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:
Jessica Anne Speer Neal, Memphis
Kevin Shalom Terry, Nashville

Shelby County attorney Christopher Lee Brown was reinstated to the practice of law on Jan. 5. He had been suspended on Dec. 14, 2010, for failing to respond to a complaint of misconduct.

Nashville attorney David Alan Gold was reinstated to the practice of law on Dec. 10, 2010, subject to two conditions. First, for three years following reinstatement, Gold must provide 12 hours of community service, outreach or education that furthers the integrity of the legal profession and the importance of a lawyer’s personal accountability. Second, for one year following reinstatement, he must submit to monthly monitoring by an experienced practitioner.

Gold was suspended in September 2009.

Censured

On Jan. 6, Nashville attorney William Caldwell Hancock received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility for violating Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 and 1.16. In April 2007, Hancock was retained to represent a client in a real estate dispute and agreed to file a civil action. After some delay, Hancock filed the lawsuit and proceeded with service of process. Thereafter, he failed to communicate effectively with his client and failed to move the case forward at a pace suitable to the client. In August 2008, the court advised Hancock that if the case was not set for trial or resolved by a date certain, it would be dismissed. On Jan. 28, 2009, the court dismissed the case without prejudice. Hancock failed to notify his client of the dismissal. The client subsequently terminated Hancock from representation and at that point learned that the suit had been dismissed.

On Jan. 12, the Board of Professional Responsibility publicly censured Williamson County lawyer Shawn Sirgo for violations of conflict of interest, confidentiality and prohibited transactions rules. Sirgo was paid by a company to defend an employee facing a criminal DUI charge and later participated in the termination of that employee. He also disclosed the amount of fees charged in the case, which resulted in the company withholding the same amount from the employee’s paycheck. Sirgo thereafter filed a counter-suit in a civil action that named the company employee as a defendant in a matter substantially related to the representation that caused the conflict of interest. The board determined that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6, 1.7, 1.8(f) and 1.9.

On Jan. 14, Shelby County lawyer Paul Forrest Craig received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility for misleading a client into thinking his cases were being litigated when in fact no suit had been filed. For approximately a year, Craig failed to take reasonable action to prosecute his client’s claims and failed to keep his client informed regarding the status of the cases. In addition, he misrepresented to his client the status of the cases and the work he had performed. The board determined that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4 and 8.4(c).

Jamshid B. Naini of Memphis was publicly censured on Jan.19 for sharing fees with non-lawyer employees in his office. The Board of Professional Responsibility determined that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 5.4 and 8.4 (a). Naini submitted a conditional guilty plea and was ordered to pay the costs of his disciplinary proceeding.

On Jan. 20, Lincoln County lawyer John Dickey received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility. On July 2, 2010, Dickey wrecked his vehicle and subsequently was charged with 2nd Offense DUI, Violation of the Implied Consent Law and Violation of Due Care. Dickey admitted to the arresting officer that he drank a large quantity of alcohol prior to the accident. The board brought disciplinary action against him based on the criminal charges and for violating his probation for previous convictions of Reckless Endangerment and Resisting Arrest. On Oct. 1, 2010, Dickey pled guilty to the DUI and probation charges.

On. Jan. 21, the Board of Professional Responsibility imposed a public censure on Columbia lawyer William Clark Barnes Jr. for failing to send his client a copy of a motion to modify the client’s parenting plan. The board determined that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4.

Maryville lawyer Charles M. Clifford was publicly censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility on Jan. 21. From early 2008 until April 2009, Clifford failed to take action on behalf of a client who retained him to seek custody of a child believed to be suffering abuse in its mother’s home. When Clifford failed to return the client’s phone calls, the client called another attorney who immediately met with him and filed an emergency petition for custody in juvenile court, which was granted. The board determined that Clifford had all the same information that was available to the second lawyer and the court, and that the child was subject to abuse during the time no action was taken. Clifford’s actions were found to have violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4.

On Jan. 21, Morgan County lawyer Randy K. Miller was publicly censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility based on two complaints. In the first matter, Miller was hired to represent a client in a divorce. Miller prepared, signed and notarized the papers. The client signed the papers and returned them. A month later, Miller requested $170 in filing fees, which the client paid. Miller told the client more than once that he had filed the divorce papers and there would be a hearing. The client thereafter learned that the papers had not been filed and began calling and e-mailing Miller. To date, Miller has not refunded the fee paid by the client or returned the papers. In the second matter, Miller filed a pleading in court stating that he could not receive a fair and unbiased hearing before two particular judges. Miller argued they had shown blatant and open personal bias against him. He also claimed defamation by one of the judges. The board determined his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.4, 8.2(a)(1) and 8.4(a)(c)(d).

