Tag Archives: lawyers

Judge barred from hearing lawyer wife’s cases

Montgomery County General Sessions Judge Ray Grimes has been ordered to stop hearing any cases brought before him by his wife, Clarksville attorney Sharon Massey, reports the Leaf-Chronicle.

A cease-and-desist order from the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct was filed Monday with the clerk of the courts in Nashville, in which Grimes agreed that “He shall not participate in any proceeding in which his spouse is acting as a lawyer and shall disqualify himself from any such proceeding.”

Grimes signed off on the order dated Dec. 29.

An accompanying letter to Grimes, dated Jan. 4, explained that it is “a letter of public reprimand pursuant to your agreement with the investigative panel of the board.”

It states that the reprimand relates to the fact Grimes “disposed of numerous cases which came before you as a General Sessions judge of Montgomery County, Tennessee, in which criminal and juvenile defendants in the cases were represented by your spouse, who is an attorney practicing in Montgomery County, Tennessee.”

On July 12, The Leaf-Chronicle published a report that Massey, who had applied to fill a new Circuit Court judgeship, had brought at least 85 cases before Grimes since 2008.

…Massey responded: “Never in the 16 years we’ve been married, have I ever tried a case in front of him. He has never made a decision on one of my cases.”

Both she and the judge claimed that all of the cases were settlements or plea bargains that were reached outside of court, and Massey brought them to her husband to sign off on, a formality of the process.

Supremes change lawyer licensing rules

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Supreme Court has approved changes to the way attorneys are licensed to practice in Tennessee.

The changes announced Monday include allowing military spouses who are licensed in another state to temporarily practice in Tennessee. Chief Justice Sharon Lee says that the change will promote more women to practice in the state because about 95 percent of military spouses are female.

The other updates include:

— Out-of-state attorneys working as in-house counsel in Tennessee will able to practice in the state as long as they register with the Board of Law Examiners.

— Lawyers with foreign degrees will need to obtain a master of laws degree from a program sanctioned by the American Bar Association.

— Drug tests can now be required as part of the character investigation.

Note: The court’s press release is HERE.

Expensive lawyers line up in TN vs. MS lawsuit

Both the state of Tennessee and the city of Memphis have retained expensive private law firms to fight a $615 million lawsuit filed by the state of Mississippi over underground water rights, reports the Commercial Appeal. Mississippi has a famous law firm that won’t be paid anything – unless it wins.

The 22 percent rate increase that will add an average of $3.31 a month to the water bills of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division customers beginning in January was needed in part to pay for rising legal costs associated with the lawsuit filed against MLGW, the city of Memphis and state of Tennessee, officials say.

…The mounting legal expenses reflect the high-stakes nature of the water lawsuit, in which Mississippi claims MLGW, the city and Tennessee have “forcibly” taken its water through excessive pumping from an aquifer underlying both states. The Supreme Court in June granted Mississippi’s request to file the suit, and since then it has appointed a Special Master, Eugene Siler Jr., a former judge on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, to oversee the case.

The utility and city have hired Memphis’ largest law firm, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, to defend against the suit. “It’s a serious case. It’s dangerous, and we’re certainly going to treat it that way,” said David Bearman, one of the attorneys handling the case for the firm.

…The state has retained lawyers with the Washington firm of Kellogg Huber, described by the website Above the Law as an “uber-elite, D.C.-based litigation boutique” whose ranks include 17 former Supreme Court clerks, six former assistant U.S. attorneys and several others who served in high-ranking White House and Justice Department positions. The firm specializes in complex trial and appellate cases and typically represents Fortune 100 companies, large banks, hedge funds, high-tech firms and states and government entities.

…But while MLGW ratepayers and Tennessee taxpayers ante up large sums for defense, Mississippi taxpayers won’t be paying anything for their state to bring the suit. The plaintiffs are led by renowned Lexington, Mississippi, lawyer Don Barrett, who has won landmark settlements against tobacco companies, automobile makers, pharmaceutical firms, tire companies, insurance firms and others.

“We’re doing this (water lawsuit) on a contingency. We lose, we won’t be paid anything. We win, we might get paid a lot,” Barrett said Friday.

“The state of Mississippi preferred to do it this way, and so did we. … We’re seasoned, experienced lawyers, and we’re going to win this case.”

Barrett said his firm has invested more than $1 million in preparing the water lawsuit. In previous cases, he represented the attorneys general of about a dozen states in litigation that forced Big Tobacco firms to repay those states for millions of dollars they’d spent in cigarette-related health costs.

