Tag Archives: lawyers

Durham facing another investigation

Former state Rep. Jeremy Durham is being investigated by the board charged with disciplining attorneys, according to The Tennessean.

A source with information of the investigation confirmed the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility is looking into possible “trust account violations,” or the possibility Durham misused money given to him by clients.

Durham is also being investigated by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which authorized issuing subpoenas for Durham’s tax returns. Tom Lawless, chairman of the registry’s board, referenced a possible additional investigation during a recent board meeting.

However, Lawless said his organization, which investigates campaign finance issues, had no current plans to explore questions of how Durham used his attorney trust accounts as that typically falls under the purview of the Board of Professional Responsibility.

Durham’s attorney, Peter Strianse, did not respond to a request for comment.

Sandy Garrett, chief disciplinary counsel for the Board of Professional Responsibility, did not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation. She said the board does not make investigations public until formal discipline or disciplinary charges have been filed.

The specific nature of the Board of Professional Responsibility’s investigation is unclear, but it appears to relate to Durham’s use of his attorney trust account. A University of Memphis law school graduate, Durham operated a title company until he abruptly shuttered it in August.

AG sues paralegal selling fake court order

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee state judge has ordered a Knoxville paralegal to turn over his files and even the contents of his Facebook profile after the state attorney general accused him of ripping off legal customers.

The Tennessee Attorney General’s office has filed a lawsuit against paralegal Jonathan Trotter, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/29E18U8 ). The lawsuit alleges Trotter began advertising his legal services on Facebook after he completed a 17-week paralegal certificate program at the University of Tennessee in 2013.

Assistant Tennessee Attorney General Nate Casey says one woman paid Trotter $800 to help gain custody of her grandson. Trotter gave the woman a court order signed by a judge granting her custody. Casey said the order was a fake and Trotter had forged a judge’s signature.

The attorney general filed the lawsuit under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. No criminal charges have been filed, but the allegations have been referred to the Knox County district attorney general.

Trotter has not responded to the lawsuit.

Certified paralegals can perform some legal services, such as preparing court documents. But they cannot practice law, including setting fees, representing clients in and out of court and giving legal advice.

“(Trotter) was not supervised by an attorney and did not have an attorney review the legal documents he prepared for consumers,” the lawsuit stated. “As a result, (Trotter) has provided consumers with erroneous, deficient and ineffective legal advice and documents, and consumers have suffered substantial injury due to (his) unlawful conduct.”

In issuing the order, Knox County Circuit Court Judge Bill Ailor wrote “an injunction is necessary to protect consumers and legitimate business enterprises from defendant’s unfair and deceptive business model.”

Increased funding for legal representation of poor deemed DOA

The chairman of a state task force created in the wake of a failed effort to convince legislators to shell out more money for attorneys protecting the legal rights of the poor has already labeled as “dead on arrival” any future bid for funding, reports the News Sentinel.

“I mention this only to help you understand that there is no chance — no chance — that the General Assembly will agree to appropriate more money to fund the current system,” retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch wrote in a letter obtained by the News Sentinel. “Thus, any proposal to increase the current appropriation for the purpose of increasing the hourly rate paid to private attorneys appointed to represent indigent criminal defendants is and will continue to be dead on arrival.”

The letter prompted its recipient, attorney Christopher Seaton, on Friday to call a “listening tour” by the state Indigent Representation Task Force “a sham.”

Koch, now dean of the Nashville School of Law, readily admitted his assessment in an interview after a Friday stop of the task force at the University of Tennessee College of Law, but he countered the task force is no sham.

“The Legislature is not going to pay money for the same old thing,” Koch said. “We haven’t, in the last 30 years, looked at (the process of providing legal services for the poor) holistically.”

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee agreed.

“I think we are looking at the overall system,” Lee said. “I personally think the rates should be increased but … that’s a Band-Aid. We need to look at the overall system. How can we more efficiently and effectively provide this service?”

Tennessee’s pay for private attorneys to represent poor people accused of crimes — $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $50 in-court with caps ranging from $500 to $5,000 — is the lowest in the nation except Wisconsin. That state doesn’t impose caps, though. Even expert witnesses garner more hourly pay than do court-appointed lawyers. The rates haven’t been raised in more than two decades.

