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Posted by: Journal News on Apr 24, 2020

Journal Issue Date: May 2020

Journal Name: Vol. 56 No. 5

DISABILITY INACTIVE

The law license of Williamson County lawyer Margaret L. Akins was transferred to disability inactive status on March 27. Akins may not practice law while on inactive status. She may return to the practice of law after reinstatement by showing by clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and she is fit to resume the practice of law.

The Tennessee Supreme Court transferred the law license of Janice Yvonne Brown to disability inactive status on March 10. Brown may not practice law while on inactive status. She may return to the practice of law after reinstatement by the court upon showing of clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and she is fit to resume the practice of law.

The Tennessee Supreme Court transferred the law license of Rutherford County lawyer John Paul Doyle to disability inactive status on April 1. Doyle may not practice law while on inactive status, but may practice after reinstatement by the court upon showing clear and convincing evidence that the disability has been removed and he is fit to resume the practice of law.

On March 5, New Jersey attorney Deon Devall Owensby filed a petition with the Tennessee Supreme Court requesting transfer of his law license to disability inactive status, arguing that he suffers from a temporary disability or infirmity that prevents him from responding to or defending against a disciplinary matter. The Board of Professional Responsibility asked the court to refer the matter to a hearing panel or require the submission of additional medical documentation. On March 27, the court determined that the documentation submitted in support of the petition was insufficient and directed Owensby to show cause why his petition should not be dismissed.

REINSTATED

The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated Illinois lawyer Rebecca Alixe Lipe to the practice of law on Feb. 28, retroactive to Feb. 6. She had been placed on inactive status in June 2018 and military exempt status in January 2010. 

The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated Hamilton County lawyer Leslie Anne Starritt Molinski to the practice of law on Feb. 28, retroactive to Feb. 20. She had been placed on inactive status in January 2013.

The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated Davidson County lawyer Dana L. Nero on Feb. 25. She had been suspended in 2013 for three years (retroactive to June 11, 2012), with 11 months and 29 days to be served on active suspension and the remainder to be served on probation.

GUILTY PLEA REJECTED

On Jan. 8, Carroll County lawyer Benjamin Dempsey agreed to a conditional guilty plea offered by the Board of Professional Responsibility to settle a disciplinary complaint against him. After the board presented the plea agreement to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the court expressed concern that the recommended punishment was too lenient in light of the nature of the misconduct. On March 27, the court rejected the plea and referred the matter back to the board for further proceedings.

DISCIPLINARY
Disbarred

The Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Campbell County lawyer Michael Glen Hatmaker from the practice of law on March 12. Hatmaker consented to disbarment because he could not successfully defend the charges alleged in nine complaints filed against him. As a condition of any reinstatement, Hatmaker agreed to make restitution of $60,000. His conduct was determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16, 3.4(c), 5.5, 8.1 and 8.4(a), (b), (c) and (g).

The Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Gregory Scott Norris from the practice of law on March 13 and ordered him to pay restitution to six former clients totaling $6,000. The court took the action after finding that Norris failed to appear in court on numerous occasions, stopped corresponding with opposing attorneys, made incoherent arguments in court, took fees from clients for whom he did little-to-no work, failed to advise clients of his temporary suspension, failed to communicate with or return files to clients, and abandoned numerous client matters. His actions were determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16(d), 3.2, 8.1, 8.4(a), (d) and (g).

The Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Shelby County lawyer Paul James Springer from the practice of law on March 26 and ordered him to pay restitution to a client in the amount of $150,000. The court took the action after determining that Springer misappropriated settlement funds, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, made material misrepresentations to his client, failed to communicate with or notify clients of his suspension, failed to withdraw as attorney of record, and engaged in criminal conduct as well as conduct involving dishonesty, deceit, misrepresentations and fraud. His actions were determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1-4, 1.7, 1.15-16, 4.2, 5.5, 8.1 and 8.4 (a), (b), (c) and (g).

Suspended

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Robert L. Booker from the practice of law for three years on March 11. The court found that Booker, while representing a seller of a music collection, concealed the identity of the purchaser from his client, withheld communications from his client, engaged in a conflict of interest, and sent inappropriate communications to the client. In a separate matter, Booker failed to disclose previous discipline from multiple states in his application for admission to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and engaged in improper billing practices. His actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.4, 1.7(a), 1.16, 8.1(a) and 8.4(a) and (c).

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended James Austin Dukes from the practice of law on March 11 until further notice. The court took the action after Dukes was found guilty of theft of $25,000 or more, theft of assets of the aged and exploitation of the infirm in the state of Louisiana. The court referred the matter to the Board of Professional Responsibility to determine the extent of final discipline to be imposed.

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended North Carolina lawyer Jake Preston Evans from the practice of law on March 9 for failure to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility regarding a disciplinary complaint. Supreme Court Rule 9 provides for immediate temporary suspension in these cases. Evans must immediately stop accepting any new cases and must cease representing existing clients by April 9.

The Tennessee Supreme Court on March 11 suspended Knox County lawyer Mark Steven Graham from the practice of law after finding that he misappropriated funds and posed a threat of substantial harm to the public. He is immediately precluded from accepting any new cases, and he must cease representing existing clients by April 10.

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Matthew Ledvina of Zurich, Switzerland, from the practice of law on March 11 after he entered a guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Ledvina pled guilty to the serious crime of conspiracy to commit securities fraud in violation of Title 15, United States Code, Section 78j(b) and Title 17, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 240.10b-5. The court referred the matter to the Board of Professional Responsibility to determine the extent of final discipline to be imposed.

Censured

The Tennessee Supreme Court censured Memphis lawyer Kathleen Laird Caldwell on April 1 and directed her to reimburse a former client $2,750 in fees. The court found that after agreeing to represent a client in a post-conviction criminal appeal for a flat fee of $7,500, Caldwell did not obtain a signed fee agreement from the client and deposited a portion of the funds in an operating account. The court also found that when Caldwell met with the client she had not reviewed any materials related to the case and had not begun the appeals process. Less than a month after being retained, the client terminated representation and requested a refund of the unearned portion of the fee. Caldwell only offered to refund $950. Her actions were determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2, 1.4, 1.5 and 1.15.

Shelby County lawyer Arthur Earle Horne III was censured on March 25 by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The court took the action following Horne’s conviction of simple assault in August 2018. The conviction arose out of a domestic altercation. Though Horne was not acting in a representative capacity when the incident occurred, the court found that his conduct reflected adversely on his fitness as a lawyer.

Chattanooga lawyer John Gary McDougal was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court on March 31. The court found that McDougal failed to adhere to filing deadlines set out in the Rules of Appellate Procedure and failed to follow orders from the Court of Criminal Appeals, which held him in contempt of court for his conduct. His actions were determined to violate Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 3.2, 3.4(c) and 8.4(a) and (d).

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