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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.

U.S. District Judge Sandy Mattice has notified President Trump that he intends to step down from the federal court effective March 10, 2020. Mattice has served in the Eastern District of Tennessee for more than 20 years, first as the U. S. attorney and later as district judge, the Hamilton County Herald reports. He was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2005. Before entering federal service, Mattice was a shareholder with Baker Donelson and a partner at Miller & Martin in Chattanooga. He also served as a senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs during a special investigation.

Fred Wortman, the former Collierville lawyer convicted in 2015 of trying on three occasions to kill his wife, has been denied parole and will not be eligible for a rehearing for seven years, the Daily Memphian reports. Wortman, who is serving his time at the Morgan County Correctional Complex in Wartburg, became eligible for parole after serving four years of his 30-year sentence with good behavior and work credits. He was convicted of trying to kill his wife by poisoning her toothpaste and then trying to a hire a hit man on two occasions.

A man who filed an ethics complaint against Smyrna Town Court Clerk Brittany Stevens now says her $150,000 defamation lawsuit against him should be dismissed. “I filed the Ethics Complaint in good faith expecting it to be reviewed and handled confidentially by the Ethics Commission,” Tony Sees says in a deposition. Even though the complaint was supposed to be confidential, the document ended up being shared through email and social media. The ethics complaint alleged that Stevens simultaneously is serving as town court clerk and a practicing lawyer. Stevens asserts that she stopped practicing law in 2016 when she was appointed to the clerk position, the Daily News Journal reports.

Nashville’s Una Elementary School is accusing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency of trying to access student records during a recent visit. The schools says it refused the request citing district policy that limits the release of confidential information. A spokesman for ICE tells The Tennessean they are investigating the report, but are doubtful that agents would have tried enforcing immigration policy on school grounds. “We don’t do any immigration enforcement at schools,” the spokesman said.

Tennessee's incarceration rate is on the rise — defying a nationwide trend — but a new task force appointed by Gov. Bill Lee hopes to change that, Nashville Public Radio reports. The Criminal Justice Investment Task Force is first focused on reducing recidivism but eventually will turn to the larger issue: the state's prison population has grown almost 400% since 1978. Overall the number of new felony admissions to jails and prisons is down. But data suggests people are serving longer sentences, often for drug and property crimes, and are less likely to be granted parole.

The acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement yesterday criticized a judge’s ruling barring his agency from relying solely on federal databases when asking local governments to detain an arrested individual. The ruling, issued a few weeks ago, applies to states that cross-check jail rosters with databases that track nationality and immigration status. ICE then requests local governments to hold anyone who is undocumented. The judge determined that the federal databases have been found to have erroneous data, which can lead to falsely accusing people of being in the country illegally, Fox 14 reports

Lipscomb University’s Fred D. Gray Institute for Law, Justice & Society will host a free legal clinic Tuesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The clinic will take place at St. James Missionary Baptist Church, 600 28th Ave. N., Nashville 37209. Parking is available in the church’s lot on 28th Ave. (turn where the church mailbox is located). Park near the black limo and enter the building from the rear. For more information or to volunteer, contact Randy Spivey, 615-966-2503.

Belmont University will host the final 2020 presidential debate on Oct. 22, The Tennessean reported today. The Commission on Presidential Debates selected Belmont from a pool of six finalists. Belmont previously hosted a presidential debate in 2008, when U.S. Sen. John McCain and former President Barack Obama met in a town hall format. The university was selected as an alternate for a presidential debate in 2016. The announcement was celebrated by a bipartisan slate of local officials, including Nashville Mayor John Cooper, Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper.

The Knoxville Bar Association will hold a member appreciation and new lawyers celebration on Oct. 24. The event will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at Schulz Bräu Brewing Company, 126 Bernard Ave. The event is open to all KBA members, family and friends. Reservations are appreciated.

The Southeast Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women (SETLAW) has named U.S. Magistrate Susan Lee as its 2019 Lioness of the Bar, the Hamilton County Herald reports. The award, established in 2014, honors female attorneys for their exemplary legal practice, strong community involvement and dedication to furthering the careers of women lawyers in Chattanooga. During her 34-year legal career, Lee has served in many roles, including attorney at Grant Konvalinka, mediator, arbitrator, magistrate judge and teacher to other judges. She also holds the distinction of being the first female to sit on the federal bench in Chattanooga.

Legal Aid of Middle Tennessee & the Cumberlands will hold its McHugh Legal Help Clinic tomorrow at the Belmont Ministry Center, 2005 12th Ave. S. (the former home of the Bass Street Baptist Church). The clinic will run from 8:30 to 11 a.m.

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk is hosting a meeting next week to discuss the financial impact of soon-to-be installed police body cameras, the Tennessean reports. The Monday afternoon meeting will include city leaders and criminal justice officials and will focus on a consultant’s recommendations on how to support the implementation of body cameras. Funk and Nashville police say their agencies need millions of dollars to manage the body cameras and the footage they will produce. Public Defender Martesha Johnson also wants money to create a new team to review body camera evidence on behalf of low-income criminal defendants.

A story in Friday’s issue of TBA Today included information from the Board of Law Examiners that ranked the state’s law schools on bar passage rates. The ranking included in the story was based on the overall rate, which included first-time and repeat test takers. The percentages based on first time test takers only are: Belmont University, 97.2%; Vanderbilt University, 93%; University of Tennessee, 83.7%; University of Memphis, 81%; Duncan School of Law, 73%; and Nashville School of Law, 69%.

