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: Joseph Mathew Grant, Houston, Texas; Steven Curtis Limbrick, Brentwood; William Lee Wheatley, Pigeon Forge.

The following attorneys were reinstated to the practice of law after complying with Section 20 of Supreme Court Rule 9, which requires the payment of annual registration fees to the Board of Professional Responsibility: David W. Hutton, North Richland Hills, Texas; Jessica Jaiann Johnson, Knoxville; Cheryl L. McClary, Asheville, N.C.; Michael S. Pineda, United Kingdom; William Lee Wheatley, Pigeon Forge; David Reuben Buck, Franklin; Philip James Smith, Portland, Ore.

The following attorneys were reinstated to the practice of law after complying with Supreme Court Rule 43, which requires certification that a lawyer’s funds are held in an account participating in the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program: David W. Hutton, North Richland Hills, Texas; Jessica Jaiann Johnson, Knoxville; Cheryl L. McClary, Asheville, N.C.; Michael S. Pineda, United Kingdom; William Lee Wheatley, Pigeon Forge.

The following attorneys were reinstated to the practice of law after having been on voluntary inactive status:
Susan E. Woods of Leesburg, Va.; Chad Dylan Vander Wert, Knoxville

Nashville lawyer Dana L. Nero was reinstated to the practice of law on Jan. 12. She had been suspended on Jan. 31, 2011, for substantial noncompliance with her Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) monitoring agreement. The court conditioned her reinstatement on the engagement of a practice monitor for six months. It also directed her to select the monitor within 15 days and to choose someone with a background in criminal defense as well as someone who is approved by the Board of Professional Responsibility. The practice monitor must submit monthly reports to the board during the six-month period. Nero was also directed to make the practice monitor aware of her TLAP agreement and keep the monitor informed of any future noncompliance with it.

A suspension imposed on California lawyer Carol Lynn Mittlesteadt for nonpayment of her 1986 annual registration fee was vacated on Jan. 30. The Tennessee Supreme Court found that Mittlesteadt was exempt from paying the fee under Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 20.2(a), which provides an exemption for attorneys serving as a justice, judge, or magistrate judge of a U.S. court or serving in a federal office that prohibits the attorney from practicing law. The court also noted that Mittlesteadt never received the registration packet from the Board of Professional Responsibility. It directed the board to remove the suspension from her record and pay the costs of the proceeding.

Censured

On Jan. 12, Glenna Walker Overton of Knoxville was publicly censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court for failing to diligently administer a trust and adequately communicate with trust beneficiaries. The court determined that Overton’s refusal to step down as trustee for two years was detrimental to the beneficiaries and prejudicial to the administration of justice. It found that she violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4 and 8.4(d).

On Jan. 12, Kingsport lawyer Jerry Todd Ross was publicly censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court for failing to diligently represent and adequately communicate with a client. The court found that he violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 and 1.4.

The state Supreme Court censured Morristown lawyer Paul G. S. Whetstone on Jan. 20 after he was convicted of criminal contempt by the Jefferson County General Sessions Court. The General Sessions Court found that Whetstone interrupted court proceedings, became argumentative with the presiding judge and failed to take his seat when ordered to do so. The Supreme Court found that he violated Rules of Professional Conduct 5(e) and 8.4(d).

On Jan. 24, Davidson County lawyer Sheryl D. Guinn was publicly censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court for refusing to refund a client’s fee. Guinn was paid $9,000 to represent a defendant charged with child rape and aggravated sexual battery. Later, the defendant discharged Guinn but she refused to refund any portion of the fee, asserting it was nonrefundable. Since Jan. 1, 2011, however, a nonrefundable fee agreement must be in writing, which Guinn had not obtained. The court found that she violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5(a) and (f).

Suspended

On Jan. 9, Nashville lawyer Nathan Scott Moore was suspended by the Tennessee Supreme Court for one year, with three months to be spent on active suspension and the remainder to be spent on probation. However, the court made the probationary period contingent on Moore securing a practice monitor to review his office practices, and making restitution to three clients in the amount of $8,690. Moore submitted a conditional guilty plea admitting to neglecting the cases of three clients, failing to adequately communicate with them and failing to diligently pursue all competent claims on their behalf. The court found that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3-5, 1.16, 3.1-2 and 8.4(c).

