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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.

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released today Formal Opinion 487 that addresses fee splitting arrangements when a lawyer in a separate firm replaces the first counsel rather than works together on a contingency-fee case. The opinion emphasizes that a previous attorney, whose services are terminated without cause, may be entitled to a fee for services performed prior to discharge and that any proposed agreement between the initial attorney and a successor should be fully disclosed and discussed with the client. Read more at the ABA website.

A new law altering the Board of Judicial Conduct was passed by the legislature this year, so the current board will sunset on June 30 and be replaced on July 1. Under the new law, four of the Tennessee Judicial Conferences appoint one or two members each and the Tennessee Supreme Court appoints one member. The new board members are Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Camille R. McMullen, 18th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge Dee David Gay, 11th Judicial District Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton, Stewart County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge G. Andrew Brigham, Municipal Court Judge H. Allen Bray and Benton County General Sessions Judge John Whitworth. In addition to the judicial members, the new board will also include appointees from Gov. Bill Lee, the Speaker of the House and Speaker of the Senate.

A federal judge has ruled that Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division must rehire Mike Goza, the technician who was fired after a public backlash over offensive Facebook statements he made about African Americans and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Commercial Appeal reports. "Some of Goza's statements may have been insensitive, offensive, and even bigoted, but they were protected by the Constitution nonetheless," U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla wrote in the ruling, dated Friday. "MLGW thus violated Goza's First Amendment rights when it demoted and fired him." The judge ruled MLGW must also give Goza $160,000 in back pay and benefits, plus $30,000 in compensatory damages.

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Monday entered an order dissolving the disability status of Williamson County attorney Patrick Michael Kelley, previously entered May 30, 2018. Although the disability status has been removed, the court determined Kelley’s license would remain inactive until the resolution of any disciplinary proceedings pending before the Board of Professional Responsibility and the satisfaction of any outstanding continuing legal education obligations. Kelley is required to pay the costs and expenses of his reinstatement proceedings to the court and to the Board of Professional Responsibility.
The law license of Shelby County lawyer Gilbert Henry Jacobson was transferred to disability inactive status today pursuant to Section 27.3 of Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9. Jacobson cannot practice law while on disability inactive status. He may return to the practice of law after reinstatement by the Tennessee Supreme Court upon showing of clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law.
The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated Knox County lawyer Charles Edward Daniel to the practice of law. Daniel had been suspended by the Supreme Court of Tennessee for three years on June 8, 2018, with one year to be served on active suspension and the remaining two years on probation. Daniel filed a petition for reinstatement to the practice of law, and the board found that the petition was satisfactory.

Thirty-five attorneys from across the state graduated from the Tennessee Bar Association’s Leadership Law (TBALL) program during the association's annual convention in Nashville last week. The group spent the last six months learning about leadership in the legal profession, issues in the courts, policymaking in state government and the importance of community service. Memphis attorney Tannera Gibson was awarded the Larry Dean Wilks Leadership Award during the group's graduation ceremony. Gibson was chosen by fellow class members to receive the honor, which recognizes a class member with exceptional leadership qualities. 

The Tennessee Bar Association unveiled a new look and identity during the 2019 TBA Annual Convention.

“The logo is a small part of a larger technology, website and information systems overhaul at TBA,” outgoing TBA President Jason Pannu said while unveiling the new logo to members at the Lawyers Luncheon. 

The new mark itself is made up of three bars, or columns, that dually nod to courthouse structures, while also showing equal representation of West, Middle and East Tennessee. The secondary mark brings in the tri-stars found on the Tennessee flag to further fortify the mission of Tennessee Bar Association as a statewide organization.

The type is angular and modern, allowing for a feeling of relevance and innovation. The deep orange and navy colors create high-visibility and makes TBA stand out in a lively, current way. The new identity for the TBA was developed by Proof, a Nashville-based firm that specializes in rebranding work. It replaces a teal and gold logo featuring Lady Justice that served the TBA for 24 years. Below are examples of the new TBA brand.TBA rebrand

Day 3 of the TBA Annual Convention featured big names and big news – Sen. Lamar Alexander accepted the TBA President’s Award from outgoing President Jason Pannu, and he used the opportunity to shine the spotlight on fellow award winners and longtime friends, Nashville School of Law Dean Bill Koch and Hal Hardin. Pannu also passed the gavel to new President Sarah Sheppeard, who was able to highlight major changes coming to the TBA. One such change, unveiled today, is a new brand and identity for the TBA, which proceeds the upcoming new TBA website. Check out photos from the day here.
NewsChannel 5 recently completed a months-long investigation into concerns about the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville, as well as CoreCivic, the for-profit prison company that operates the facility. Former inmates describe being under constant lockdown in understaffed facilities, as well as staff ignoring reports of safety concerns. One inmate said he filed multiple reports that he feared an attack from his cellmate – reports that were ignored – and then a few weeks later, he was raped in his cell. CoreCivic responded that the company is working to resolve issues at all four of its Tennessee facilities. 
More details are emerging about the lawsuit filed by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery over Endo Pharmaceuticals, including when a sales rep stepped in to help an over-prescriber who was receiving suspicion from pharmacists, Knoxnews reports. The lawsuit further details that Endo reps pushing Opana painkillers would drop in for sales calls routinely to “pill mills” across Tennessee, and looked the other way amid signs of fraud and drug-dealing.
International law firm Greenberg Traurig is establishing a local presence in Nashville helmed by Julie Mix McPeak, the recently departed commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, the Nashville Post reports. McPeak will join the firm’s insurance regulatory and transactions practice. Nashville becomes the firm’s 41st office worldwide and 31st in the United States.
Demanding a “transparent and thorough investigation,” state Sen. Katrina Robinson wants answers in the shooting death of Brandon Webber, who she says was “gunned down” by federal authorities in the Frayser community this week, the Daily Memphian reports. Webber was fatally shot this week when U.S. Marshals went to his home to serve warrants stemming from an alleged June 3 car-deal shooting in Hernando, Mississippi. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into the shooting.

Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler said his fear of First Amendment lawsuits is keeping him from firing a detective who called for the killing of LGBTQ community members, Knoxnews reports. Instead, Spangler is allowing Grayson Fritts to take a voluntary buyout that the sheriff says was approved before controversy erupted over the detective's remarks during a sermon in which he called for LGBT individuals to be executed.
Brittany Thomas Faith, of Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison, P.C., has been elected as chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Mid-South Chapter and the association’s Executive Committee, the Chattanoogan reports. In addition, the chapter has selected Chattanooga to host its annual conference Oct. 4 and 5. Immigration attorneys from all over the county are expected to attend. 
The Tennessee Valley Authority has agreed to dig up 12 million tons of coal ash stored in unlined pits at its Gallatin Fossil Plant in Middle Tennessee and clean up contamination from it, Knoxnews reports. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a joint news release today that a settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed against TVA over coal ash contamination at the Gallatin plant and nearby waterways. Prompted by two environmental groups, the state sued the TVA in 2015 over pollution from coal ash dumps at the Gallatin Fossil Plant.
Insisting that millions of Facebook users lack standing to sue because they suffered no “real-world harm,” a Facebook lawyer urged the Ninth Circuit yesterday to strike down a $30 billion class action claiming facial data was harvested without user consent, Courthouse News reports. Facebook seeks to overturn U.S. District Judge James Donato’s decisions to grant class certification and deny Facebook’s motion to dismiss. The class action, first filed in 2015 and consolidated with two other cases, claims Facebook created and stored maps of users’ faces for its “Photo Tag Suggest” function without express permission and in violation a 2008 Illinois privacy law.
On Monday, Veterans Court Judge Melissa Blackburn will be joined by Tennessee Veterans Services Commissioner Courtney Rogers to honor the latest group of successful Veterans Court participants as they graduate from the program. The graduates will have a total of six charges expunged from their records and nearly $15,000 in court costs, fines and fees waved. The event will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the Justice A.A. Birch Courthouse in Nashville.

Day 2 of the TBA Annual Convention in Nashville was highlighted by the Bench/Bar program and luncheon, lead by guest speaker Ken Starr and attended by members of the TBA and the Tennessee Judicial Conference. Other key events included the Better Right Now health and wellness CLE, breakfasts hosted by the alums of local law schools, and an evening of dinner and dancing headlined by My So Called Band. Tomorrow is the biggest day of the conference -- outgoing TBA President Jason Pannu will pass the baton to incoming President Sarah Sheppeard during the annual Lawyers Luncheon. Follow updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Lawyers for Metro Nashville Public Schools are arguing that the circulation of videos of unwelcome sexual encounters — taken without the permission or knowledge of the high school girls depicted in them — does not rise to the level of sexual harassment, the Tennessean reports. The arguments were filed during an ongoing, multi-million dollar lawsuit against MNPS by four girls and their parents by attorneys with the Metro Legal Department. The girls say that on separate occasions, in different schools, they were each subject to unwanted sexual encounters that were videoed without their knowledge — a practice kids have nicknamed "exposing."
Gov. Bill Lee says he isn't prepared to call on a Tennessee prosecutor to resign over his comments about Muslims and same-sex couples, but wants to ensure Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott is upholding the law, the Tennessean reports. Northcott, who is currently under investigation by the state Supreme Court's Board of Professional Responsibility, has received national attention in recent weeks following news reports about his beliefs on Islam and homosexuality. "I don't know the details until investigations are done, so it's premature to make comments about that other than to say we need to make sure we follow the laws in this state," Lee said.
Maine has adopted an American Bar Association (ABA) model rule that bars discrimination and harassment by lawyers, the ABA Journal reports. Maine is the second state to adopt Rule 8.4(g) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Vermont was the first. Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court adopted the new rule, which takes effect June 1.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said yesterday that prosecutors will review all pending cases involving a Sheriff's Office detective who delivered a hate-laced sermon at a Knoxville church earlier this month, calling for the execution of LGBTQ people, Knoxnews reports. Allen also said she will assign an assistant district attorney to take complaints about any past cases involving the detective, Grayson Fritts, a 30-year veteran of the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

The 2019 TBA Annual Convention began today in downtown Nashville at the Renaissance Hotel. Today's events included the TBASCUS (TBA Senior Counselors Up to Something) luncheon as well as the annual President's Dinner. Highlights tomorrow include the Better Right Now health and wellness CLE, as well as the annual Bench/Bar program and luncheon, which is hosted in conjunction with the Tennessee Judicial Conference. See the full schedule on the TBA website.

Class action plaintiffs attorney John Spragens has left law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein to set up Spragens Law with his father, David Spragens, the Nashville Post reports. The younger Spragens once worked as a reporter and then as an aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper before practicing with Bass, Berry & Sims and then Lieff Cabraser. David Spragens is a former prosecutor, defense attorney and nonprofit executive who currently operates an estate planning practice. The Spragenses new firm will represent consumers, whistleblowers and victims of abuse, discrimination, medical malpractice, serious injury and wrongful death.