Disciplinary Actions

Court of the Judiciary

Bedford County General Sessions Judge Charles Rich of Shelbyville received a public letter of reprimand from the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary on Oct. 10 for failing to make findings of fact and continuing to act on a case after recusing himself. In the first instance, the court found that Rich failed to make findings of fact in a juvenile case, which delayed the complainant's ability to appeal and resulted in an untimely resolution of issues. The court determined that failure to make findings violated Rule 28(f)(2) of the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Procedure and that delaying an appeal violated Canon 3B(8) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. In the second matter, Rich signed three orders in the case after recusing himself in violation of Canon 3E(1)(a). The court stated that both actions were detrimental to the administration of justice and brought the judiciary into public disrepute.

Benton County General Sessions Judge Ronald E. Darby was placed on interim suspension on Oct. 21 by order of the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary. The action was taken after Darby was indicted by the Benton County Grand Jury on two counts of official misconduct for allegedly forcing probationers to perform labor on his private property.

 

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:
Brian L. Davis, Southaven, Miss.; Sherrie Lynne Durham, Mt. Juliet; Veronica Lynnette Fair-Miller, Memphis; Lisa Hatfield, Knoxville; Arienne Paige Brint Lebow, Houston, Texas; Cynthia Nienaber Henry; and Ramsdale O'DeNeal Jr., Jackson.

The following attorneys have been reinstated to the practice of law after complying with Section 20 of Supreme Court Rule 9, which requires the payment of annual registration fees:
Joseph Edward Beecham, Jackson; Kimberly Pinckard Kernodle, Oak Park, Ill.; James L. Rather, Tustin, Calif.

Nashville lawyer Kathy A. Leslie was reinstated to the practice of law on Oct. 8 after meeting conditions imposed by the court in a June 27, 2006, suspension. Leslie was suspended for 36 months, retroactive to April 6, 2004, for misappropriation of funds from two clients. She returned the funds prior to the disciplinary hearing, but the court ordered that she pay the full amount of the Board of Professional Responsibility's costs for the disciplinary proceeding. On April 28, Leslie filed a petition for reinstatement. At a hearing on Aug. 29, the court determined that (1) she paid the full amount due; (2) she demonstrated she has the moral qualifications, competency and learning in the law required for admission to practice law; and (3) resumption of her practice would not be detrimental to the integrity or standing of the bar or administration of justice, or subversive to the public interest.

Chattanooga lawyer Michael Joseph Mahn was reinstated to the practice of law on Oct. 22, after being temporarily suspended on Sept. 22 for failing to respond to a complaint of misconduct. On Sept. 26, Mahn filed a petition for dissolution. A hearing on Oct. 14 found that the suspension should be dissolved.

Censured

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

Memphis lawyer Thelma J. Copeland was publicly censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court on Sept. 16 for failing to demonstrate an understanding of basic trust accounting principles, which led to improper management of a trust account and an overdraft. The court also placed Copeland on probation for one year, ordered her to engage a practice monitor, required her to enroll in a law practice management class within 60 days, and ordered her to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding. Copeland was found to have violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15 and 8.4(d).

On Sept. 16, Memphis lawyer Charles E. Waldman received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility for consistently failing to comply with pro hac vice rules of the Arkansas Supreme Court, which led to him being held in contempt of court. The board found that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 3.4, 5.5 and 8.4, and Disciplinary Rules 1-102, 3-101 and 7-106. He was also ordered to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding. Waldman submitted a conditional guilty plea and accepted the censure.

John Cris Helton of Chattanooga was publicly censured on Sept. 22 for failing to (1) properly administer an estate and (2) respond to court orders pertaining to administration of the estate. The Board of Professional Responsibility found that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 1.15, 3.2 and 8.4 (a) and (d), and ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

On Oct. 1, Steven Lee Williams of Knoxville was publicly censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility for continuing to practice law while administratively suspended for nine months. On July 11, 2007, Williams self-reported to the board that he had been practicing law while suspended. He submitted a conditional guilty plea and accepted the censure.

Jackson lawyer Blair A. Presson received a public censure on Oct. 6 after being found to have engaged in conduct that reflects adversely on a lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice. Presson was charged with a Class A misdemeanor and given pre-trial diversion. He successfully completed the terms of the pre-trial diversion and his criminal record was expunged. The Board of Professional Responsibility determined that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4 (a), (b) and (d) and ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding. Presson submitted a conditional guilty plea and accepted the censure.

On Oct. 10, Dayton lawyer John Arnold Fitzgerald received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility for violating Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6, 1.7 and 1.9. The board found that Fitzgerald had prepared a civil complaint against a former client in a matter substantially related to a case in which he previously had represented that client.

Francis X. Santore Jr. of Greeneville was publicly censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility on Oct. 13 for leaving what could have been construed as a threatening message on the voice mail of a defendant who had evaded service of process for several months. Santore filed suit against Cheryl Grizzle for an automobile collision that resulted in the death of his client. Grizzle evaded service of process for several months, after which Santore contacted her to advise her to accept service and contact the attorney for the uninsured motorist insurance carrier or face arrest. The board determined that the voice mail Santore left for Grizzle was angry and expletive-ridden, and could have been construed as threatening physical harm. The board found that Santore's conduct violated Rules of Professional Conduct 4.4(b) and 8.4(b) and (e). It did consider several factors in mitigation including the absence of a dishonest or selfish motive, full and free disclosure to the board, a cooperative attitude and a sense of remorse.

