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:
James Louis Coggin, Memphis; and Joseph Dewey Hughes, Paragould, Ark.

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. They were suspended for failure to pay the 2009 fee:
Joseph Edward Beecham, Nashville
Roger Dean Brooks, Independence, Va.
James Richard Carr, Oxford, Miss.
Clifford Todd Chapman, Sarasota, Fla.
Michael Perry Davis, Old Hickory
Theodore Augustus Erck, Atlanta, Ga.
Anne Bowles Ferrell, Knoxville
Mark Keith Goins, Jacksboro
Jonathan Evan Gower, Nashville (previously listed as Brentwood)
William Clary Lunsford, Memphis
Oscar Lee Malone III, Cordova (previously listed as Memphis)
Adam John Ouellette, Davie, Fla.
Jonathan Jackson Pledger, Franklin
Jerry Wells Vaughan Jr., Memphis
Gerald Webb Jr., Chattanooga (previously listed as Cleveland)
Michael Gregory Williams, Chattanooga
Mary Elizabeth Yarbrough, Memphis

Censured

Madison County lawyer Jack Colin Morris was publicly censured July 20 by the Board of Professional Responsibility. The board found that he did not act with reasonable diligence and did not adequately communicate with a client in a divorce case. While he did draft a complaint and marital dissolution agreement and represented his client in a mediation session, the board found that from 2002 to 2006, Morris devoted "only a total of nine hours" to the case. The client retained new counsel in 2006 and the case was finally resolved. The board determined that Morris's actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 and 1.4.

On July 20, Shelby County lawyers Matthew V. Porter and Amanda P. Strange received censures from the Board of Professional Responsibility for violating Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c). The board found that Porter and Strange, while acting as independent contractors for a law firm, obtained unauthorized access to the firm's case management system, including client lists, files and management reports. Both also used another coworker's password to obtain passwords of management team members and monitor interoffice messages among them. In addition, Strange was found to have installed a file shredder system on her company-provided computer, rendering the machine unusable by the firm and destroying evidence that would have shown whether files had been exported to an outside computer. The board, however, found no evidence that case information was actually exported to an outside source and both Porter and Strange assured the board that no files or information were exported. The board determined their actions violated Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Williamson County lawyer Fred A. Steltemeier received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility on July 24 for failing to place a client's funds in a trust account. Steltemeier represented the client in a child support matter. When the client sold a piece of construction equipment, he directed the buyer to present two checks, one payable to the client himself and one payable to Steltemeier. The client instructed Steltemeier to safeguard the money for use as future child support payments. Steltemeier cashed the check but failed to place the funds in a trust account for the benefit of the client. On July 11, 2007, the client requested the money and Steltemeier issued a personal check. The board determined that these actions violated Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15(a).

Suspended

Chattanooga attorney H. Owen Maddux was suspended for five months by the Tennessee Supreme Court on July 2. The court found that Maddux violated several rules of professional conduct in his representation of a client suffering injuries following a car accident in Florida. Specifically, Maddux was not licensed to practice law in Florida, was not competent in Florida law and did not retain a Florida attorney to assist him. He also missed the statute of limitations for filing suit, failed to inform the client that he missed the deadline, failed to interview key witnesses, misled the client, failed to adequately communicate with the client and neglected the matter for several years. In addition, the court found that Maddux commingled personal funds in his trust account, which was established to make a settlement payment to the client. Finally, the court discovered that after a complaint had been filed against him, Maddux sought to enter into a settlement agreement with the client without informing the parties of the conflict of interest and without informing the client that she could seek independent counsel. After a hearing panel of the board recommended the five-month sentence, Maddux appealed to the Chancery Court of Hamilton County. The court affirmed the discipline and Maddux appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court ruling and imposed the discipline. Maddux's actions were found to have violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3, 1.4, 1.8(a), 1.15, 8.1(b) and 8.4(a)(c) and (d).

On July 8, Debra Fannin Graham of Oak Ridge was suspended for six months, placed on probation for one year (to run concurrent with the suspension), ordered to pay restitution to four clients totaling $5,017.15, and ordered to complete nine hours of ethics continuing legal education. The action was taken after the Supreme Court found that she failed to act with reasonable diligence in representing clients, failed to communicate with clients, made misrepresentations to a client and about clients' cases, and retained excessive fees. After a hearing panel of the Board of Professional Conduct recommended the above discipline, Graham appealed to the Chancery Court of Anderson County. The court dismissed the appeal. She then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and imposed the recommended discipline.

On July 8, Nashville lawyer Fernando Jose Ramos was suspended for three years for violating rules of professional conduct dealing with competence in the representation of clients' bankruptcy and criminal cases. Ramos submitted a conditional guilty plea and agreed to the suspension.

On July 9, Chattanooga lawyer Jes Beard was suspended by the Tennessee Supreme Court for two years. The court found that Beard violated disciplinary rules by failing to properly draw a final decree, by giving advice to his client to settle a case without first reading the memorandum opinion issued by the court, and by filing false pleadings and a false affidavit. The court imposed a two-year suspension for each of the three violations, but allowed the suspensions to run concurrently. It also ordered Beard to pay the costs of his disciplinary proceeding. The court determined that his actions violated Rules 1-102(A)(1), (4), (5) and (6) and 7-102(A)(1), (3), (5) and (8) of the former Code of Professional Responsibility as well as Rules 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3, 1.4, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3(a)(1)(b)(c)(d), 3.4(b), 4.1(a) and 8.4(a), (c) and (d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Disbarred

On June 13, the Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Louisiana attorney Scott E. Meece based on similar action taken by the Supreme Court of Louisiana. The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition for reciprocal discipline against Meece and the Tennessee Supreme Court gave him 30 days to present a case why identical discipline should not be imposed. Meece did not respond to the Supreme Court's notice.