While extremely unpopular, Tennessee County Mayors, (and many City Mayors), have the power, under Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 58-2-110, to order masks be worn in public settings during a time of pandemic emergency. Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee has declared the COVID-19 pandemic an emergency under Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 58-2-107. For citizens, this means that criminal citations and arrests are possible for violating any ordinance requiring masks be worn in public. Nashville has recently began strictly enforcing their version of this policy. For public institutes such as natural gas utilities, these same emergency mandates bar the utility from disconnecting a person’s home utilities for non-payment of fees due during the time of emergency. See e.g., In Re: Emergency Petition of the Consumer Advocate Unit of the Financial Division of the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General, 2020 WL 4207282 (Tenn. Pub. Serv. Comm. 7/20/2020).

Attorneys still have the ability to contact inmates via Skype, Zoom, Face-time, or other video chats during the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, shut-ins at nursing homes can be contacted by attorneys because the legal profession is deemed an “essential service” by state and federal governments. Most of these contacts are actually easier for the attorney than a face-to-face visit because the attorney does not have to leave their office. The attorney instead merely sets up a video visit time with the nursing home, jail or prison and then uses a laptop computer or cell phone for the visit, telling the nursing home, jail or prison how long the visit is expected to take. For the inmates, these visits are confidential, so the attorney/client privilege is not violated. For shut-ins, it depends on the circumstances of the shut-in’s health or understanding. Recently, I’ve had incarcerated clients ask that I check on family members they have not spoken to recently because of COVID-19. I simply call the loved one, then send a note to the client on how the loved one is doing. Most attorneys will offer a similar courtesy, if asked. If you need an attorney, and your case is on appeal anywhere in Tennessee, or your civil or criminal case is in the Montgomery County, Tennessee area, call attorney Gregory D. Smith at 931/647-1299.

The COVID-19 pandemic may temporarily delay a lawsuit, but it does not stop a lawsuit. While courts may be closed for all but extraordinary or emergency circumstances, cases can still be filed, discovery continues, and mediation occurs. Be sure to check with your attorney because time deadlines may be running. Legal representation is one of the listed “essential services” that continue, even though most businesses are closed, so your attorney should be available, either in person, via Skype, or by phone. On April 22, 2020, I have the honor speaking to approximately 800 judges from across the U.S. (and in several other countries) about the judge’s ethical duty to move cases along during a pandemic as part of a National Judicial College country-wide podcast. If you wish to talk with an attorney about your case in the Montgomery County, Tennessee area, and you have not already retained a lawyer, call attorney Gregory D. Smith at 931/647-1299. #covid19 #lawyer #lawyers

Presenting an appeal is different from presenting a trial because an appellate record is a “closed record.” This means the appellate record is similar to a photograph. The trial is real-time and moving. The appellate record is a snapshot of a moment of that flowing concept of real-time. At trial, a party can present live evidence, explain their intent, and answer follow-up questions. On appeal, just like a photograph, time stops and time does not change an answer given. No new evidence is offered. Nobody gets to explain their answer after the trial ends. One must look to the photograph taken, (the appellate record), to determine the contents of the photograph or “record.” While one may wish to add or subtract from the photograph; the photograph (record) is already taken, developed, printed, and remains as taken. Appellate records usually include trial transcripts, pleadings and arguments of counsel. One must show, just reviewing what is in the appellate record, that the trial court committed reversible error.

To show “reversible error,” one must show a mistake was made at trial, and that mistake adversely impacted on the outcome of the case. Error, without impact, is called “harmless error” and will not get a decision overturned. The Appellant, (the person appealing), must show both error and adverse impact for appellate relief. This task is very different from the tactics used by lawyers at trial. One needs an experienced appellate attorney for this function. Greg Smith has presented hundreds of appeals over thirty years. If you wish to discuss your appeal, and you have a Tennessee, federal or military appeals case, you may call The Law Office of Gregory D. Smith at 931/647-1299. Initial consultations are free.

The first, and most important point, before one changes legal counsel, is to carefully consider if that move is actually in your best interest? Is the change being done out of anger, panic, or logic? No attorney can promise an outcome in court. The attorney you currently have knows your case, has been paid, and previously earned your trust. Can your concern be eased by simply sitting down with the attorney and discussing your concern? That may be worth a try before paying another attorney a second retainer to take over your case or proceeding “pro se.” (Latin for “on your own”). Likewise, an appeal is usually considered a separate case, so once a case is completed, you may seek other counsel for an appeal.

If you find that an attorney change is necessary, there are two ways to do it. First, you can personally tell your attorney “You’re Fired.” That option is self-explanatory. Second, you can hire another attorney, and then the newly retained attorney contacts the previous attorney for a “substitution of counsel.” These two procedures are fairly common and won’t be as stressful or offensive to the original attorney as one might expect. Changing counsel does not automatically waive any outstanding attorney fee owed to the original attorney or obligate new counsel to negotiate a return of fee from the original counsel. Most of the time, the new attorney stays out of that discussion.

In the case of appointed counsel, simply hiring an attorney usually ends an appointed attorney’s duty to represent a client. If an indigent criminal court defendant wants to fire their appointed counsel, but can’t afford to hire counsel, the defendant can instruct appointed counsel to file a motion to withdraw or send the court clerk a pro se motion or letter asking for a different attorney and stating why the change in counsel is necessary. The Court is not required to give new counsel for indigents simply because a defendant does not like the appointed attorney. Indigents do not get to pick who a Court appoints as the defendant’s attorney. That being said, courts frequently grant a first request for a different appointed attorney filed by an indigent defendant. Repeated requests for new appointed counsel are less frequently granted.

If you are in Tennessee and have questions about rules regarding changing attorneys, call the Law Office of Gregory D. Smith, 931/647-1299 or visit www.gsmithlawfirm.com. Mr. Smith is listed in Mid-South Super Lawyers and is A-V rated by Martindale-Hubbell. You can read a featured article about Mr. Smith in the November, 2019 ABA Journal,(the national magazine of the American Bar Association), at http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/tennessee-attorney-greg-smith .