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Press Releases

State AG: Hearing on HRC Medical Centers Postponed

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, October 18, 2012: 

A hearing regarding a temporary restraining order against HRC Medical Centers, Inc. (HRC) that had been scheduled for Friday, Oct. 19, has been continued until November 15 and 16.

The temporary restraining order that the Davidson county Circuit Court placed on HRC on Oct. 10 to temporarily halt certain claims and contractual practices related to its “bio-identical” hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) known as Amor Vie remains in effect.

The Davidson County Circuit Court order came after the Attorney General’s Office filed suit on Monday against HRC for allegedly making unsubstantiated health claims and failing to advise consumers of possible risks and side effects associated with HRC’s BHRT Amor Vie.

To date, the Attorney General’s Office has received a significant volume of calls. Attorney General Bob Cooper urged anyone who might be concerned about possible adverse effects that may be associated with BHRT to contact the Attorney General’s Office at 615-741-1671 to report any problems. The Attorney General’s Office cannot provide any health or medical information to individuals, but consumers should report them regardless. In addition, the Attorney General’s Office encourages anyone who may be concerned about using BHRT to visit their own private physician.

Named in the lawsuit are Don Hale, owner and officer of HRC, Dan Hale, former owner and officer of HRC as well as an osteopathic doctor at HRC, and HRC Management Midwest, LLC, which owns an HRC clinic in Memphis. The firm also has a clinic in Knoxville.

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Featured Liberty and Justice News

Governor to Appoint New Judges to Special Supreme Court Hearing Challenge to TN Plan

Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday he plans to appoint replacements to a special court assigned to rule on the constitutionality of the state’s judicial selection method after three former members recused themselves for fear of appearing biased.

The governor contends the three original appointees could have stayed on the bench despite challenges to their objectivity because they are entitled to their personal opinion about whether judges should be elected, the central issue of the lawsuit at hand.

“Judges have opinions on things all the time, and I honestly think each one of them could have still rendered a very impartial and fair decision,” Haslam told reporters before a ribbon cutting at Saks Fulfillment Center in La Vergne.

Meanwhile, Haslam’s adversary in the lawsuit is looking to knock off another one of the governor’s original appointees to the Special Supreme Court due to what he sees could be a potential conflict of interest.

John Jay Hooker, a longtime critic of the state’s merit-based system for selecting judges, filed the lawsuit against the governor and other high-ranking officials. He says the governor unconstitutionally appointed a judge to the Court of Criminal Appeals because the judge was not popularly elected.

He told TNReport he expects to file a motion challenging Special Court Justice Andrée Sophia Blumstein’s impartiality. He said her role on the editorial board for the Tennessee Bar Journal, a publication of the Tennessee Bar Association, poses a conflict because the association is in favor of the current practice for selecting judges, called the Tennessee Plan.

“I think the time has come for it to be obvious this is fixed, and it’s a battle between right and wrong,” Hooker told TNReport.

Blumstein declined to comment Friday.

The Tennessee Plan, which is now used to select appellate and high court judges, requires the governor to appoint judges, who then face yes-no retention elections every eight years.

Many, including Hooker, believe the Tennessee Constitution requires that judges at all levels be popularly elected, even though the Legislature and the Supreme Court have chosen not to follow that interpretation.

The Constitution declares, “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.” It also states, “The judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned.”

Three of Haslam’s five appointees to the Special Supreme Court recused themselves from ruling on the case last week, saying their ties to Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts could taint the integrity of the court as it rules on the case.

TFIC is a vocal opponent of popularly electing judges, a practice the group fears would insert too much politics into a job that should be free of political strings.

Two of the original appointees, Judges William Muecke Barker and George H. Brown, are listed as members of the TFIC board of directors. A third, Robert L. Echols, works for a firm with close ties to the organization.

Haslam built the Special Supreme Court after justices of the state’s highest court recused themselves from hearing the case, saying their impartiality could reasonably questioned because they, too, are sitting judges.

The case is now at a standstill. Hooker has until late September to challenge the appellate court’s ruling that found Tennessee’s yes-no retention election practice constitutional. That move would send the case to the Special Supreme Court.

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Featured Liberty and Justice

Senate: No Judicial Diversion for Public Servants

Legislators say they want to make sure their own kind get more than a slap on the wrist if they’re caught breaking the law and abusing the public trust.