Gay marriage lawyers bill state for $2.3M

The attorneys who defeated Tennessee’s ban on gay marriage say the state owes them more than $2.3 million for their time on the case, reports The Tennessean.

Court filings show the 19 attorneys who worked on the case clocked 5,974 hours. Given their average hourly rate of $390 per hour, they say their fees and costs exceed $2.3 million. They also want repayment of $65,555 of expenses.

The state would be on the hook for those costs if a judge orders the fees to be repaid.
Lawyers in the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, which defended the state’s definition of marriage as one man and one woman, have until Dec. 9 to respond in court to the request for fee repayment.

Harlow Sumerford, a spokesman for the attorney general, said Tuesday the requested amount is much higher than in other states involved in the case, and only one of the four states – Michigan – incurred the additional costs of a trial.

“While our office is unable to comment on much of the pending litigation, I will point out that the dollar amount being requested is significantly greater than in the other Sixth Circuit states involved in the same-sex marriage case,” he said. “For instance, the state of Michigan paid $1.9 million in attorney fees. The state of Ohio paid $1.3 million in attorney fees and the state of Kentucky is being asked to pay $1.2 million in attorney fees.”

The state and the attorneys challenging the gay marriage ban could settle out of court for a final dollar amount, or federal Judge Aleta Trauger will decide how much money the state must pay.

Federal law allows for attorneys who win certain types of cases, including those involving civil rights, to recoup a reasonable amount of their fees. Requests for fees are routinely made after cases are decided.

“We worked for two years on this case and we were successful,” said Abby Rubenfeld, a Nashville attorney who led the case. “All the attorneys for the state of Tennessee got paid while they worked on it, so we should be paid, too.”

Three appeals court judges among 9 seeking TN Supreme Court seat

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Three state appeals judges appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam are among the nine applicants to fill a vacancy on the bench of Tennessee’s highest court.

The opening created by the retirement of Justice Gary Wade in September provided Haslam the opportunity to give the five-member court a Republican majority after decades of Democratic control.

The appeals judges applying for the vacancy are Thomas “Skip” Frierson II of Morristown, Robert Montgomery Jr. of Kingsport and Roger Page of Medina. The governor’s two appointments to the Supreme Court so far — Jeff Bivins and Holly Kirby — previously served as state appeals judges.

Haslam appointed Page to the western section of the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2011; Frierson to the eastern section of the Court of Appeals in 2013; and Montgomery to the eastern section of the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014.

The other applicants are tax and corporate attorney Matthew Cavitch of Eads; commercial and employment law attorney Mark Fulks of Johnson City; Department of General Services compliance officer Ted Hayden of Gallatin; employment and civil rights attorney Robert David Meyers of Memphis; criminal defense attorney Herbert Moncier of Knoxville; and Juvenile Court chief counsel and administrative officer Larry Scroggs of Germantown.
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Opinion: Lawyers can ethically keep confidences in a cloud

Tennessee lawyers can store confidential documents and information in the cloud, according to an opinion issued this month by the Board of Professional Responsibility’s Ethics Committee.

Further, from the Tennessean:

The opinion says attorneys can put information on the third-party, remote digital storage systems as long as they take “reasonable care” to make sure that information stays confidential and is protected from being hacked.

That language is essential as growing numbers of people and industries rely on cloud storage, said Daniel Gervais, a Vanderbilt University Law School professor with a specialty in intellectual property law.

He said the opinion does not bind lawyers to follow certain protective measures, but allows for them to change protections as weaknesses in the cloud are discovered.

“As lawyers learn more about the cloud, as we find out more ways it’s unsafe, the ‘reasonable efforts’ standard changes with it,” he said.

Cloud hacking is a real concern: In 2014 nude images of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton spread across the Internet. Apple fixed bugs in its iCloud software after the hack, according to media reports

…”A lawyer owes the same ethical duties, obligations and protections to clients with respect to information for which they employ cloud computing as they otherwise owe clients … with respect to information in whatever form,” the opinion reads.

Former Memphis city attorney disbarred

Elbert Jefferson Jr., who served as city attorney for Memphis until 2009, was disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court Monday for allegedly diverting a client’s money to his own use.

The Board of Professional Responsibility’s press release and the accompanying state Supreme Court order disbarring Jefferson are HERE.

He is also ordered to pay $1,190, the board’s cost in going through the proceedings against him.

Criminal defense lawyers question credibility of Haslam task force on sentencing reform

Note: The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has written a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam and members of a task force he established to review the state’s criminal sentencing laws. The news release follows, with a link to the full letter.)