Nashville lawyer George H. Thompson was publicly censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility on Jan. 21 based on two complaints. In the first case, a client retained Thompson for a probate matter. After the initial meeting, Thompson failed to return the client’s telephone calls or reply to the client’s certified letter. The client ultimately obtained other counsel. In the second matter, a client retained Thompson in April 2009 for a medical malpractice action. Thompson failed to respond to the client until sending him a letter in March 2010 declining the case – approximately two months after the statute of limitations expired. Thompson never spoke to the client about a statute of limitations and his actions foreclosed the client’s right to find another lawyer before his claim was lost. The board determined that these actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4.

On Jan. 21, William T. Winchester of Memphis was publicly censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility. In October 2003, Winchester filed an answer and a motion to dismiss civil litigation on his client’s behalf. The motion to dismiss was set but continued several times for various reasons. Eventually, Winchester failed to re-set the motion and failed to appear at a hearing on the adverse party’s motions, which resulted in a default judgment against his client. The judgment was entered in March 2010, more than seven years after the case began. In addition, the board found that the court clerk was unable to locate Winchester throughout 2009, which violates court rules to keep a current address on file. His actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4 and 3.2.

On Jan. 24, Monroe County attorney Joseph H. Crabtree Jr. was publicly censured for violating Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 3.3 and 8.4(d). The Board of Professional Responsibility found that Crabtree signed an agreed order and filed it in court without his client’s permission and without informing his client of the action. In addition, he did not inform his client that he was required to be present at a hearing to determine the sanctions for failing to abide by the order. Crabtree later satisfied his obligations.


Suspended

On Jan. 12, Nashville lawyer Terry R. Clayton was suspended by the state Supreme Court for seven months, with six months to be served on probation. During the probationary period, Clayton must obtain three hours of continuing legal education over and above the hours normally required, and engage the services of a practice monitor. The court found that Clayton failed to provide representation to a client, engaged in an inappropriate fee sharing arrangement with another lawyer, and neglected the bankruptcy filing of a client. These action violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 5.1 and 8.4. In addition to imposing the suspension, the court ordered Clayton to pay the costs of his disciplinary proceeding.

On Jan. 12, Mt. Juliet lawyer Mark Wesley Henderson was suspended from the practice of law for six months, ordered to pay restitution to two former clients, and return an appellate record to the clerk of the Supreme Court. In April 2007, the Board of Professional Responsibility filed two complaints of misconduct against Henderson. In the first matter, the board determined that he failed to adequately communicate with his client, return a retainer of $10,000 and provide a statement of charges for his services. With regard to the second complaint, the board found that he failed to honor an agreement with a client to refund half of the legal fee if the matter went uncontested. The Tennessee Supreme Court approved the board’s recommendation finding that Henderson violated Rules of Professional Conduct: 1.2(a), 1.4, 1.5, 1.16 and 8.4.

On Jan. 18, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Nashville lawyer Edward L. Swinger for two years based on an incident of domestic violence between him and the mother of his child. However, the court ordered all time probated subject to the following two conditions: that he not have any further substantiated cases of misconduct, and that he attend six additional hours of continuing legal education in the subject of legal ethics and professionalism. He was also ordered to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding. Swinger entered a conditional guilty plea for violating Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Though he originally was charged with several criminal offenses following the altercation, two of the charges were dismissed and another was eventually retired.  
 
Nashville lawyer Matthew Fort Mayo was summarily and temporarily suspended on Jan. 31 for failing to respond to a complaint of misconduct.

On Jan. 31, the Tennessee Supreme Court temporarily suspended the license of Knoxville lawyer Keith A. Pope for failure to comply with his Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program monitoring agreement. Pope has appealed the decision. A hearing to determine if the suspension should be continued, modified or dissolved is pending.

On Jan. 31, the Supreme Court of Tennessee summarily and temporarily suspended Anderson County lawyer Michael W. Ritter for failing to respond to a complaint of misconduct.


Disbarred

On Jan. 19, the Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Knoxville attorney Kristin Alyse Godsey for practicing law while suspended, submitting false fee requests to the Administrative Office of the Courts, and forging a judge’s name. The court determined that her actions violated Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3, 3.4, 4.1, 5.5 and 8.4. In addition to imposing the disbarment, the court ordered Godsey to pay the costs of her disciplinary proceeding.

Memphis attorney King Bethel Harris III was disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court on Jan. 19. He was ordered to pay restitution to two people totaling $210,000, and pay the cost of his disciplinary proceeding. The Board of Professional Responsibility filed two petitions for discipline against Harris. A hearing panel determined that he continued to hold himself out as a licensed attorney while serving an ongoing, prior suspension for misconduct. Using both a Missouri address and a Tennessee address as an office location, Harris promised clients that he would hold their funds in his attorney trust account for an investment deal he was facilitating, but the funds never were transferred to a third party for investment. The court determined that his actions violated Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15, 5.5, 5.7, 7.1, 7.5(a)(b) and 8.4(a)(b)(c).