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Licensure & Discipline
James A. Meaney III of Dalton, Ga., and Janet Monique Okoye of Birmingham, Ala., have been reinstated to the practice of law after complying with Supreme Court Rule 21, which requires mandatory continuing legal education.
Natasha Love Blackshear of Nashville was 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 and 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.
The law license of Chattanooga lawyer Lori Ann Spencer was transferred to disability inactive status on April 26 by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Spencer may not practice law while on disability inactive status. She may return to the practice of law after showing by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and she is fit to resume practicing.
Davidson County lawyer Aneel M. Pandey was publicly censured on April 11. Pandey self-reported to the Board of Professional Responsibility that as a party to a divorce action, he lied under oath on three occasions about events that were material to the divorce. He said he responded to an interrogatory untruthfully, testified in his deposition that the answer to the interrogatory was truthful, and further testified untruthfully about the subject. When confronted with conclusive evidence later in the deposition, Pandey admitted that he had been untruthful in his prior testimony. The Tennessee Supreme Court found his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3 and 8.4.
Chattanooga lawyer John McConnell Wolfe Jr. was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court on April 13 for not filing a federal notice of claim on time and not filing a lawsuit on time after the claim was denied. Wolfe had been hired to represent a client in a personal injury action against a Veterans’ Administration Hospital. The lawsuit was dismissed because of these failures to comply with statutory deadlines. In addition, the court found that Wolfe failed to notify his client of the dismissal, did not return numerous messages and failed to appear for scheduled appointments. The court found his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 3.2 and 8.4.
Shelby County lawyer Wendy Nicole Villafana was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court on April 18 for failing to file a client’s application for cancellation of deportation, failing to diligently prepare for a hearing, failing to promptly inform the client about alleged weaknesses in the case, and failing to respond to the client’s requests for information. The court found that she sought to blame the client for the failure, saying he had not provided sufficient information to prevail in a cancellation request. She also reportedly advised the client that a voluntary departure was his best option. The court found that these actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 and 1.4.
The Tennessee Supreme Court on April 18 suspended Nashville lawyer Matthew Fort Mayo for one year, retroactive to Jan. 31, 2011. The court found that Mayo failed to respond to a complaint of misconduct, failed to timely file documents with the court (despite being granted an extension), failed to timely file or properly serve a brief, and failed to appear for a client’s sentencing hearings. The court found that these action violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 3.2, 8.1(b) and 8.4(a) and (d). Mayo entered a conditional guilty plea. Though this suspension has run its course, Mayo remains suspended for noncompliance with CLE requirements and for failure to file certification that client funds are held in an IOLTA account.
Memphis lawyer Michael Brandon Barber was suspended on April 26 for five years for neglecting the representation of several former clients, failing to respond to a disciplinary complaint and ultimately abandoning his practice. In addition to imposing the suspension, the Tennessee Supreme Court ordered him to pay restitution to five former clients and pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings. The court found that Barber violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.16, 3.2, 8.1 and 8.4(a)(c) and (d).
The Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Georgia lawyer Stephen V. Fitzgerald Jr. on April 17, after Fitzgerald voluntarily surrendered his license and the Supreme Court of Georgia struck him from the rolls of persons entitled to practice law in the state. Pursuant to the rules of discipline of the State Bar of Georgia, a voluntary surrender of license is tantamount to disbarment. With regard to his Tennessee license, Fitzgerald must pay the Board of Professional Responsibility’s costs and wait five years before seeking reinstatement.
Memphis lawyer Javier Michael Bailey was disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court on April 26 and ordered to pay restitution to 17 people totaling $29,867. Bailey entered a conditional guilty plea that he failed to properly communicate with clients, failed to exercise appropriate diligence on client’s cases, failed to appear for a hearing, failed to follow court orders, made misrepresentations to the court, and made inappropriate statements to the media. Because of these failures, the circuit court prohibited him from taking cases in that court and the Court of Criminal Appeals held him in criminal contempt in three cases. The Supreme Court found that his actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1; 1.3; 1.4; 1.5(a)(b) and (c); 1.7(b); 1.8(a); 1.16(d); 3.1; 3.2; 3.3(a); 3.4(c); 3.6(a); 4.2; 8.1(b); 8.4(a)(b)(c)(d) and (g). It also ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
The Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Nashville lawyer Bennett Farris Bratcher on April 26. Bratcher consented to disbarment because he could not successfully defend himself against complaints filed with the board, which alleged that he misappropriated funds relating to the representation of three clients. The court determined that his actions violated Supreme Court Rule 8, Section 8.4(c). It also ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
Court of the Judiciary
The Court of the Judiciary filed formal charges against Hawkins County General Sessions Court and Juvenile Court Judge James F. Taylor on Jan. 24 alleging that he (1) received money from a client, indicating he would invest it on her behalf, but instead converted it to his own use; (2) filed numerous claims with the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts for services as an appointed counsel when no legal services were provided; (3) filed numerous claims with the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts for services as an appointed counsel in cases in which he actually presided on the bench; and (4) collected funds from the public for a “Citizens’ Heritage Display” to be erected in the courthouse, but converted the funds to his own use. Over the course of several months, Taylor invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to requests for information from the court. On April 13, Taylor reached an agreement with the Court of the Judiciary that he would be suspended immediately and would resign effective May 1. He had been scheduled to stand trial on April 25.
2012 Fee & IOLTA Suspensions
On April 26, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued orders suspending Tennessee-licensed attorneys who did not pay their 2012 registration fee to the Board of Professional Responsibility and/or did not file a mandatory compliance statement that eligible client funds are held in accounts participating in the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program. Beginning in January 2012, the court began entering suspension orders on a monthly basis, based on attorney birthdates. Suspension lists will be issued each month for those attorneys who do not meet filing requirements for that month. The April order reflects attorneys with birthdates in March. Those who have complied with the rules since the orders were issued are noted as reinstated.
Failure to File Annual Fee & IOLTA Report
Chattanooga: Matthew Alexander Salada
Cookeville: Edwin Gray Sadler (reinstated)
Germantown: Lauren M. Howe
Jackson: Roger Alan Staton
Knoxville: Sherry Lynn Mahar (reinstated)
Memphis: Jessica Nicole Manley
Murfreesboro: Brandon Michael Booten (reinstated)
Nashville: David Steele Ewing (reinstated), Scott David Johannessen (reinstated), Michael Howard Rowan (reinstated)
Smyrna: Joseph Edward Beecham (reinstated)
Colorado: Heather Marie Gwinn
Georgia: Douglas Kent Shelton
Indiana: Diamond Zukas Hirschauer
Nevada: Heidi Helvi Fulks
Oklahoma: David Michael Robinson
Pennsylvania: Linda Narrow McLemore
Failure to Pay Annual Fee
Nashville: Thomas Turner Snodgrass (reinstated)
About Licensure & Discipline
Compiled by Stacey Shrader from information obtained from the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Tennessee Supreme Court. For more information about levels of disciplinary actions, as well as the requirements imposed on disciplined attorneys visit A Primer on the Discipline of Attorneys in Tennessee.