Speakers offer perspectives on drug law enforcement, reform

Knoxville, Tenn., Jan. 31 — A range of experts gathered Friday at Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law to offer their perspectives on whether the criminal justice system needs to change course in its high-profile war on drugs. The discussion was part of the LMU Law Review’s annual symposium, titled “Criminal Justice Reform: Rethinking the War on Drugs.”

E. Shayne Sexton, a criminal court judge in Tennessee’s 8th District, admitted during the symposium that dealing with East Tennessee’s prescription drug epidemic came with quite a learning curve.

Sexton, who serves Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties, said that it was around 2000 or 2001 that he first heard of OxyContin. Until then, substance-related cases had been mostly related to alcohol and marijuana. “I had no idea of its power,” he said of the drug.

And it quickly forced him to shift his thinking about the addicts who started turning up repeatedly in his court, often after a 28-day treatment program failed to break their habit. “I started realizing the problem is not them. It’s me. I had no idea about addiction.”

Sexton’s answer to the area’s burgeoning heroin and opioid problem was a drug court that helped funnel nonviolent addicts into more intensive treatment programs. “We’re much more in tune now” in combating the issue, he said. “We’re using problem-solving instead of corrections … We’ve seen enough failures in the correction side. You can’t correct the addiction out of someone.”

Dr. Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that examines racial disparities in the nation’s criminal justice system, said there has been a marked difference between how drug epidemics such as crack-cocaine have been approached compared with the heroin and prescription drugs plaguing East Tennessee and other areas.

The latter has received a public health approach instead of a punitive one, “likely because offenders are mostly white,” she said. In contrast, “the response (to crack addiction) is to demonize and punish.”

Keeda Haynes, a Nashville public defender who spent nearly five years in federal prison after becoming ensnared in a drug conspiracy case, offered the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the nation’s harsh drug sentencing laws.

“Your name isn’t even your name anymore. You’re nothing but a number,” she said of her time in prison. The majority of women in prison with her were also there for nonviolent drug offenses, she said.

As a public defender, she says she struggles every day with whether her clients are being punished too harshly, especially when many struggle to keep their homes, jobs and livelihoods after one misstep. “‘Is this justice?’ It’s a question I ask myself every day,” she said.

Other speakers were attorney and ethics expert Cynthia Brown, who gave an economic overview of the war on drugs; Dr. Christy Cowan, who discussed the physiological effect of drugs and drug treatment on the brain; and Campbell University Law Professor Zac Bolitho, who discussed the constitutionality of states’ non-enforcement of federal marijuana laws.

The symposium was named in honor of Sandra C. Ruffin, a founding member of the faculty at LMU Law. Ruffin passed away in 2013, shortly after helping organize the LMU Law Review’s inaugural symposium in spring 2012.

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LMU Law named ‘Best School for Bar Preparation’ by National Jurist

Knoxville, Tenn., Jan. 13 — Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law topped The National Jurist’s list of best law schools for bar preparation, recently published in the magazine’s Winter 2017 issue. To compile the list, The National Jurist compared bar pass rates to incoming LSAT scores and found that some law schools’ graduates perform far better than their scores would predict.

“I credit our top-notch faculty and staff and our sound curriculum, including our robust academic success and bar preparation program, which provides guidance and support for all students,” LMU Law Dean Gary R. Wade said. “At LMU Law, we emphasize the importance of training our students to be effective lawyers. And when a law school does a good job preparing students to pass the bar exam, it’s doing a good job preparing them for the practice of law.”

The National Jurist looked at pass rates on a school-by-school basis and compared the actual pass rates for 2014 and 2013, the most recent data available, with the predicted pass rates to find the difference between the two. Studies show that LSAT scores correlate strongly with Multi State Bar Examination (MBE) performance, which accounts for half of the grade on most bar exams.

LMU Law’s average difference of 15.72 led all schools, followed by Campbell Law (12.49), University of South Dakota (10.92), Florida A&M University (10.09) and Widener Law Commonwealth (10.05). LMU, which received provisional approval from the American Bar Association in December 2014, was founded with a mission to provide legal education opportunities for the people of underserved regions and prepare lawyers for careers in law that enable them to address the underserved legal needs of Appalachia and beyond.

“I often describe our mission as ‘coaching up’ every one of our students,” Wade said. “In 2014, no one in the country did that better than our law school faculty and staff. I have no doubt that LMU’s ranking will be first in that category again in 2016.”

This is a trend LMU Law anticipates will continue. On the July 2016 administration of the bar exam, LMU Law had a first-time pass rate of 87.5 percent, which beat the state average of 73.23 percent for first-time bar takers. Three out of the four re-examinees from LMU Law, or 75 percent, also passed the July 2016 examination. LMU Law’s first-time pass rate, re-exam pass rate, and overall pass rate of 85 percent were each the second-highest among all Tennessee law schools on the July 2016 administration of the exam. Since the law school graduated its first class in May 2013, 93 percent of graduates who have taken a bar exam have passed it.

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LMU Law to host symposium on drug law reform

Knoxville, Tenn., Jan. 10 — Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law and the LMU Law Review will host a symposium, “Criminal Justice Reform: Rethinking the War on Drugs,” on Friday, Jan. 27, at LMU Law in downtown Knoxville.