On Oct. 22, Terry Allen Scott of Memphis was publicly censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility for neglecting a client's divorce case. Scott submitted a conditional guilty plea. The court's order also dissolved a temporary suspension imposed on Scott in March for failure to respond to a complaint filed with the Board of Professional Responsibility.

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.

On Sept. 24, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended for four months the law license of Chattanooga lawyer Jeffrey A. Stinnett. The court found that Stinnett continued to practice law while administratively suspended for noncompliance with continuing legal education requirements. Stinnett agreed to the suspension. He may resume the practice of law after four months without further order of the court.

Newport lawyer Susanna Laws Thomas was suspended on Sept. 29 for five years, retroactive to Sept. 19, 2007. The court found that she engaged in a number of improper activities including continuing to represent a party despite a conflict of interest, attempting to tamper with evidence, obstructing justice, engaging in disruptive conduct before a court, communicating with a represented party, failing to adequately communicate with clients and abandoning her law practice. The court stipulated that to be reinstated Thomas will have to show that she has (1) obtained statements from complainants reflecting satisfactory restitution to each; (2) had an assessment performed by a professional recommended by Tennessee Lawyer's Assistance Program; and (3) complied with any recommendations of that professional.

On Oct. 6, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Knoxville lawyer M. Josiah Hoover for 30 days, but ordered a 30-day probation in lieu of suspension. The court found that Hoover violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8 and Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.15, 1.16 and 8.4 by failing to communicate with clients, promptly turn over files and monies to a client, notify a client of the receipt of funds from the sale of her home, and surrender all property and papers to a client after termination of representation. The court ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

On Oct. 7, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Bobby A. McGee, formerly of Linden, for three years, less 90 days he had already served on a prior suspension. On May 25, 2006, McGee was suspended from the practice of law for three years with all but 90 days waived if he fulfilled certain conditions, including complying with the Rules of Professional Responsibility. On Jan. 11, the Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition to revoke the probation after McGee was charged with a criminal offense. McGee submitted a conditional guilty plea and agreed to revocation of the probation and reinstatement of the remainder of his three-year suspension.

Memphis lawyer David P. Burlison was suspended on Oct. 15 for three months by order of the Tennessee Supreme Court. The suspension is to begin when Burlison is reinstated from a 2006 suspension for noncompliance with continuing legal education requirements. The court found that Burlison had signed an agreement with a doctor to withhold settlement funds in the amount of $9,190.00 to satisfy outstanding medical bills. Although Burlison settled the case, he did not withhold the funds. The court determined that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(b) and (c) and 8.4(a) and (d), and ordered him to make full restitution to the physician and pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding as conditions of reinstatement.

On Oct. 21, Chattanooga lawyer Kevin Lee Featherston was suspended for 90 days by order of the Tennessee Supreme Court, effective Oct. 31. The court found that Featherston breached his fiduciary duty to his law firm by failing to report to fellow law firm shareholders the income and expenditures he received through a jointly owned title company. In addition, Featherston made a number of unauthorized withdrawals from the title company for personal expenses and purchases. These actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15 and 8.4(b) and (c). The panel convened by the Board of Professional Responsibility to hear the case recommended that Featherston be suspended for 30 days; however, the board appealed that recommendation to the chancery court of Hamilton County. The chancery court found that the suspension should be increased to 90 days and neither party appealed. In addition to imposing the suspension, the Supreme Court directed Featherston to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

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 Sept. 24, Troy Lee Brooks of Mt. Juliet was disbarred by order of the Tennessee Supreme Court. The order was based on seven petitions for discipline, which alleged Brooks' conversion of client funds, incompetence and neglect. The order outlines the conditions with which Brooks must comply if he seeks reinstatement of his license. They include (1) successful completion of the Tennessee Bar Examination, including the ethics portion; (2) compliance with all disciplinary orders or rules; (3) provision of proof of rehabilitation and satisfactory completion of a fitness review; (4) completion of a full ethics course at an ABA-accredited law school; (5) full restitution in the amount of $90,344; (6) repayment of any funds borrowed to make restitution; (7) full payment of all disgorged fees totaling $64,082; (8) participation in the Tennessee Lawyer's Assistance Program; and (9) participation in an IOLTA trust account that requires multiple parties' approval to access the funds.

On Sept. 26, the Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Chattanooga attorney Howard B. Barnwell from the practice of law based on seven separate complaints. The complaints contain allegations of neglect, noncommunication, abandonment of a client, practicing law while suspended, noncommunication with clients, incompetence, practicing law in Alabama without a license, and filing of fraudulent arbitration awards in Alabama. The court found that Barnwell also failed to respond to these petitions for discipline. In addition to suspending his law license, the court ordered Barnwell to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

Disability Inactive

Disability inactive status precludes an attorney from practicing law in the state immediately. The designation remains in effect until further order of the court, however the attorney is entitled to petition the court for reinstatement to active status once a year (or at shorter intervals if the court allows). To return to active status, the attorney must show by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and that he or she is fit to resume the practice of law.

On Oct. 22, the Tennessee Supreme Court transferred the law license of Nashville attorney Bryan Edwards Larson to disability inactive status for an indefinite period of time.

By order of the state Supreme Court filed May 23, the law license of Jacksboro attorney Timothy Paul Webb was transferred to disability inactive status for an indefinite period of time. �

Compiled by Stacey Shrader from information obtained from the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Tennessee Supreme Court.