Disciplinary Actions

Reinstated

The following attorneys have been reinstated to the practice of law after complying with Supreme Court Rule 21, which requires mandatory continuing legal education:
Matthew Edward Davis, Gilbert, S.C.
Nicole Pyne, Salt Lake City, Utah
Darren E. Ridenour, Knoxville

Censured

A censure declares conduct improper but does not limit the right to practice law.

On Feb. 25, Kentucky lawyer David Randall Steele was censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility for violating several Rules of Professional Conduct while representing two individuals in a personal injury auto accident that occurred in Tennessee. First, the board found that Steele violated Rule 1.8(h), which prohibits a lawyer from entering into a contract with a client to prospectively limit malpractice liability. The contract signed by the clients stated, "Client understands and agrees that Client may be dissatisfied with said outcome or result and that client may be in a worse or poorer legal position at the termination of this representation as a result of the attorney's efforts." Second, the board found that Steele violated Rule 7.6(b), which prohibits a lawyer from accepting referrals from organizations not registered with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility. Steele accepted the case on referral from an accident resolution company that was not registered with the board. Third, the board found that Steele violated Rule 1.7(a) when he paid one total lump sum settlement to the clients although they had separate claims, medical expenses and settlements. Fourth, the board found that Steele violated Rule 1.15(b) when he could not produce proof that he provided the resolution company with funds for subrogation claims. Finally, the board found that Steele did not prepare a settlement disbursement, in violation of Rule 1.5(c).

Suspended

Suspension is effective 10 days after issuance, except where immediate suspension is necessary to protect the public. A suspended lawyer may not accept new clients but may continue representing current clients for 30 days. The lawyer must notify all clients, co-counsel and opposing counsel of the suspension order; return to clients any papers or property to which they are entitled; not use the indicia of lawyer, legal assistant or law clerk; and not maintain a presence where the practice of law is conducted. An attorney suspended for one year or more must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has the moral qualifications, competency and learning required for admission to the practice of law, and that resumption of his practice would not be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the bar or the administration of justice, nor be subversive to the public interest. An attorney suspended for less than one year with conditions may resume practice after complying with those conditions. An attorney suspended for less than one year with no conditions may resume practice without reinstatement.
  
Knoxville attorney Randy Miller was summarily and temporarily suspended from the practice of law on Feb. 24. The Supreme Court found that he failed to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility about a misconduct complaint, which is a violation of Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 4.3. According to the court, the suspension will remain in effect until dissolved or modified.

On Feb. 24, Michael Sneed of Madison was suspended for 18 months for neglecting client files, failing to communicate with clients and failing to keep adequate trust account records. The Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition for discipline against Sneed and a hearing panel considered his case. The panel found that Sneed violated Disciplinary Rules 1-102(A)(B), 2-110(A)(1)(2), 6-101(A)(1)(2)(3), 7-101(A)(1)(2)(3)(4), 7-102(A)(3), and 9-102(A)(B). It recommended, and the Supreme Court imposed, an 18-month suspension. Sneed filed a motion with the court to vacate the order, but on March 23, the court affirmed its prior order in all respects. In addition to the temporary suspension, the court also ordered Sneed to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

On March 9, William Lawrence Embry of Summerland Key, Fla., was suspended from the practice of law in Tennessee for 36 days for failing to pay child support obligations. He also was publicly censured for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Based on three complaints, the Board of Professional Responsibility convened a hearing panel, which found that Embry failed to pay child support obligations, failed to correct the court record in a case in which he was the defendant, and engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Colorado by failing to indicate on his letterhead that he was not licensed in that state. Embry appealed the hearing panel's findings to the Davidson County Chancery Court, which set aside the court record complaint, modified the unauthorized practice of law finding to impose a censure, and gave Embry credit for 36 days already served while on temporary suspension in 2001.

The Tennessee Supreme Court temporarily suspended the law license of Crossville attorney Anthony Turner on March 16. The Board of Professional Responsibility petitioned the court to suspend Turner's license because of his failure to respond to a complaint of ethical misconduct.

On March 25, Elijah Blaine Sprouse was suspended from the practice of law for one year " effective April 4 " after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault in Davidson County Criminal Court and pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges in Ventura County, Calif., for driving under the influence and child endangerment. The court found that Sprouse's action violated Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct and ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding. Sprouse entered a conditional guilty plea and accepted the suspension. He may not resume practice until reinstated by the court.

Disbarred

In Tennessee, disbarment becomes effective 10 days after an order of the court. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, a disbarred lawyer must notify all clients, co-counsel and opposing counsel of the disbarment; must deliver to all clients any papers or property to which they are entitled; may not use the indicia of lawyer, counselor at law, legal assistant, law clerk or similar title; and may not maintain a presence or occupy an office where the practice of law is conducted. A lawyer who has been disbarred after hearing or by consent may not apply for reinstatement for at least five years. When applying, the lawyer must prove by clear and convincing evidence that reinstatement would not be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the bar or the administration of justice, nor be subversive to the public interest.

On March 2, Knoxville lawyer Nathanael Ellis Anderson was disbarred and ordered to pay restitution totaling $70,811.85 to former clients. The action came after the Board of Professional Responsibility received 46 complaints about Anderson from judges, attorneys and clients. Based on the recommendation of the hearing panel convened by the board, the court found that Anderson continued to practice law after being suspended in September 2007; made false statements to courts, opposing counsel and clients regarding his suspension; and accepted fees while suspended, in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Brentwood lawyer William G. Weaver III was disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court on March 9 for mishandling funds. Weaver consented to disbarment, according to the Board of Professional Responsibility, because he could not successfully defend himself on the charges.

Cookeville attorney and former 13th Judicial District Attorney William E. Gibson was disbarred by the state Supreme Court on March 20 for engaging in intentional conduct that cast doubt on his fitness to practice law, was prejudicial to the administration of justice, and caused serious injury to the integrity of the legal process. The court also found that as an elected official, Gibson knowingly abused his position with the intent to obtain a significant benefit for another. On specific charges, the court found that Gibson (1) improperly communicated with a suspect charged with first degree murder, (2) influenced the outcome of a prosecution, (3) misrepresented the strength of the state's case to a victim's family, (4) engaged in a conflict-of-interest regarding the prosecution and post-conviction petitions of two individuals, (5) intentionally deceived the court and the Board of Professional Responsibility about his relationship with two individuals and the handling of their cases, (6) improperly withheld material information, (6) failed to act with reasonable diligence in representing the state, (7) breached confidentiality and (8) engaged in ex parte communications with represented parties and other judges. The court had suspended Gibson's license on Sept. 25, 2006, pending an investigation into allegations of misconduct. Gibson did not appeal the disbarment decision. �