News

State Rep. Dickerson Denies Allegations of Health Care Fraud

State Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, has denied all allegations against him by state and federal officials in a wide-ranging case against Comprehensive Pain Specialists and its owners for allegedly defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. The lawsuit specifically identifies Dickerson as having submitted more than 750 false claims amounting to nearly $6.5 million for specimen validity, genetic and psychological testing, and for acupuncture. In a response filed this week, Dickerson denies the claims and any knowledge of a broader scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid, the Nashville Post reports.

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Former Judge Says House Member, Wife Undermined Her Appointment

A former Tennessee judge says the meddling of a Republican lawmaker and his wife was the reason she resigned just nine days after being appointed, the Tennessean reports. Gov. Bill Lee appointed Huntingdon attorney Jennifer King on Sept. 4 to fill the Chancery Court vacancy in the 24th Judicial District. On Sept. 13, King handed in her letter of resignation saying state Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, and his wife actively attempted to undermine the appointment by working with county officials to ensure King would not be the party’s nominee in the 2020 election. Other correspondence recently made public indicates that Griffey had urged the governor to select his wife for the post. When she was not named one of the top three nominees, he allegedly engaged in a campaign to discredit the three that were selected.

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Rose Files Bill to Expedite Challenges to Nationwide Injunctions

U.S. Rep. John Rose of Cookeville has filed legislation that would expedite challenges to so-called nationwide injunctions. In an op ed in the Gallatin News, the Republican congressman writes that these injunctions are “a harmful trend” that are “unfair” and have a “detrimental effect.” He notes that the administration has had close to 40 nationwide injunctions imposed on its policies since the president took office. The bill, H.R.4219, would allow for direct appeals of nationwide injunctions to the U.S. Supreme Court, skipping the federal circuit courts of appeal.

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Senate Committee Approves Funding for New Chattanooga Courthouse

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to approve $189.1 million for the construction of a new federal courthouse in Chattanooga. The unanimously approved legislation will next be considered by the full Senate. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said a new courthouse is “desperately needed ... in the largest and busiest Judicial District in Tennessee.” The Judicial Conference of the United States has designated Chattanooga as a courthouse construction priority citing operation, space and security deficiencies, the Chattanoogan reports.

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Rep. DeBerry Plans to Re-introduce ‘Red Flag’ Legislation

State Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, says he plans to reintroduce legislation in 2020 for a red flag law, the Daily Memphian reports. DeBerry sponsored HB 1446 during the 2019 session. That measure would have allowed a court to be petitioned for an “extreme risk protection order” based on clear and convincing evidence a person poses a “significant risk” of injuring himself or others with a firearm. The order could be sought by law enforcement officers or by a person close to the individual with the problem. Last session, the General Assembly passed another gun related bill making it illegal to transfer a gun to anyone who has been judicially committed to a mental institution or adjudicated as a mental defective, unless the person’s right to possess guns has been restored. That law went into effect in May.

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Memphis Lawyer, Former Judge, State Legislator Dies at 89

Memphis lawyer Thomas Bouse Avery died Sept. 10 at the age of 89. A graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, Avery joined with his friend William H. Fisher III to form the law firm of Robinson, Fisher and Avery. Avery became active in local and state politics and served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1967 to 1971. In 1973, he was the chief draftsman for the Shelby County Restructure Act, which provided the foundation for the current county commission. He later served three terms on the Shelby County Election Commission, and in 1981 was appointed judge of the Circuit Court Division VIII. At the time of his death he was practicing with the firm of Fisher Avery Fisher. A celebration of life was held yesterday. Memorial donations may be made to the organization of the donor’s choice. 

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Gore Speaks at MTSU About His Father's Political Life

Former Vice President Al Gore spoke about his father’s political legacy at Middle Tennessee State University this week. Gore, a former Tennessean reporter and visiting MTSU professor, joined Anthony “Tony” Badger to discuss his book on the elder Gore, titled “Albert Gore Sr.: A Political Life.” During the forum, the two men discussed the elder Gore's policies on civil rights, the influence his wife Pauline had on his decisions, and personal family stories. Pauline was a successful attorney who earned her law degree at a time when there were few women lawyers. She also was a main reason Gore Sr. refused to sign the Southern Manifesto, Gore said in his remarks. Read more in the story from the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reprinted in the Tennessean.

