Craig Robertson