Posted by: BPR Reports on Nov 1, 2020

Journal Issue Date: Nov/Dec 2020

Journal Name: Vol. 56 No. 9

DISABILITY INACTIVE

The law license of Shelby County lawyer Nicholas Freeman Tominello was transferred to disability inactive status on Sept. 9. Tominello may not practice law while on inactive status but may petition for reinstatement after showing by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law.

The law license of Charles Terry Webber was transferred to disability inactive status by the Tennessee Supreme Court on Oct. 1. Webber cannot practice law while on inactive status but may petition for reinstatement after showing by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law.

REINSTATED

Davidson County lawyer Andrew Harrison Maloney was reinstated to the practice of law on Aug. 13 subject to conditions imposed when he was suspended on June 22. Maloney had been suspended retroactively to Sept. 18, 2019, for 18 months, with 10 months to be served on active suspension and eight months on probation. According to the terms of his probation, Maloney must engage a practice monitor, reconcile his trust account at least monthly, properly account for client funds and make a good faith effort to contact those who are entitled to funds being held in escrow.

Sullivan County lawyer Jason R. McLellan was reinstated to the practice of law on Aug. 13 subject to conditions imposed when he was suspended on May 13. McLellan had been suspended for one year with two months to be served on active suspension and the remainder on probation. According to the terms of his probation, McLellan must engage a practice monitor to assess his case load, timeliness of tasks, adequacy of communication with clients and accounting procedures. The monitor must meet with McLellan monthly and provide written reports to the Board of Professional Responsibility.

Davidson County lawyer Kevin William Teets Jr. was reinstated to the practice of law on Aug. 26. He had been suspended in June for 30 days. The Tennessee Supreme Court conditioned reinstatement on engagement of a practice monitor for one year. The monitor is required to meet with Teets monthly to assess his case load, timeliness of tasks, adequacy of communication with clients and accounting procedures.

The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated George H. Thompson III to the practice of law on Sept. 29. Thompson was suspended in April for one year, with 30 days to be served on active suspension and the remainder on probation. Thompson’s reinstatement was conditioned on engagement of a practice monitor who will meet with him monthly for 11 months to assess his case load, timeliness of tasks and adequacy of communication with clients. The monitor will also provide monthly written reports of progress to the Board of Professional Responsibility.

DISCIPLINARY

Disbarred

The Tennessee Supreme Court entered an order permanently disbarring Jackie “Jack” L. Garton from practicing law on Sept. 10. Garton, a Dickson County lawyer, was trustee for a trust set up to provide for the daughter of a state trooper who was killed by a tractor-trailer truck. The trust contained over $2 million from the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit. Garton began disbursing trust monies to himself in the form of excessive fees, ultimately misappropriating more than $1 million from the trust. In 2019, Garton was convicted of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and tax fraud.

The Tennessee Supreme Court permanently disbarred Arkansas attorney Kimberly Ogden Sutton from the practice of law on Sept. 11. Sutton consented to disbarment because, according to the court, she could not successfully defend herself against complaints filed against her. Sutton represented six clients in immigration related matters. The court found that she was paid to provide legal services but failed to complete those services, collected fees that were not yet earned, and effectively terminated representation without notifying the clients or returning files or unearned fees. Sutton was earlier suspended for not responding to the complaints and failed to comply with the notification requirements of suspended attorneys. Her conduct was determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.15, 1.16, 3.4(c), 8.1 and 8.4(a) and (d).

Suspended

The Tennessee Supreme Court temporarily suspended Anderson County lawyer Kevin Carmack Angel from the practice of law on Sept. 18 after finding that he posed a threat of substantial harm to himself and the public. Angel is immediately precluded from accepting any new cases and must cease representing existing clients by Sept. 18. The suspension remains in effect until dissolution or modification by the court.

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended the law license of Morristown attorney Douglas Ralph Beier for two years on Oct. 2. The court held that Beier made false representations in a child custody case, exploited a client with a disability in an estate case, and engaged in dishonest conduct in order to get an exorbitant fee from an estate. The disciplinary panel recommended a three-month active suspension followed by 21 months of probation. Both Beier and the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) appealed. The chancery court ruled that the discipline should be increased to two years of active suspension. Beier again appealed but the Supreme Court agreed with the chancery court and rejected the probation time. The court pointed to the seriousness of the breach of ethics rules and the fact that Beier refused to acknowledge the wrongfulness of his conduct as reasoning for its decision.