The Tennessee Bar Association has pushed in recent years for a boost, but the Legislature has spurned it while, at the same time, creating new criminal laws and increasing penalties for current laws. As speaker after speaker at Friday’s packed meeting and Koch himself noted, most legislators view poverty-stricken defendants as criminals, so boosting pay rates for their attorneys is a tough, if not impossible, sale.

Supreme ‘task force’ tours to hear about poor legal representation

A “task force” set up by the Tennessee Supreme Court — visits to Knoxville and Johnson City this week after stops in West Tennessee last week — as part of a “listening tour” to hear complaints from lawyers and others about the state’s system for providing legal representation to the poor.

The Indigent Representation Task Force, chaired by former state Supreme Court Justice William Koch, now dean of the Nashville School of Law, is widely seen as a prelude to the court asking the Legislature in 2017 for an increase in funding for the system. The group was established in October after the 2015 legislative session spurned an attempt — led by the Tennessee Bar Association — to increase fees paid attorneys appointed to represent the indigent in criminal cases.

The current rates, unchanged since 1994, provide for lawyers being paid $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $50 an hour for in-court work. There’s also a cap on the total amount that can be paid in a case, which varies depending on the type of crime involved but generally set at $1,000 in most felony cases. The ceiling ranges from $500 in some categories, including those involving juvenile defendants, to $5,000 when the defendant is charged with first-degree murder.
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State to pay gay marriage lawyers $2M in fees

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has awarded more than $2 million to attorneys who helped gay couples in Tennessee win a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows same-sex marriage.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that the results the lawyers got in the case were “superb and far-reaching” and that they should be entitled to costs and fees. The $2.03 million awarded in legal fees and expenses was 15 percent less than what the attorneys wanted.

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office had argued that the plaintiffs’ attorneys only deserved $1.1 million because of duplicated work, vague time-keeping and charging for attending news conferences. A Slatery spokesman said he had no comment.

In Michigan, lawyers representing same-sex couples were paid $1.9 million, while the attorneys in Ohio received $1.3 million, and in Kentucky they got $1.1 million.

The Tennessee lawyers who worked for the same-sex couples noted in court filings that they had already given the state a $1 million discount by not charging for more than 400 additional hours of work.

The attorneys worked for three couples who legally married in other states. They sued to challenge Tennessee laws that had banned recognition of their marriages.

Note: Previous post HERE.

State hires lawyer, Tom Ingram to help with UT lawsuit

With Gov. Bill Haslam’s approval, the state has hired a private lawyer and veteran political operative Tom Ingram to help the University of Tennessee deal with a lawsuit over alleged mishandling of sexual violence cases, reports the News Sentinel.

The attorney was hired more than seven months before the lawsuit was filed and about two weeks before UT President Joe DiPietro was notified of Title IX complaints sent to the U.S. Department of Education.

Bill Ramsey, a lawyer with the Nashville-based firm Neal & Harwell, was hired as “additional counsel to provide legal services” to the state and university, according to a letter from Gov. Bill Haslam to Ramsey dated June 18.

“They (the university) understood this lawsuit would be coming,” Ramsey said.

He said one reason to hire outside counsel is because UT lawyers are often involved in student discipline cases, so those lawyers might be witnesses for the lawsuit, which alleges discipline cases have been mishandled.

Since Ramsey’s June hiring, the state has paid more than $100,000 to Neal & Harwell. And this month, Ramsey hired Tom Ingram, who was a paid consultant for Haslam until last July and is the founder of Nashville-based public relations and lobbying firm the Ingram Group.

Ramsey will meet with the UT Board of Trustees during a closed session next Thursday before the board’s regularly scheduled meeting the same day at UT-Martin.

…Although Ramsey was hired months before the federal lawsuit was filed in Nashville, his hiring was just weeks before DiPietro was notified on June 29 and again on July 1 that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights would be investigating complaints about the Knoxville campus.

Ramsey said Thursday that his hiring was not related to those complaints and responses to the OCR were handled by UT legal counsel.

Those complaints to the OCR were filed on May 15 and May 18 and allege that UT failed to respond “promptly and adequately” to cases of sexual violence, creating a “hostile environment” for complainants.

…The federal lawsuit against the university alleges that UT violates Title IX laws and has a “hostile sexual environment.” The complaint was filed Feb. 9 in Nashville and amended on Feb. 24 for eight unidentified female plaintiffs. Seven of the women have cases involving student athletes.