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Court Square Series Coming to Murfreesboro Sept. 26

The three-hour Court Square program will be held in Murfreesboro on Sept. 26. The course, being offered across the state this fall, is designed to provide attorneys with the latest developments in multiple areas of the law. At the Murfreesboro program, Lisa Collins will discuss updates in adoption law and post adoption placement; TBA staff member Berkley Schwarz will cover legislative updates; and Beverly P. Sharpe will present an ethics session focused on current developments from the Board of Professional Responsibility.

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Former Kustoff Staffer Joins House Speaker's Office

Kevin Johnson, former counsel for U.S. Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., has joined House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s staff as general counsel and senior adviser. Johnson served as Kustoff’s campaign manager and field representative. In his new role he will be responsible for offering legal counsel on legislative matters and will serve as an adviser to Sexton. Johnson earned his law degree from Cecil C. Humphreys Schools of Law at the University of Memphis. The Daily Memphian has the story.

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Judge Blocks New State Voter Registration Rules

A series of new restrictions for Tennessee voter registration groups won't take effect Oct. 1 after a federal judge blocked the new law in an injunction today, the Tennessean reports. The court must still decide the case on the merits. Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger rejected the state’s attempt to dismiss the suit brought by voter registration groups, calling the law a “complex and punitive regulatory scheme.”

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House Leader Won’t Seek Re-election in 2020

House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, announced today he will not seek re-election in 2020, the Nashville Post reports. Dunn led the House after Speaker Glen Casada’s resignation in August and until the House could return to Nashville to elect Republican Cameron Sexton of Crossville as its new speaker. The longest-tenured Republican in the House, Dunn has been a strong advocate for school choice. He successfully shepherded an education savings account bill through the House this year and said it was time to conclude his public service “on a high note.”

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Lee Names New Insurance Commissioner

Gov. Bill Lee has picked Hodgen Mainda to be the new commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Mainda most recently served as vice president for community development at the Electric Power Board in Chattanooga. He previously held positions with lobbying and consulting firm River Branch Strategies and a workplace health care provider based in Chattanooga. The Nashville Post reports that he also served as director of legal operations, government relations and community outreach for a local law firm. Mainda succeeds Julie Mix McPeak, who left government service over the summer to open a Tennessee office for law firm Greenberg Traurig. Mainda will start his new job Oct. 1.

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Governor’s Health Care Task Force to Start Meeting

Gov. Bill Lee's Health Care Task Force is hoping to introduce legislation to improve telemedicine throughout Tennessee in time for the 2020 legislation session, the Tennessean reports. The panel has not yet officially organized, but its chair, Stuart McWhorter, and other cabinet members met with health care groups during the summer and held four "listening tours" across the state. The panel plans to start meeting this fall.

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Nashville’s Drug Court Facing Funding Woes

Studies show that drug courts are more effective and cheaper than state prisons, but Nashville Judge Jennifer L. Smith reports she is facing funding woes that are shrinking the local program, according to the Tennessean. The number of drug court residents has dropped from more than 100 to about 70 in the past few years as Davidson County fines and forfeitures, which are a significant source of income for the court, also have dropped. Smith says so far she has secured $50,000 from the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and has asked the state Department of Correction to increase its funding level.

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Judge Denies State’s Motion to Dismiss Voter Registration Suit

U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger today denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by four groups challenging a new voter registration law that imposes penalties for turning in incomplete forms, The Daily Memphian reports. The suit, brought by the NAACP, Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities, The Equity Alliance and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, argues the law places “burdensome requirements” on organizations trying to register people to vote and will have a “chilling effect” on registrations. In her ruling, Trauger said, “If Tennessee is concerned that voter registration drives are being done incompetently, it can engage in public education efforts without relying on a complex and punitive regulatory scheme.”

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Hagerty Makes U.S. Senate Run Official

Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic Development, officially entered the Republican primary for U.S. Senate today, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Hagerty stepped down as ambassador in July amid widespread speculation he would seek the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. He joins Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi in the Republican primary. Nashville attorney James Mackler is the lone Democrat to announce a run to date.

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Sethi Leaves Job to Focus on Senate Race

Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi is stepping down as head of Healthy Tennessee while concentrating on his bid for the U.S. Senate, The Tennessee Journal reports. Sethi’s wife, Maya, will assume his former duties as president and CEO of the organization, which provides free health fairs and organizes symposiums and candidate forums. Sethi is the only major Republican in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander so far, though former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty is expected to formally enter the race soon.