Carroll County lawyer Benjamin Dempsey was suspended on Aug. 21 for five years, with three years to be served on active suspension and the remainder on probation. The Tennessee Supreme Court reports that Dempsey entered an Alford plea and was convicted of the Class B misdemeanor offense of simple assault by offensive touching. In another matter, he was suspended for three years by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee for misappropriating funds, engaging in improper trust accounting, making misrepresentations to his client and the court, and failing to refund fees to his client in a timely manner. Dempsey admitted violating Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.15, 1.16, 3.4, 5.3 and 8.4(a), (b), (c) and (d). On Sept. 25, the court rejected a request from Dempsey to “supplement, complete and correct the record” in the matter of his suspension.

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Rutherford County lawyer Robert John Foy from the practice of law on Aug. 17 for seven years, with five years to be served on active suspension and the remainder on probation. In addition, the court ordered Foy to obtain an evaluation by the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program and engage the services of a practice monitor. The court found that Foy converted client settlement funds to his own business and personal use; failed to promptly pay third-party lien holders from settlement funds; falsified bank records to prevent discovery of his misappropriation; and failed to keep client funds and estate funds in his trust account. Foy agreed to a conditional guilty plea and reimbursed his clients in full. His actions were determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15, 3.4, 4.1, and 8.4 (a) and (c).

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Morgan County lawyer Andrew Nathan Hall from the practice of law on Sept. 4 after finding he failed to respond to a complaint of misconduct. Supreme Court Rule 9 provides for the immediate summary suspension of an attorney’s license to practice law if the attorney fails to respond to a complaint of misconduct. Hall must immediately cease accepting new cases and stop representing existing clients by Oct. 4.

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Virginia lawyer Stephen Kenneth Perry from the practice of law on Oct. 2 for two years, retroactive to Jan. 2, 2019, the date a temporary suspension was imposed. As a condition of reinstatement, Perry must pay restitution to his client and undergo an evaluation by the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program. The court found that Perry essentially abandoned his client’s case and failed to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility in violation of Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16, 3.2, 8.1(b) and 8.4(d).

On Sept. 25, the state Supreme Court temporarily suspended attorney Robert R. Rexrode from the practice of law after he failed to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility regarding a complaint. Supreme Court Rule 9 provides for the immediate summary suspension of an attorney’s license to practice law if the attorney fails to respond to a complaint of misconduct. Rexrode must immediately stop accepting any new cases and must cease representing existing clients by Oct. 25.

The Tennessee Supreme Court temporarily suspended Rutherford County attorney David Brent Whelan from the practice of law on Sept. 10 after finding that he failed to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility regarding a complaint of misconduct and posed a risk of substantial harm to the public. Whelan is immediately precluded from accepting any new cases and must cease representing existing clients by Oct. 10.

Censured

Hamilton County lawyer Michael Robie Buchanan was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court on Aug. 17 for failure to timely remit agreed employee deferral contributions to a firm 401(k) plan and matching contributions. The suspension was conditioned on payment of fees to the Board of Professional Responsibility. Buchanan’s activities were determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15 and 5.3.

Christopher M. Vlachos, a licensed attorney in Florida and Michigan and whose admission to practice in Tennessee is pending, received a public censure on Aug. 20. Vlachos’ application for comity admission to practice law in Tennessee was approved in 2018, pending admission. He then represented clients for his law firm in at least three active court matters, without filing for pro hac vice admission in those courts as required by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 7. Vlachos signed multiple pleadings with a signature block that listed his name followed by the BPR number of his supervising attorney, and the name of his supervising attorney with the same BPR number. The signature block did not otherwise indicate that Vlachos was practicing “pending admission” in Tennessee. The firm’s website also incorrectly listed Vlachos as licensed to practice law in Tennessee at the time.

Board of Judicial Conduct

The Board of Judicial Conduct issued a public reprimand to Coffee County General Sessions Judge Jere Ledsinger on Sept. 28 after it found that he “made an inappropriate comment to a courtroom audience.” The board said that on or about July 16, Ledsinger addressed a group of criminal defendants, including some who were African-American, about the requirement to wear face masks in court, saying the “Grand Wizard of our Supreme Court said we have to wear these masks” or words to that effect. Ledsinger acknowledged he was wrong to make the statement and said he meant no disrespect. The board said the statement violated judicial conduct rules requiring judges to maintain the highest standards of conduct and dignity; avoid words or conduct that manifest bias or prejudice; be dignified and courteous to those they deal with; act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; and avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

Administrative Suspensions

Notice of attorneys suspended for, and reinstated from, administrative violations – including failure to pay the Board of Professional Responsibility licensing and inactive fees, file the required IOLTA report, comply with continuing legal education requirements, and pay the Tennessee professional privilege tax – is on the TBA website at www.tba.org/administrative_suspensions.