AG wants to cut gay marriage lawyer fees in half

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery says 19 lawyers seeking $2.3 million for their work in overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage only deserve $1.1 million.

Further from The Tennessean:

In a court document unsealed March 7, Slatery says lawyers in other states involved in the historic civil rights case asked to recoup much less money. He says the lawyers in Tennessee’s case — who are from around the country — are trying to take advantage of taxpayers by asking for excessive and unreasonable fees.

“It seeks to compensate the work of a legal team that ballooned to 19 attorneys, billing a total of nearly 6,000 hours,” the state’s filing reads. It says the lawyers’ documentation of time spent working on the case is vague, and alleges they duplicated work and charged for things they should not have — such as attending press conferences.

Slatery says several of the attorneys, including Abby Rubenfeld and a team from law firm Sherrard & Roe in Nashville, were unnecessary to the case after Washington, D.C., law firm Ropes & Gray got involved to prepare to argue at the U.S. Supreme Court.

…In November, lawyers who worked on behalf of the same-sex couples filed a motion asking a judge for $2.3 million for their work. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger will determine the amount of fees the lawyers should receive.

Detailed breakdowns of their hours worked on the case were sealed, meaning they were not available for public review.

Slatery’s response was also filed under seal, alongside a motion to make the hours-worked details public record. The lawyers for the couples responded by saying, essentially, we’ll unseal if you will too, and now all the documents are public.

The lawyers who worked for the same-sex couples note in court filings they’re already giving the state a $1 million discount by not charging for more than 400 additional hours of work. They say though lawyers in other states were paid less, each received nearly all of or more than they asked for.

TN Supreme Court ups penalty for lawyer in sex scandal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court says a lawyer who was embroiled in a sex-scandal with a drug-addicted client deserves more punishment than a board’s recommended 30-day suspension of his law license.

The state’s highest court on Thursday said Knoxville attorney Robert Vogel should have his law license suspended for a year.

Vogel said he wasn’t aware of the court’s decision but was shocked after hearing about it. He said he admitted to having a consensual sexual relationship with a client and had done everything disciplinary authorities had asked him to do.

The court, however, found that Vogel failed to safeguard the trust of a vulnerable client, and he pressured the woman and exploited his role as an attorney while she faced serious federal criminal charges.

Note: News release below
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Shelby DA fights censure petition

By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said Friday she is fighting an attempt by a state board to censure her in connection with a murder case she handled as a prosecutor.

The Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee filed a petition for discipline on Monday against Weirich. The petition says Weirich should be disciplined for actions during the February 2009 trial of Noura Jackson, who was accused of fatally stabbing her mother more than 50 times in June 2005.

The petition says Weirich improperly commented on Jackson’s right to remain silent and refrain from testifying. During closing arguments, Weirich said: “Just tell us where you were! That’s all we are asking, Noura!”

Weirich was walking across the courtroom toward Jackson and addressing the jury when she made the statements, the petition said. Weirich also “gesticulated by raising both arms to point and gesture” at Jackson, the petition said.

“It is a well-settled principle that a prosecutor may not comment upon a defendant’s exercise of the Fifth Amendment right not to testify,” the petition states.
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Bill seeks secrecy for doctor fees in lawsuits

The state’s doctors’ lobby wants to make expert witness fees in court cases secret and the lawyers’ lobby is against that idea, reports The Tennessean.

The bill (HB1446)+ is sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, and would make confidential the fees paid to all expert witnesses.

Pody said he believed government should be completely transparent, but citizens have a different expectation of privacy.

“Physicians are having to spend time, energy and resources to preserve a standard degree of privacy that other citizens and professionals enjoy,” said Dave Chaney, a spokesman for the Tennessee Medical Association, which helped draft the bill.

Chaney said it is not relevant in a trial how much an expert makes. One doctor who has been negatively affected declined via the TMA to be interviewed, saying to do so would draw more negative attention.

Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, said lawyers on both sides of a case can ask for an expert or doctor’s compensation to create question about that person’s opinion. A larger payment could create concern of someone’s bias, he said.

Ramsaur said the TBA opposes the bill because rules that deal with court procedure should be handled by an existing rulemaking commission, not the legislature. The Advisory Commission on the Rules of Practice and Procedure was created by statute and its members are appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.