Tag Archives: lawyers

Legality of official’s private email questioned, likened to Hillary’s case

Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager uses a private email server for all his county business, and only he has access to it, a situation Chancellor Mike Moyers, himself a former county law director, likens to the scandal over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to carry out State Department business.

Further from the News Sentinel:

Moyers made the comparison at a hearing late last month in Knox County Chancery Court in legal action Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank filed against Yeager. The litigation addresses several issues, but Yeager’s admitted use of a Yahoo server and a domain name he bought for county law department business was particularly troubling to Moyers.

Moyers is handling the case after judges in Anderson County recused themselves.

“These issues are clearly not only very relevant to Anderson County, but to every county in the state,” Moyers said. “And this case may make some serious ripples in the way counties function across the state.”

Why Yeager set up an email system over which he has sole control and whether he legally can do so is the current subject of debate between Frank’s attorney, Greg Brown, and Yeager’s attorney, Wade Davies.

…Moyers has set an Aug. 3 hearing to determine whether Frank has the right to pursue legal action over the email brouhaha and whether Yeager has the right to use the private email account for county business.

Criminal defense lawyers accuse Nashville judge of bias

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group of defense attorneys has called for a Nashville domestic violence judge to be investigated because of an email the group says shows the judge is not impartial.

The Tennessean reports that the leadership of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sent a formal complaint letter to the Board of Judicial Conduct, asking the board to sanction General Sessions Judge Allegra Walker.

The defense attorneys say Walker sent prosecutors a June 5 email that said her “primary focus should be victim safety.”

Defense attorneys say the email demonstrates that Walker is not presuming innocence when considering the cases.

If an investigation finds misconduct, Walker could face public or private reprimand or be removed from the bench.

Walker did not return the newspaper’s request for comment Wednesday.

Supremes choose business court advisors

News release from the Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. ¬– A newly established advisory commission of eight leading attorneys from across Tennessee and an appellate court judge will provide input for processes and procedures for the state’s Business Court Pilot Project.

Members of the Commission are:
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Karen Garrett, Doug Himes will be legislature’s top lawyers

Two veteran legislative attorneys will serve jointly as directors of the General Assembly’s Office of Legal Services with the retirement of Joe Barnes from that position, according to an email sent to lawmakers today by Connie Ridley, chief of the Office of Legislative Administration.

Karen Garrett and Doug Himes, who have both been on the legal services staff under Barnes since 1998, were appointed by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, according to the email.

They are, in effect, co-directors. Himes will focus on matters involving the House; Garrett on matters involving the Senate. They’ll collaborate on matters of joint interest.

Here’s the email:

Good afternoon Members,

Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell are pleased to announce that Karen Garrett and Doug Himes have accepted the position of Director for the Office of Legal Services. Joe Barnes who has been a long standing Attorney for the office and Director has notified the Speakers of his intent to retire in the near future. Karen and Doug have served as Attorneys in the office since 1998 before accepting this new role today. They will continue to serve as counsel to the Lieutenant Governor and the House Speaker.

Please welcome Karen and Doug in their new assignment!

Connie Ridley
Office of Legislative Administration

UPDATE/NOTE: A news release came after this posting. Here it is:
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TN Supremes: 30-day license suspension too lenient for sex-addicted lawyer

The Tennessee Supreme Court has rejected as too lenient a 30-day suspension of the law license of a Knoxville attorney caught by federal authorities in a sex scandal, reports the News Sentinel.

Records recently made public from the U.S. District Court in Knoxville and the state Board of Professional Responsibility reveal the events leading up to the high court’s rejection of attorney Robert Vogel’s punishment for an admitted sexual relationship with an indigent addict — an ethical lapse that Vogel blamed on sex addiction.

Those records reveal Vogel continued to practice law in Knoxville and several East Tennessee counties, handling various high-profile cases, even while the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General carried out a secret probe of his actions. He was also being targeted by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility. That probe, too, was kept under wraps until recently.

The result in both probes kept Vogel’s law license intact, albeit temporarily suspended, and netted him no ban on practicing in U.S. District Court, although he can no longer serve as a court-appointed attorney for the poor. In a rare move, the state’s high court is stepping in to hold its own hearing on what Vogel’s fate should be.

Vogel admitted the details at a BPR hearing in December — and again when confronted this week.

“I made an error, and I’m being held accountable,” Vogel said Tuesday. “It was a mistake. I’ve done everything I could to address it.”

…Vogel was appointed in 2012 to represent the onetime girlfriend of the head of a $6.5 million West Knoxville pill distribution network. He began “begging” her for sex, and she complied, telling investigators she felt Vogel “held her future in his hands” because she faced serious federal prison time and was still using pills while freed on pretrial release in the case.

The woman, described as “half” Vogel’s age in the hearing panel decision, tried to end the sexual relationship, offering to send a friend “who would be more willing to engage in sexual relations with Mr. Vogel.” Vogel did, in fact, have sex with the friend but was caught by his wife and children when they walked in on the pair at his office.

Supremes back away from requiring lawyers to report ‘pro bono’ work

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court said that it is adding a way that lawyers can voluntarily donate to access to justice programs to help people who don’t have enough money for an attorney. The state’s highest court also adopted changes this week that would not require lawyers to report all of their pro bono hours.

Pro bono refers to work that lawyers do for free or at a substantially reduced fee. The court had considered a change that would require all lawyers to report their pro bono work and be sanctioned if they didn’t, but it declined to mandate the reporting. Nevertheless, the court said it continues to encourage lawyers to report their charity legal work because it raises public awareness of how some Tennessee lawyers are helping those in need.