The legislation comes almost a year after Richard Baumgartner, a former criminal court judge in Knoxville, pleaded guilty to official misconduct for illegally using prescription painkillers he acquired from drug offenders who’d appeared in his court. Baumgartner was granted diversion, which allowed him to avoid serving jail time.

“I think that people who hold public office ought to be held to a higher standard,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, who is sponsoring the bill.

Yager told TNReport the Baumgartner scandal “was certainly one of several” involving East Tennessee public officials that prompted him to sponsor the legislation — although he declined to get specific.

“That’s not to say that 99 percent of the state and local officials in this state aren’t hardworking, conscientious and honest, but it’s that less than one percent who commit malfeasance in their office give everybody else a bad name,” Yager said.

The measure would add to the list of crimes not eligible for diversion “any offense committed by any elected or appointed person in the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the state or any political division of the state, which offense was committed in the person’s official capacity or involved the duties of the person’s office.”

Even though nobody voted against the bill, not everybody was for it. Three senators abstained from voting on SB2566: Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, and Joe Haynes, D-Nashville.

“If you’re going to take off diversion for that crime, we need to consider a lot of other crimes,” Haynes told reporters after speaking out against the bill on the Senate floor. “Not that people who do that shouldn’t be punished. Sure they should. But diversion shouldn’t be removed for that crime any more than it should be removed… for embezzlers or any other serious crime.”

Baumgartner pleaded guilty to one felony count of official misconduct and was granted two years of parole instead of a prison sentence for the conviction. Defense lawyers in numerous cases over which Baumgartner presided either have or are considering asking for retrials because Judge Baumgartner was likely impaired on the bench during court proceedings.

If he avoids further brushes with the law, Baumgartner’s record will be wiped clean after two years due to the current diversion law.

In Tennessee, diversion is applicable in certain cases involving a first-time offender. The second chance is granted in cases where the defendant has never been granted pretrial or judicial diversion, has not been convicted for a felony, or a Class A or B misdemeanor. Diversion is available if the crime at hand is not a Class A or B felony, DUI,  misdemeanor sex offense or conspiracy, attempt, or solicitation of certain sex offenses.

The companion House measure, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, has yet to move in a House Judiciary subcommittee this year, but is scheduled for a hearing Thursday.

Mark Engler contributed to this report.

Categories
Liberty and Justice

Judicial Ethics Panel Makeup Debated

Judges and lawmakers agree the state’s system for policing judges is flawed, but there’s so far little agreement as to how much sway judges themselves should have over that watchdog role.

Lawmakers are considering two major bills this year to recreate a panel responsible for disciplining judges who cross ethical lines. The major difference between the two proposals is just how many judges can sit on the new panel — and both sides are so far unwilling to budge.

“The appearance of judges appointing judges to hear complaints on judges doesn’t give them much credibility,” said Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, a top critic of the current panel, the Court of the Judiciary.

Judges pitched their own reforms to a legislative committee in SB2671 Wednesday, suggesting the lawmakers replace the current ethics panel with a “Board of Judicial Conduct” that would shift responsibility for discarding complaints to board members rather than staff. The new board would also produce quarterly public reports instead of the current yearly statistics, establish a legislative liaison, and operate with a lower threshold for pursuing an investigation.

“Certainly there have been issues, and I think we’re trying to address those issues,” said Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins, who is leading the charge for the Tennessee Judicial Conference’s ad hoc committee on Court of the Judiciary legislation. “We have some new membership. I think some of us are looking harder at cases and taking a little tougher line.”

The biggest problem Beavers has with the judicial branch’s proposal is the new board would retain too many judges, 10, plus six laypeople.

Beavers would prefer her own bill, which would dump the current board and build it anew, shrinking the board down to 12 people, with four as sitting judges. Her measure is on the Senate floor and is up for debate Feb. 9.

“I think you’d actually find that every single judge in the state of Tennessee, from the part-time municipal judge all the way up through every member of the Supreme Court, are actually united totally against that particular bill,” said Bivins, who also sits on the COJ.

The Senate Government Operations Committee advanced the judges’ measure with a “positive” recommendation on a 5-1-3 vote with little discussion. It now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will likely face opposition from Beavers.

Beavers said she would also like the ethics panel to inform the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairpeople when the board has received multiple complaints about the same judge.