BREDESEN BACKS U of M LAW SCHOOL MOVE

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“This project is going forward,” said Governor Phil Bredesen to tumultuous applause Thursday night. The subject was a proposal for state funding to begin the process of transplanting the law school of the University of Memphis to a downtown location, upgrading it in the process.

The audience which heard this happy news, at a fundraising event for Bredesen at the East Memphis residence of city councilman Jack Sammons, included many representatives of the University of Memphis, who hatched the relocation project earlier this year in an effort to shore up the school’s long-term accreditation.

The American Bar Association had put the university on notice that its present law school facilities on Central Avenue were considered inadequate.

The move, into the landmark Post Office building on Front St., which would be extensively renovated for the purpose, would ultimately cost some $41 million, said Law School dean Jim Smoot, one of several university officials to have lobbied the governor on the point.

“I think this is what you call a full-court press,” said the governor about the university group’s efforts.

Bredesen kept a smiling and relaxed demeanor despite the presence across the street of demonstrators protesting his paring of the TennCare rolls, a move he defended again Thursday night as necessary for budgetary reasons.

“Inviting me is one way to get demonstrators to show up at the end of your driveway,” joked the governor, who said he had spoken with several of the protesters and urged the attendees at the fundraiser to do so. “These are good people,” he said.

The governor’s appearance in Memphis came at the end of a day in which the members of his recently appointed Citizens Advisory Panel on Ethics held the last of several statewide meetings at the university’s Fogelman Center.

Focus on Lobbyists

Presided over by former state Attorney General Mike Cody and former state Senator Ben Atchley of Knoxville, the meeting was attended by several local legislators, including state Senators Steve Cohen of Memphis and Roy Herron of Dresden, and state Representatives Paul Stanley and Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Dolores Grisham of Covington.

Cohen called for ratcheting up the current "cup-of-coffee" law to the end of eliminating all lobbyist-funded favors for members of the General Assembly -- a point that was seconded by Stanley and Kelsey.

Asked how much legislation was currently initiated by lobbyists rather than members of the Assembly, Cohen answered bluntly, "Almost all of it."

Grisham, who said she and two other relatively short-term Republican legislators shared the services of a single staffer, called the absence of adequate staffing for legislators "unacceptable." It meant, she said,that increasingly legislators are forced to use lobbyists as sources of advice on legislation. "The good ones will give you both sides," she said.

At one point, panelist Lyle Reid, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, probed into the basic function of lobbyists. Among those called upon to answer was current lobbyist and former legislator Rufus Jones of Memphis, who provided one of the afternoon's best laugh lines.

"The first thing you've got to do is get a client," Jones said. "You can go up there and lobby all day long, but if you don't have a client, you're in trouble!"

The panel will shortly report its findings and recommendations to Governor Bredesen.

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