The symposium will feature a host of experts to discuss the impact of the war on drugs. Topics to be covered include economic impact, the disproportionate impact on minority communities, federal drug sentencing reform, criminal justice reform in East Tennessee and the challenges of dealing with substance abuse in the penal system. The symposium will also consider the constitutional implications of other states’ reforms, and conflicts with the Controlled Substance Act.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Defender Keeda Haynes will bring a unique outlook to the symposium. Haynes, a veteran criminal defense attorney, was convicted of aiding and abetting a conspiracy in 2002. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws resulted in a seven-year sentence in federal prison. After several appeals, Haynes ended up serving four years and 10 months before her release. She went on to earn an advanced degree in criminology and a law degree from the Nashville School of Law. Haynes is committed to community education and engagement and is a highly sought speaker on criminal justice reform, recidivism and collateral consequences. Other speakers will include Dr. Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst for the Sentencing Project; Professor Zac Bolitho of Campbell School of Law; Dr. Christy Cowan, a consultant with SocialMind Consulting; Judge Shayne Sexton of Tennessee’s Eighth Judicial District; and Cynthia A. Brown, attorney and adjunct professor at Eastern Kentucky University.

Each speaker will discuss a topic of special interest and the symposium will conclude with a panel discussion and question and answer period.

The program, which will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., can provide four CLE credit hours. Admission for attorneys seeking CLE credit is $25 and includes breakfast and lunch. For more information or to register, contact April Hurley at 865.545.5339 or email April.Hurley@lmunet.edu.

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Wade’s portrait to grace state Supreme Court

Knoxville, Tenn., Dec. 21 — Dean Gary Wade of Lincoln Memorial University’s John J. Duncan School of
Law was honored for his 28 years of service to the state appellate courts on Monday, Dec. 19, with the unveiling of a judicial portrait that will hang in the Knoxville courtroom of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Presiding over the program were William M. Barker, retired chief justice of Tennessee Supreme Court; D. Michael Swiney, chief judge of the Tennessee Court of Appeals; and Thomas T. Woodall, presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Each gave welcoming remarks and offered reflections on Wade’s judicial career. Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Norma McGee Ogle gave further remarks and assisted Wade in unveiling the Sergi Chernikov portrait.

“It has been a special honor for me to serve the people of my community and my state for the last 40 years.  Tennesseans have been well served by the judicial branch of our government, and I am indeed grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many outstanding jurists in the appellate courts,” Wade said. “I have not retired yet, however, and I have truly enjoyed my role as dean of Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law.”

Wade, who retired from the Supreme Court to become LMU Law’s dean, is the only Tennessean to have held the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court and presiding (chief administrative) judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2014, during his term as chief justice, he led a successful retention election of the high court after a partisan challenge by then-Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville. He was appointed to the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1987, where he also served as a presiding judge from 1998 until 2006. Prior to his judiciary appointment, Wade ran a private law practice. He was elected Mayor of Sevierville in 1977, where he served for a decade. He also served as city attorney for Pigeon Forge from 1973 to 1987.

Wade received a bachelor of science in 1970 from the University of Tennessee. He received his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1973.

Throughout his career, Wade has received honors including the Tennessee Bar Association Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award (2014); Appellate Judge of the Year, Southeastern Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates (2004); Judicial Excellence Award, Knoxville Bar Association (2004); East Tennessee Regional Leadership Award (2006); and the United States Department of Interior Citizens Award for Exceptional Service (2007). Wade has served on dozens of community and legal organization boards and commissions and was instrumental in the formation of the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, of which he was a co-founder and past president.

Wade and his wife of 44 years, Sandy, have three children and five grandchildren.

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LMU Law finishes fourth at 28th Annual National Criminal Procedure Tournament

20161112_134050Knoxville, Tenn., Nov. 13 — Emily Persinger and Erin Wallin of Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law Moot Court team won fourth place overall at the 28th Annual National Criminal Procedure Tournament hosted by the University of San Diego School of Law this weekend.

The national moot court competition attracted 36 teams from law schools across the country. Persinger, a third-year law student who will graduate in May 2017, and Wallin, a fourth-year law student who attends part-time and will graduate in May 2017, turned in an impressive performance, advancing to the semifinals and earning Best Petitioner’s Brief recognition. Persinger was also honored as tenth-place oralist in the competition, which featured 72 competitors.

“This competition boasted some of the best appellate advocacy I have ever observed, not just from law students, but from actual lawyers in practice,” Assistant Professor of Law and Moot Court Advisor Brennan Wingerter said. “Especially in the final rounds, the competition was spectacular and hard to judge. Emily and Erin were tremendous ambassadors for LMU Law, showcasing the quality of our curriculum with their performance. We have a lot to be proud of with these students.”

The tournament provided advocates with the opportunity to argue challenging and timely issues related to criminal procedure before experienced and knowledgeable members of the California Bench and Bar at both the trial and appellate levels. The mock case was set before the U.S. Supreme Court and involved an appeal of evidence presented in a child sex trafficking case from lower courts. Teams were given the opportunity to examine and present the case from the perspective of both the government and the criminal defendant.

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Lincoln Memorial University

Accreditation Statement
Lincoln Memorial University - John J. Duncan, Jr. School of Law (LMU-DSOL) is provisionally accredited
by the American Bar Association (ABA).

Information About the ABA’s Accreditation Process

Questions concerning ABA accreditation may be directed to:

          Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
          American Bar Association
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          Chicago, IL 60654
          Phone: 312.988.6738

Additionally, Lincoln Memorial University - Duncan School of Law is approved by the
Tennessee Board of Law Examiners.