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The following attorneys have been reinstated to the practice of law after complying with Supreme Court Rule 21, which requires mandatory continuing legal education:
William Noble Hulsey III, Austin, Texas
Tacey Clark Locke, Corinth, Miss.
James Douglas Mory, Louisville, Ky.
Amy Elizabeth Spencer, Reston, Va.
By order of the Supreme Court entered on May 11, Nashville lawyer William W. Leech was reinstated to the practice of law, conditioned on continued compliance through December 2012 with his Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) agreement and use of a practice monitor. On May 13, 2008, Leech was suspended from the practice of law for one year with all time except for three months to be served on probation. On Nov. 3, 2008, Leech petitioned for reinstatement. A hearing was held March 16, and based on the findings of the hearing panel, the Supreme Court ordered Leech's reinstatement.
A censure declares conduct improper but does not limit the right to practice law.
Anderson County lawyer Patricia Hess was publicly censured on April 24 for representing a client who had appeared before her while she was a juvenile court judge. Hess presided in a child custody matter but was defeated as juvenile court judge while the case was pending. She then began representing one of the parties in the matter without receiving the consent of all parties as required by the Rules of Professional Conduct. The court ordered her to report her actions to the Board of Professional Responsibility and obtain an informal opinion about any possible conflict of interest. Hess failed to abide by the court's written order and was removed from the case. In reviewing the matter, the board determined that Hess violated Rules 1.12(a) and 8.4(g) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Board of Professional Responsibility issued a public censure to Chattanooga lawyer Charles Patrick Dupree on April 28 for his failure to exercise reasonable diligence. The board found that Dupree failed to inform the court and opposing counsel of a scheduling conflict prior to a scheduled court date, and failed to appear for the hearing, which was critical to his clients' interests. The board found that his actions violated Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
On May 5, Hamilton County lawyer Keith Black received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility. Black represented a client in a criminal case that resulted in a conviction for attempted voluntary manslaughter. The client also was the defendant in a civil case arising from the same incident. The client thought that Black was representing him in the civil case as well as the criminal case, and Black did in fact, draft, sign and file an answer to the civil complaint. However, Black had no additional involvement in the case. The sentencing in the criminal case was conducted on the same day as the initial hearing in the civil case. When the sentencing hearing was over, the client expected Black to go with him to the hearing, but Black refused. The judge in the civil case and the client tried to contact Black for two hours but were unable to reach him as he was in court with another client. In the absence of counsel, the trial judge entered a default judgment for $2 million dollars against the client. Ultimately, the client retained another attorney, who had the default judgment set aside, and the case reset for trial.
On May 14, Davidson County lawyer Nathaniel Koenig was publicly censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility for failing to respond to a client and failing to re-file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) after the first order was rejected by the plan administrator. In September 2005, Koenig was retained to draft and enter two QDROs that were ordered pursuant to a final divorce decree. The client contacted Koenig on numerous occasions but received no response. Koenig finally drafted and entered the first QDRO, which was approved, on Aug. 3, 2006. He then drafted and entered the second QDRO on Feb. 27, 2007. That filing was rejected by the plan administrator. On April 26, 2007, Koenig told the client that he would continue submitting QDROs until one was approved; however, he failed to respond to all inquiries from the client as to the status of the matter. The client later learned from the plan administrator that no subsequent plan was filed. The board reported that Koenig also failed to respond to its inquiries for information, and found that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4(a) and 3.2.
Clinton lawyer Victoria H. Bowling received a public censure from the Tennessee Supreme Court on May 18 after having been found in criminal contempt of court for derogatory remarks and disruptive conduct in the Juvenile Court of Anderson County. Bowling submitted a conditional guilty plea. The board found that her actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 3.5 and 8.4 and ordered her to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
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 May 14, Memphis lawyer James T. Allison was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days for overdrawing his attorney trust account, commingling personal and operating funds within the account, failing to keep adequate account records, and failing to timely respond to inquiries from the Board of Professional Responsibility. The Supreme Court found that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15 and 8.1 and ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
On May 18, the Tennessee Supreme Court temporarily suspended the law license of Dyersburg attorney Thomas H. Strawn Jr. The Board of Professional Responsibility had petitioned the court to suspend Strawn, arguing that he posed a threat of substantial harm to the public by failing to competently and adequately represent clients in seven bankruptcy cases.
The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Memphis lawyer David J. Johnson on May 22 for six months but with all time to be served on probation subject to several conditions. The court found that Johnson failed to exercise diligence in connection with an investment scheme perpetrated by a former client. While Johnson did not represent the client during the operation of the scheme, he did serve as a signatory to accounts the client used to pay investors. The court found that his actions violated Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A)(6) and adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law. Johnson entered a conditional guilty plea. To qualify for probation, he must perform 100 hours of pro bono service, attend an extra three hours of continuing legal education in ethics and professionalism, and pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
On May 22, the Supreme Court suspended the law license of Sevierville lawyer Ronald R. Reagan for five years after he pleaded guilty to possession of a computer hard drive containing three or more visual depictions of child pornography.
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 May 6, the law license of Memphis attorney John M. Moore was transferred to Disability Inactive Status for an indefinite period of time and until further order of the court. Moore may not practice law while on disability inactive status and can only return to the practice of law after reinstatement by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Court of the Judiciary
On May 1, Dickson County General Sessions Judge Durwood G. Moore of Charlotte was issued two public censures for behavior in his courtroom. In the first case, the Court of the Judiciary found that Moore behaved inappropriately in his dealings with an attorney representing a client in his courtroom. The inappropriate behavior included failing to recognize the attorney for an announcement about an agreement reached with opposing counsel and, in a subsequent telephone conversation, threatening the lawyer with criminal contempt, using profanity and hanging up on the lawyer. The court determined that these actions violated Canons 2A and 3B(4) of the Canons of Judicial Conduct.
In the second case, Judge Moore ordered the seizure and mandatory drug testing of a citizen observer in his courtroom who was neither a litigant, defendant, nor person with business before the court. The Court of the Judiciary found his actions to be illegal, as no statutory or constitutional basis existed for the seizure or the test. The court determined that Moore violated Canons 2A, 3B(2) and 3B(4) of the Canons of Judicial Conduct, as well as the citizen's right to due process, privacy and freedom under both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.
In both cases, the court concluded that the judge's conduct detrimentally affected the integrity of the Tennessee Judiciary and undermined public confidence in the administration of justice.