News release from the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
The United States has the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world, and it is harming our society. Across the United States, there is increasing bipartisan support for being smart on crime in order to have a justice system that is fair and cost efficient. This includes decreasing the rate of incarceration by offering additional alternatives to prison, lowering sentences for non-violent offenses, and increasing opportunities for treatment and rehabilitation in order to decrease recidivism.

In Tennessee, when first formed, it was stated the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism was seeking input from hundreds of stakeholders throughout the state. The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL) is not aware of any solicitation by the Task Force of input from TACDL, correctional officer organizations, prisoner advocacy organizations, or former prisoners whose experiences in correctional facilities might aid the Task Force in formulating recommendations. This deficiency impairs the credibility and the efficacy of any recommendations by the Task Force. Absent critical input from those with expertise in the criminal justice system, any recommendations run the risk of increasing the length of sentences, incarceration rates, prison costs, and recidivism.

TACDL has today sent a letter to the Chair and Members of the Governor’s Task Force which will have its final meeting in Nashville on August 6, 2015. The letter notes that the cost of incarceration in Tennessee is now staggering. It costs Tennesseans nearly a billion dollars a year to keep people incarcerated in state prisons and local jails. The number of imprisoned people in the Tennessee Department of Correction on June 30, 2014 included 21,246 offenders, and over 8,000 people are locked up in local jails all over the state. We now incarcerate more people in Tennessee than does the entire continent of Australia with four times the population.

TACDL applauds the revision of sentencing laws, but the process should be accomplished in consultation with all appropriate stakeholders. Only in that fashion can we achieve a result which is fair, effective, cost efficient, and supported by the public.

The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL) is a non-profit statewide organization with nearly 1000 members, including private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, and law professors. Founded in 1973, TACDL is the state’s leading organization advancing the mission of criminal defense lawyers to protect the individual rights guaranteed by the United States and Tennessee Constitutions in criminal cases. TACDL is committed to advocating fair and effective criminal justice in the courts and the legislature. TACDL is an affiliate of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

Note: Full text of the letter is HERE. It is written by David L. Raybin, a Nashville lawyer, and runs 16 pages – including a historical review of Tennessee prisons and sentencing laws.

Justice Wade accepts position as dean of LMU law school

News release from Lincoln Memorial University
Knoxville, Tennessee, July 28, 2015- Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gray R. Wade has accepted an offer to become Dean and Vice President of the Lincoln Memorial University-John J. Duncan, Jr. School of Law (LMU-DSOL).

“I have known Gary Wade for a lot of years, so I know that he has a passion for ensuring access to justice in rural and underserved areas. It has been a cause he has championed throughout his career,” LMU Chairman Autry O.V. “Pete” DeBusk said. “There is certainly a synergy between that cause and LMU’s mission to serve Appalachia. We founded the Duncan School of Law to train lawyers in the region to serve their communities and I look forward to the good that will come with Justice Wade’s leadership.”

LMU President B. James Dawson introduced Wade as Dean to LMU-DSOL faculty on Monday at the Southeastern Association of Law Schools Conference in Boca Raton, Florida.
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Lawyer billed client for watching reality TV crime shows

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the decision by a hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility to suspend Anderson County lawyer Yarboro Sallee’s law license for one year. The Court held that the sanction was appropriate in light of the multiple ethical violations Ms. Sallee committed.

In 2010, Ms. Sallee was hired to file a wrongful death action arising out of the death of the clients’ daughter. They agreed to pay her an hourly rate, and she estimated to them that the litigation would cost no more than $100,000. Less than three months later, Ms. Sallee claimed that she had incurred hourly fees totaling over $140,000. For this, she had accomplished little more than filing the wrongful death complaint, filing related pleadings in probate and juvenile court, and gathering obvious records. When Ms. Sallee insisted that the clients agree to pay her contingency fees as well as the hourly fees, they discharged her.

After the clients discharged Ms. Sallee, she refused to return to them items key to the wrongful death litigation, such as brain tissue slides from their daughter’s autopsy. When the former clients sued Ms. Sallee to force her to return the withheld items, Ms. Sallee threatened to file criminal charges against them. Finally, the former clients filed a complaint against Ms. Sallee with Tennessee’s Board of Professional Responsibility.

The Board investigated Ms. Sallee, who insisted that her conduct had been reasonable and ethical. She gave the Board documentation of her hourly charges, which claimed that Ms. Sallee had worked as many as 23 hours of billable time in a single day and included fees for things such as watching many hours of reality crime television shows.
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