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:
Dalen L.P. Farmer, Nashville
Michael T. McClamroch, Knoxville
Lawrence R. Nicola, Jackson
Debra Chaves Norwood, Memphis
Glenn Douglas Tackett, Nashville

On April 1, the Tennessee Supreme Court dissolved a temporary suspension imposed on Nashville attorney Ivan Omar Lopez. The court had suspended Lopez on March 3 for failure to comply with his Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) monitoring agreement. In response to the suspension, Lopez filed an answer and petition for dismissal. The court considered the filing and ordered the Board of Professional Responsibility to hold a hearing on the matter. A hearing was held on March 29, at which a three-member panel recommended the suspension be dissolved. The court accepted the recommendation and reinstated Lopez to the practice of law. It also directed him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

Anderson County lawyer Michael W. Ritter was reinstated to the practice of law on March 3 by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Ritter had been temporarily suspended on Jan. 31 for failing to respond to a complaint of misconduct. On Feb. 4, Ritter filed a petition for reinstatement. A hearing panel considered the petition on Feb. 24, noted that Ritter had provided a response to the complaint, and recommended to the court that the suspension be dissolved.

Keith A. Pope, a Knoxville attorney, was reinstated to the practice of law on March 9. Pope had been temporarily suspended on Jan. 31 for failing to comply with his Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) monitoring agreement. Pope filed a motion to reconsider the suspension. On March 4, a hearing panel recommended the suspension be dissolved subject to two conditions: that he submit to hair tests at least every two months, and that he continue counseling in addition to the requirements of the current TLAP agreement.

Censured

Chattanooga lawyer Brian C. Smith was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court on Feb. 28 for representing conflicting interests in an estate. His actions were determined to violate Rule 1.8(g) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The court also directed Smith to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

Paris attorney Richard L. Dunlap III was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court on March 22. He had earlier pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor crime of domestic assault. Dunlap agreed to a conditional guilty plea and accepted the censure. The Board of Professional Responsibility determined that his actions violated Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Suspended

On March 3, Leroy Cain Jr. of Nashville was suspended by the Tennessee Supreme Court for one year, with four months to be served on active suspension and eight months to be served on probation. The court found that Cain violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15 and 8.4 by failing to comply with a Probate Court order and commingling personal and trust funds. In addition to imposing the suspension, the court ordered Cain to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

On March 3, Memphis lawyer Harold Fay Smith was suspended for two years and ordered to provide an accounting of a client’s settlement proceeds and pay full restitution to his client within two years. Smith was found to have violated Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 by misappropriating the client’s settlement proceeds. In addition to imposing the suspension, the court ordered Smith to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

On March 3, Knoxville lawyer Kathy B. Stillman was suspended for three years, to be served after completing a one-year suspension imposed on July 1, 2010. Stillman also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $875 to a client and be supervised by a practice monitor for six months. The Tennessee Supreme Court found that Stillman abandoned a case and failed to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility, and that these actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.16, 8.1 and 8.4. The court also ordered Stillman to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
 
Rogersville attorney Gerald T. Eidson was suspended from the practice of law on March 4 for one year, with three months to be served on active suspension and nine months to be served on probation. The Tennessee Supreme Court found that he neglected clients’ cases and failed to communicate with clients — a violation of Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 3.2, 8.1 and 8.4. In addition to imposing the suspension, the court placed two conditions on the probation time: (1) that Eidson take an additional four hours of continuing legal education in law practice management, and (2) that he utilize a practice monitor during the probationary period. Finally, the court ordered Eidson to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

On March 14, Nashville attorney John E. Herbison was suspended by the Tennessee Supreme Court for 11 months and 29 days, but allowed to serve the time on probation so long as he obtains three hours of continuing legal education in law practice management and utilizes a practice monitor during the probationary period. The court found that he neglected a client’s file and failed to communicate with the client with regard to a petition for post-conviction relief. These actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 3.2, 8.1(b) and 8.4. The court further ordered Herbison to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

The Supreme Court of Tennessee on March 22 suspended Clarksville lawyer Donrua Barnes-Hulsey after finding she failed to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility about a complaint of misconduct. The temporary suspension remains in effect until dissolution or modification by the Supreme Court.

Knoxville lawyer and former Knox County Criminal Court judge Richard R. Baumgartner was suspended from the practice of law on March 22 following his guilty plea to the serious crime of official misconduct. The Tennessee Supreme Court also ordered the Board of Professional Responsibility to conduct a formal proceeding to determine the extent of final discipline. The temporary suspension remains in effect until dissolution or modification by the court.

On March 22, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Nashville attorney Fernando Jose Ramos for three years after he was held in contempt for failure to reimburse the Administrative Office of the Court for interpreter’s fees and provide proof of payment. The court also found that he failed to properly supervise non-lawyer assistants and failed to communicate with clients. Ramos entered a conditional guilty plea and agreed to the suspension. The court determined that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5(a), 1.16(d), 3.2, 5.3 and 8.4. The court also noted that he already is serving a suspension imposed on July 8, 2009.

Harriman lawyer Spence Roberts Bruner was suspended from the practice of law on March 25 due to his failure to comply with a Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) monitoring agreement. On March 31 Bruner filed a petition to dissolve the suspension. On April 1, the Tennessee Supreme Court directed the Board of Professional Responsibility to hold an immediate hearing on the matter. The temporary suspension remains in effect until dissolution or modification by the court.

Disbarred

Chattanooga attorney Jes Beard was disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court on March 3 and ordered to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding. The court found that Beard ignored conflicts of interest between clients, took action to the detriment of one client in order to gain an advantage for another client, improperly communicated with a person represented by counsel, failed to competently and diligently represent his clients, and failed to properly communicate the status of a case to a client. The court also determined that Beard continually failed to respond to requests from the Board of Professional Responsibility. The disbarment was imposed based on a violation of Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.7(a), 3.2, 3.3(a), 4.1, 4.2 and 8.4.

Court of the Judiciary

On March 29, the Court of the Judiciary issued an order of immediate interim suspension for former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. The action comes in addition to a suspension of his law license imposed by the Tennessee Supreme Court on March 22. Baumgartner was charged with and entered a guilty plea to official misconduct on March 10 in the Criminal Court of Knox County. Tennessee law provides that the Court of the Judiciary may immediately place a judge on suspension following the filing of state or federal felony charges. The interim suspension remains in effect until further order of the court, during which time Baumgartner is prohibited from exercising any judicial power.

The Court of the Judiciary filed two counts of formal charges against Hawkins County Juvenile Court Judge James Taylor on March 29. The first count alleges that Taylor made an appearance before the Hawkins County Commission “on matters not concerning the law, the legal system or the administration of justice,” but rather to gain approval for a “Citizens Heritage Display” to be constructed in the lobby of the county justice center. The court also alleges that before and after this appearance, Taylor was involved in soliciting funds for construction of the historical display.

The second count alleges that Taylor, who is a part-time judge and part-time lawyer, was held in contempt of court in September 2010 by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals for willfully failing to take steps to protect his client’s interests in an appeal before that court. The Court of Criminal Appeals fined him $50 and ordered him to serve 48 hours in the Knox County Jail, or a probationary period of one year. In imposing the sentence, the court noted that Taylor had been found in contempt for similar misconduct in 2006.

Taylor was notified in October 2010 that an investigation into these matters had been authorized but failed to file a response within 30 days as required by statute. Notification of the filing of formal charges has been made. Taylor has 30 days to file an answer with the court, which indicated that failure to answer will constitute an admission of the factual allegations in the charges.