The Memphis Bar Association, along with its Access to Justice Committee and Young Lawyers Division, will hold a legal clinic Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Ben Hooks Public Library, 3030 Poplar Ave., Memphis 38111. Typical issues handled at this clinic include family law, landlord/tenant, expungement, wills/POAs, bankruptcy, debt, employment and consumer claims. For more information, email Anne Fritz or arrive a little before 10 a.m. that morning for a brief training session.

Shelby County lawyer Don Anthony Handley was censured today based on two complaints. The court found that in the first complaint, Handley failed to timely file suit for a personal injury client. In the second complaint, the court found that he delayed transferring settlement funds from a trust account to a medical provider claiming a subrogation interest. In both complaints, Handley also failed to maintain good communication with his clients. His actions were determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.15 and 1.16(d).

Franklin County lawyer Russell Lee Leonard was censured today for violating Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2 and 8.4(d). The court found that after representing three clients in a dispute against a real estate agent they claimed was working without a license, Leonard filed a complaint with the Tennessee Real Estate Commission about the realtor. However, he filed the complaint in the names of his clients, not his own, and without their knowledge. He also included a cover letter stating the clients asked him to file the complaint, which they had not. After being fined by the commission, the realtor sued Leonard and his clients, alleging they violated a settlement agreement previously signed. The court agreed and directed the four to reimburse the realtor the cost of his fine and attorney’s fees.

Memphis doctor George Flinn filed paperwork Wednesday to enter the Republican U.S. Senate primary, the Nashville Post reports. Flinn has run several campaigns in recent years. Most recently he lost a 2018 primary challenge to U.S. Rep. David Kustoff. Flinn made his fortune from a radiology practice and ownership of broadcast stations. He joins Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi and former Ambassador Bill Hagerty in the race to replace retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander.

The Shelby County Criminal Court will consider a petition for post-conviction DNA testing in the capital case of Sedley Alley at a hearing Oct. 14, the Daily Memphian reports. Alley was convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Marine Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins. He was executed by the state in 2006. DNA evidence from the crime scene was never tested. The petition was filed in May by Alley’s daughter April. She is being represented by Knoxville lawyer Stephen Ross Johnson; Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project; and Vanessa Potkin, director of post-conviction litigation at the Innocence Project. The project will hold a press conference outside the courtroom following the proceedings. Read more in a press release from the group.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee is inviting the legal community to attend the investiture of Clifton L. Corker as a new district judge. The ceremony will take place Nov. 1 at 1:30 p.m. at the James H. Quillen U.S. Courthouse at 220 West Depot St. in Greeneville. A reception will follow the ceremony. RSVP here. President Trump announced Corker’s nomination last fall. The U.S. Senate approved his nomination in July. Corker previously served as a U.S. magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

District Attorney Dave Clark has been elected president of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, My Courier News reports. Clark serves in the 7th Judicial District, which covers Anderson County. In addition, 30th Judicial District prosecutor Amy Weirich has been elected vice president. She serves Shelby County. Finally, District Attorney Robert J. Carter has been elected to serve secretary, the Elk Valley Times reports. A prosecutor in the 17th Judicial District, he serves Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall and Moore counties. The group will hold its annual conference Oct. 22-25 in Murfreesboro.

The 2019 Court Square series is coming to Chattanooga on Oct. 25. This three-hour program is designed to provide attorneys with the latest developments in multiple areas of the law. Topics for this location will include updates on construction law, bankruptcy law and legal ethics from the Board of Professional Responsibility. The program will take place from 12:30 to 3:45 p.m. at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel.

Legal Aid of East Tennessee will hold a new client intake session on Friday at the McMinn County Courthouse, 2nd Floor, 6 East Madison Ave. in Athens. Those facing legal issues associated with foreclosure; food stamps and other benefits; unemployment; or consumer, family and health issues are invited to attend and see if they qualify for assistance. The session will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information call 423-756-4013.

A number of lawyers have been reinstated after having been suspended for not completing required CLE hours in 2019 (15 lawyers), 2018 (7 lawyers), 2017 (three lawyers), 2016 (three lawyers), 2011 (one lawyer), 2009 (one lawyer), 2008 (one lawyer), 2007 (two lawyers) and 2006 (one lawyer). See all administrative suspensions and reinstatements on the TBA website.

The copyright owners of the "Charlie Brown Christmas" theme song sued Dollywood yesterday for copyright violations, claiming the park has illegally used the song in live Christmas shows for more than a decade. According to Los Angeles-based Lee Mendelson Film Productions, no one from Dollywood secured permission to perform the song, even after warnings from the firm’s attorneys last year. The lawsuit seeks damages of at least $150,000 for each performance of the song plus attorneys’ fees. Knoxnews reports that the show, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” has been running since 2007. Dollywood denied using the song in last year’s performance according to court records.

Tthe U.S. Supreme Court yesterday heard oral arguments in a trio of civil-rights cases involving LGBT employees. The question is whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace, also protects gay and transgender employees. The debate included a discussion of whether the court should rule in the case or call on Congress to clarify the statute, National Public Radio reports. Justice Neil Gorsuch also asked if the court should consider “the massive social upheaval” that could follow a ruling in favor of the workers. Attorneys for employers sued in the cases said Congress meant the protections to apply only on the basis of biological gender to protect women in the workplace. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, however, argued that the court has interpreted the law more broadly in the past, sometimes applying its provisions to cases Congress could not have imagined at the time it was passed.