On Jan. 24, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended the law license of Knoxville attorney Wesley Markland Baker for two years and then indefinitely thereafter until he makes full restitution to his client and/or the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection. The action was taken after the court found that Baker sought and received a loan from a client in violation of a court order, and then did not repay it. In addition, Baker’s client was found in contempt and ordered to pay attorneys’ fees, which he did not do. The court found that these actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5, 1.8, 1.15, 3.3-4, 8.1 and 8.4.

Rogersville lawyer John Douglas Godbee was temporarily suspended on Jan. 24 for failing to comply with his Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program monitoring agreement.  

On Jan. 30, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended the law license of Knoxville lawyer Kymberly Lynn Anne Haas for one year. The court found that Haas represented a client in General Sessions Court and signed and made bond for the client in violation of state law. It also noted that she did not respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility’s petition for discipline. The court determined that her actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 8.1 and 8.4..

Disbarred

On Jan. 12, the Tennessee Supreme Court entered an order of reciprocal discipline disbarring Gary Dwayne Shields of Cedar Hill, Texas, from the practice of law in Tennessee. The Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition for reciprocal discipline with the Tennessee Supreme Court after the Supreme Court of Texas accepted the resignation of Shields’ law license in lieu of discipline. Under Texas law, he is permanently disbarred. He may apply for reinstatement of his Tennessee license after five years and after reimbursing the Board of Professional Responsibility $113.33 to cover the cost of the disciplinary proceeding.

On Jan. 31, Memphis lawyer King Bethel Harris III was disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court for his involvement with a business known as GreenCredit Law Center, which was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in California. Clients of the center were informed that its “in-house” attorneys would conduct negotiations with lenders for mortgage modifications. In several cases, the fees paid by customers were credited to Harris’s law firm account though no legal services were provided. In addition, at the time of these events, Harris was suspended from the practice of law in Tennessee. The court found that these actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(a) and (c), 5.5, 5.7 and 8.1. In addition to imposing the disbarment, it directed Harris to pay $7,040 in restitution to two clients and reimburse the Board of Professional Responsibility $1,250 to cover the cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Finally, it noted that Harris was disbarred on Jan. 19, 2011, in relation to another disciplinary matter.

Court of the Judiciary

On Dec. 21, 2011, the Court of the Judiciary issued a public reprimand to Pickett County General Sessions Court Judge Ronnie Zachary in response to a complaint that he imposed an improper and inappropriate sentence when he ordered a father and son handcuffed together. The court found that he violated Canons 2A and 3B(2) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Zachary admitted the punishment was improper and indicated his intention to ensure that all sentences imposed are appropriate under the law.

On Jan. 3, the Court of the Judiciary issued a public reprimand to Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Moon Jr., in response to three complaints. The first complaint alleged that Moon threatened to have a young woman, who was reluctant to testify about a domestic assault, handcuffed and arrested if she did not testify. The second complaint alleged that Moon amended a pending charge and accepted a guilty plea from a defendant without an initial charging document. The third complaint alleged that Moon revoked probation and ordered the arrest and incarceration of three witnesses who were on judicial diversion from another court without advising them of their rights or providing access to counsel or the opportunity for a hearing. Moon admitted the factual basis for the complaints. The Court of the Judiciary found that his actions violated Canon 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct. It noted, however, that Moon agreed to make sure that witnesses are treated appropriately and advised of the legal ramifications of their testimony, that appropriate charging documents are filed before taking action on any charge, and that indigent defendants are appointed counsel to represent them at probation or diversion revocation hearings.

On Jan. 27, the Court of the Judiciary issued a public reprimand against Dickson County Juvenile Court Judge A. Andrew Jackson for failing to appoint counsel in two cases — a violation of Canon 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Complaints filed with the court allege that Jackson initiated contempt of court proceedings against an individual for an incident that occurred outside of his presence. During the hearing, Jackson found that person in contempt of court and ordered her to serve 10 days in jail, without appointing counsel for her, even though both the opposing counsel and guardian ad litem suggested he do so. In a second case, Jackson was alleged to have found an individual to be in civil contempt for failure to pay child support, without appointing that individual an attorney and without conducting a hearing to determine the individual’s ability to pay the amount of back child support required to purge the contempt charge. Jackson admitted the factual basis for the complaints and admitted errors in not appointing counsel and not conducting a hearing in the cases in question. He indicated he would do so in the future.