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Anti-SLAPP, Collaborative Family Law Headline September TBJ

Tennessee recently adopted a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“Anti-SLAPP”) statute to provide additional protections for certain fundamental constitutional rights. The Tennessee Public Participation Act was passed without opposition in the 111th General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee, effective July 1. Learn about Tennessee's new Anti-SLAPP statute in this September Journal article by Todd Hambidge, Robb Harvey, John P. Williams, Braden Boucek and Dan Haskell. Also, Collaborative Family Law is covered in a feature by Irwin Kuhn and a column by Marlene Eskind Moses and Ben Russ, detailing this new Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 53. TBA President Sarah Y. Sheppeard writes about the importance of being a mentor and having a mentor — even long into her career. Read these and more in the September issue!

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Students Continue Push for Easier Voter Registration

Chattanooga high school students who last year drafted legislation calling for anyone with a driver’s license to be automatically registered to vote at age 18 are launching a petition drive to try to convince the legislature to rethink its proposal, The [Columbia] Daily Herald reports. The students developed their voter registration proposal through the TBA YLD’s Catalyst program, which teaches students about government by encouraging them to prepare actual legislative proposals. “It’s definitely harder to register to vote in Tennessee than in some states and unfortunately too many young people don’t think about it or take action to make sure they are registered in time to vote in an election,” said Fisher Latham, a recent CSAS graduate who did his senior project on the legislation.

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Faison to Lead House GOP Caucus

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus has voted Rep. Jeremy Faison as its next chairman, the Tennessean reports. The caucus held the meeting to elect a replacement for former Caucus Chair Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, who was recently confirmed as House Speaker. Faison, who had been one of former House Speaker Glen Casada's most vocal detractors, told fellow members that under his leadership, caucus meetings would be run "very fairly," with members having the freedom to speak their mind and be who they are. 
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Hardaway Says House Judiciary to Hold Hearings on Byrd Allegations

New House Judiciary Committee member G.A. Hardaway says the panel will hold hearings on embattled state Rep. David Byrd no matter what the state attorney general opines, the Daily Memphian reports. Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Michael Curcio confirmed the committee doesn’t need the attorney general’s opinion, but noted that Speaker Cameron Sexton asked him to wait before starting an investigation. The response could determine the committee’s direction.
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House Minority Leader to Back Resolution Denouncing White Nationalism

With a special session of the legislature three days away, House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, says the timing is right for a resolution condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalists, the Daily Memphian reports. Camper said she will support a resolution by Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, calling out 37 white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. The measure urges law enforcement to recognize them as terrorist organizations and go after their criminal elements with the “same fervor” they would other terrorist groups to protect the country. Clemmons’ resolution failed in a subcommittee in 2018 after failing to receive enough support to open discussion.
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Resolution to Expel Rep. Byrd Not on House Calendar for Special Session

The likelihood of the House hearing a resolution calling for Rep. David Byrd's expulsion on Friday is waning, the Tennessean reports. Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, filed a resolution to be heard during Friday's special legislative session that would oust Byrd, but House Minority Leader Karen Camper confirmed the item will not be placed on the House calendar. House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, said that it would need to be brought up under the "unfinished business" portion of the meeting. It's unclear who made the decision not to include the resolution on the calendar, the paper reports.
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State Officials Launch Probe into Casada Campaign Finances

State officials initiated a probe today of embattled former House Speaker Glen Casada's campaign finances, as well as other prominent elected officials, the Tennessean reports. Hank Fincher, a member of the Registry of Election Finance, said the audit was necessary, given news reports about Casada's spending, notably his use of a state plane 10 times in the last three months. The registry will also audit former Republican state senator and Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, as well as Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, the Daily Memphian reports.
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Tomorrow is Final Day to Apply for Public Service Academy

Considering a run for office? Tomorrow is the final day to apply for the 2019 Public Service Academy, the TBA's bipartisan training program designed to teach attorneys the skills they need to run for city council, county commission, school board and other local public offices. Last year's program included presentations from legal and political leaders like former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and U.S. Attorney (and former state senator) Doug Overbey, as well as political campaign professionals from both sides of the aisle. Apply now at www.tbapsa.org.
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