News

Increased Indigent Defense Rates Now in Effect

The new 25 percent pay increase for indigent defense officially went into effect on July 1. The increase, the first of its kind in 20 years, was approved by the General Assembly this year. The hourly rate paid to court-appointed lawyers representing indigent parties is now $50 an hour for all services, while limits on the total amount of compensation a lawyer can receive in certain cases have been raised by $250 to $500.

“The court views this increase as the first in a series of changes for attorney rates and Tennessee’s indigent representation system,” Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivins said.

The court amended Rule 13, sections 2 and 3 of the rules, regarding the appointment, qualifications and compensation of counsel for indigent defendants. The court had solicited comment on the proposal on May 25, and received numerous comments from individual members of the bar across the state, as well as the Tennessee Bar Association, the Knoxville Bar Association, the Marshall County Bar Association and the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Participants in the Nashville Bar Association 2018 High School Internship Program met with TBA Executive Director Joycelyn Stevenson in preparation for the group’s mock trial competition, one of many activities they were able to participate in over the summer. From left: Sahara White, Stevenson, Amyah Williams, Jewell Moore and Elizabeth Qiao. White interned at the TBA this year. Photo by Liz Todaro.

 

General Assembly

Legislative Update from the 110th Tennessee General Assembly
The TBA has published a Legislative Update from the 110th General Assembly on its website, highlighting TBA initiatives and some pieces of legislation important to Tennessee lawyers that the TBA monitored during session. Many laws went into effect July 1, which are also listed there.

The 111th General Assembly will convene on Jan. 8, 2019. The entire House of Representatives and half the Senate will face reelection in November. Twenty-seven current members have already announced that they will not seek reelection. The next governor of Tennessee will also be elected in November.

Courts

State Must Stop Revoking Licenses from People Who Can’t Pay Court Fees
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled July 2 that it’s unconstitutional for the state of Tennessee to revoke drivers licenses from people who cannot pay court costs.

Between July 1, 2012, and June 1, 2016, the state revoked 146,211 licenses for failure to pay fines, costs or other fees, and fewer than 11,000 of those individuals have had their licenses reinstated. Two people sued over the practice in January 2017 in a lawsuit that was later granted class-action status.

Trump Changes Hiring Process for Federal Administrative Law Judges
President Donald Trump issued an executive order on July 11 altering the hiring process for administrative law judges at federal agencies, removing the examination process and competitive selections, NPR reported. Administrative law judges will now be political appointees. A White House official said that the move was intended to “protect agencies against challenges to the legitimacy of their administrative law judges,” but opponents of the move say it’s an example of executive overreach.

Appellate Courts Launch E-filing
The Appellate Court Clerk’s new electronic filing system began operation on July 9. With the electronic filing system in place, attorneys are permitted to electronically file virtually all new filings in appellate courts. A link on the Appellate Court Clerk’s webpage provides access to the new system. In addition to establishing a new, voluntary system for electronically filing documents, the Supreme Court has established a new fee structure for costs and fees assessed in the appellate courts. Appellate litigants are now required to pay their fees when initiating a case in the appellate courts rather than waiting until the appellate process is complete.

Federal Court: No Constitutional Right to Cash Bail
A federal appeals court in July upheld the constitutionality of a New Jersey law that mostly ended the use of monetary bail, the ABA Journal reports. The law prioritized non-monetary conditions of release over cash bail and called for a risk-based assessment system to determine whether a defendant is a danger to the community. The case reviewed whether “there is a federal constitutional right to deposit money to ensure a criminal defendant’s future appearance in court as an equal alternative to non-monetary conditions.” The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there was not.

Law Students

Vanderbilt Medical-Legal Pilot Project Helps Older Adults
A new pilot project involving Vanderbilt Law School, Vanderbilt School of Nursing and Vanderbilt University Medical Center aims to help older adults who need advance care plans and health care power of attorney documents. The project, called the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic, is underwritten by Nashville’s West End Home Foundation and will provide those documents free of charge to individuals in need. The program is also valuable for students, giving nursing students training in having difficult health care conversations as well as vital real-world experience for law students.

Scholarship Created in Memory of UT Law Grad
A scholarship fund has been created in memory of Spenser Powell, a 2017 University of Tennessee College of Law graduate who unexpectedly died this year. Powell, valedictorian of his law school class, received his bachelor’s degree in both philosophy and political science, and the memorial scholarship will support students who seek to follow a similar path. It will be available to incoming first-year law school students. The scholarship fund, at spenserfpowell.org, is currently seeking donations to reach a $25,000 goal.

Legal Markets

Avvo to Discontinue Fixed-Cost Legal Services
Avvo Legal Services was to be discontinued by the end of July, the ABA Journal reports. Avvo Legal Services allowed consumers to purchase certain legal services for a flat fee. The announcement came in the form of a letter to the North Carolina State Bar Authorized Practice Committee, which had asked Avvo to explain how its legal services offering “relates to the unauthorized practice of law.” Avvo, which was acquired by Internet Brands earlier this year, will continue to operate as a company, though it is unclear if changes will be made to its other offerings.

Civil Rights

Emmett Till
Investigation into the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till has been reopened, 63 years after his death.

Feds Re-open 1955 Emmett Till Murder
The investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a case that was instrumental in building momentum for the civil rights movement, has been re-opened in light of new information, The Associated Press reports. A book released last year — The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson — brought renewed attention to the case, in which a 14-year-old African-American was beaten and shot for reportedly whistling at a white woman. The book quotes Carolyn Donham as saying during a 2008 interview that she wasn't truthful when she testified that the teen grabbed her, whistled and made sexual advances at a Mississippi store in 1955. Tyson has since told reporters that he was contacted by the FBI weeks after his book was published in January 2017, and he furnished them interview recordings and other research materials.

Bar Foundation

TBF Names New Fellows Class
The Tennessee Bar Foundation (TBF) recently named its latest class of fellows. These attorneys have distinguished themselves in the profession and their contributions to the foundation are used to support selected, law-related public interest projects. See a full list of this year’s class at www.tba.org/node/101153.

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