Note: The Administrative Office of the Courts news release on this is below:
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Senator contends death row defense lawyers wrongfully suing the state

Sen. Ken Yager contends the state agency that defends death row inmates has stepped outside legal boundaries by using taxpayer dollars to seek more information on the people and drugs used in executions while challenging a law that sets up electrocution as an alternative to lethal injection.

Yager, R-Harriman, was Senate sponsor of a bill enacted last year that calls for execution by electrocution if courts invalidate the state’s current lethal injection process. In a specially arranged appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, the senator charged that the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender is “acting outside the scope of its duties.”

Yager, who chairs the Senate State and Local Government Committee, initially raised the issue in a letter to committee.

His in-person presentation came as the panel was reviewing the OPCD’s proposed $2.29 million budget for the coming year, which is included in Gov. Bill Haslam’s spending plan. The office is established under state law to represent death row inmates in their appeals, but Yager said state law does not allow the office to launch civil court lawsuits and that it has done so in the pending case of West v. Schofield, which is scheduled for a hearing before the state Supreme Court on May 6.

The lawsuit was filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, where the judge ruled that state officials must turn over to defense lawyers — under a protective order, not to be made public — the names of individuals involved in executions and the names of companies manufacturing the drugs that are used. With the case now headed to the Supreme Court following a Court of Appeals decision upholding the lower court ruling, Yager said a challenge to the electrocution law has been added by amendment.

“I really am disturbed that this office would use its resources in civil lawsuits to sue Tennessee,” Yager told the committee. “They are using taxpayer dollars to sue to the state.”
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Bar association wants to keep divorce filings secret for up to 10 days

The Tennessee Bar Association will push legislation making divorce filings secret for up to ten days, according to The Tennessean.

At issue: When someone files for divorce, the case becomes a public record. That sometimes happens before the responding husband or wife has been notified and served with a protective order, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur said.

Attorneys fear the timing of notification could create a risk of retribution, and through the TBA, will ask legislators to consider a law in the coming session to initially make filings secret.

“Respondents find out that their spouse has filed for divorce before safety plans can be put in place or before restraining orders can be served,” TBA President Jonathan Steen said in a statement. “We think a targeted solution to this problem is that information about the filing of divorce should be delayed until the respondent is served.”

Ramsaur said the association of legal professionals, which includes more than 13,000 members, will propose a law exempting divorce filings from public record “until served or 10 days, whichever occurs first.”

More than 29,700 divorces were filed in the fiscal year spanning 2012 and 2013, the most recent year for which data was available, according to the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts. Law requires a protective order when each case is filed, and if there is a threat of harm, people can also seek a more stringent restraining order, Ramsaur said.

In some areas, such as Memphis, Ramsaur said, there are newspapers that publish new filings the next day, making the risk of early notification a greater concern. He was not aware of any that do so in Nashville, but said gossip could also allow someone to find out about a filing before being served.

No pay raise in 20 years for appointed TN defense lawyers

Court-appointed defense attorneys in Tennessee haven’t gotten a pay raise in 20 years and some earn less than half as much per hour to try a murder case than an expert witnesses hired to testify, reports the Commercial Appeal.

While flat compensation rates have long been a point of contention for local defense attorneys, the Tennessee Bar Association recently reissued its call for a change to the state’s fee rates — which remain among the lowest in the nation.

“This affects the most vulnerable people in the community, the people without resources who have a hard time getting their cases investigated and adjudicated fairly,” said attorney Josh Spickler of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. “It’s not that a lawyer is going to starve to death. It’s a person who, the vast majority of the time, is incarcerated and dependent on the system to provide a lawyer who has the time, ability and experience to represent her.”

The public defender’s office represents most of the county’s indigent defendants — about 35,000 cases per year — but when there is a conflict, judges are forced to appoint a private defense attorney for indigent clients.

Such conflicts most often arise when more than one person is charged with the same crime. They can’t both be represented by the same attorney or office because of the likelihood that one person’s defense will be to blame the other, and vice-versa.

But new research from the Tennessee Bar Association shows that many experienced attorneys won’t take court-appointed cases anymore because the fees are too low and the paperwork required to obtain payment is so burdensome that some never end up getting paid at all.

“We’re pushing good people away from wanting to represent (indigent defendants),” Spickler said.

…In a noncapital case, Tennessee pays $40 per hour for work outside of court and $50 per hour in court. The national average, according the state bar association hovers at about $65 per hour, with several states paying over $100.

By comparison, a doctor hired to testify by the defense attorney can be paid up to $250 per hour.

The hourly attorney rates are capped at $2,500 for first-degree murder and $1,500 for all other felonies.

On Dwight Tarwater, the governor’s new legal counsel

Dwight Tarwater, the Knoxville lawyer named to succeed Attorney General Herbert Slatery as Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel, has been a neighbor to Haslam and has known Slatery since they studied together in law school, reports Georgiana Vines.

His wife, Mary Flowers Tarwater, died two years ago in December. He moved into a condo in West Knox County during the summer. None of their three children live at home although two are close by.

So after Herbert Slatery, who formerly was Haslam’s general counsel and now is the state attorney general, contacted him about the job, he had to do some soul searching, Tarwater said. He and Slatery were study mates at the University of Tennessee law school and initially worked in private practice together.

Tarwater met with his children, some of their friends and his minister, Doug Banister of All Souls Church, about the job. His daughter, Katherine Tarwater Freeman, said he ought to follow the advice he always gave her and his two sons: “Go climb the next mountain.”

So Tarwater’s going to Nashville where he’ll work with the legislature; help select judges when vacancies occur; be involved in litigation as it affects government; and counsel and advise the governor.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. He’s met with the governor’s senior staff and Cabinet, and said that “I really liked them. It seems to be a good fit.”

He’ll be leaving behind his practice in which he has represented product manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and commercial interests. He’s a board member of the East Tennessee Foundation, a position he said he probably will have to give up.