Recent Supreme Court Opinions

Drayton Beecher Smith, II v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee

Drayton Beecher Smith, II ("Attorney") pled guilty in 2007 to federal charges of receipt and possession of images depicting child pornography and was sentenced to five years of imprisonment. In conjunction with these charges, Attorney consented to his disbarment, which was ordered in 2008. In August 2014, after being discharged from prison and while on probation, Attorney petitioned to be reinstated to the practice of law in Tennessee. The Board of Professional Responsibility ("BPR") opposed Attorney's petition, and a hearing panel was appointed ("the Panel"). After an evidentiary hearing, the Panel denied Attorney's petition. Attorney sought review in chancery court, and the chancery court reversed the Panel's decision and ordered Attorney reinstated. The BPR sought review in this Court. Initially, we hold that the chancery court had subject-matter jurisdiction of Attorney's petition in spite of the BPR's untimely filing of its application for costs. We further hold that the chancery court misapplied the applicable standard of review and thereby committed reversible error. Accordingly, we reverse the chancery court's ruling and reinstate the Panel's decision. Click here to read Drayton Beecher Smith, II v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee delivered by Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins and joined by Justices Cornelia A. Clark, Sharon G. Lee, Holly Kirby and Roger A. Page.

Board of Professional Responsibility v. Charles Edward Daniel

This direct appeal arose from a disciplinary proceeding against Knoxville attorney Charles Edward Daniel. A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility found that the attorney had violated Rule 8.4(b) and (c) of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct by misappropriating funds from his law partnership in a manner intended to conceal his actions from his law partners. The hearing panel suspended him from the practice of law for three years but ordered the entire suspension served on probation. The Supreme Court concluded that the hearing panel did not abuse its discretion by suspending rather than disbarring the lawyer but did abuse its discretion by probating the entire suspension. Accordingly, the Court modified the hearing panel's judgment to include one year of active suspension. Click here to read Board of Professional Responsibility v. Charles Edward Daniel delivered by Justice Cornelia A. Clark and joined by Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, and Justices Sharon G. Lee, Holly Kirby and Roger A. Page.

Sean K. Hornbeck v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee

In this attorney disciplinary appeal, upon petition by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, this Court ordered the temporary suspension of the attorney from the practice of law based on the threat of substantial harm he posed to the public. For a time, the attorney was placed on disability status; later he was reinstated to suspended status. Subsequently, after an evidentiary hearing, a hearing panel found multiple acts of professional misconduct, including knowing conversion of client funds with substantial injury to clients, submitting false testimony and falsified documents in court proceedings, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, violating Supreme Court orders, and defrauding clients. The hearing panel determined that the attorney should be disbarred. On appeal to the chancery court, the attorney argued inter alia that the disbarment should be made retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension. The chancery court affirmed the decision of the hearing panel. On appeal to this Court, the attorney does not question the disbarment but argues that it would be arbitrary and capricious not to make his disbarment retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension, in order to advance the date on which he may apply for reinstatement of his law license. We disagree. In contrast to suspension, which contemplates that the lawyer will return to law practice, disbarment is not a temporary status. Disbarment is a termination of the individual’s license to practice law in Tennessee. Therefore, we decline to make the effective date of the attorney’s disbarment retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension. Accordingly, we affirm.

Click here to read Sean K. Hornbeck v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennesse authored by Justice Holly J. Kirby.

Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Robin K. Barry

This is an appeal from attorney disciplinary proceedings based on the attorney’s knowing conversion of client funds. In this case, disputed insurance funds were placed in the attorney’s trust account pending resolution of the dispute. Shortly after the disputed insurance funds were deposited, the attorney began to comingle funds in her trust account and use the insurance proceeds for her own purposes. At about the time the dispute over the insurance funds was resolved, the attorney moved out of state. In response to her client’s repeated inquiries about disbursement of the client’s share of the funds, the attorney stalled, made misrepresentations, and finally stopped communicating with the client altogether. After the client filed a complaint with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility against the attorney, the hearing panel found violations of RPC 1.4, RPC 1.15(a) and (d) and RPC 8.4, which included the knowing conversion of client funds and the failure to communicate. The hearing panel found five aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances. It suspended the attorney’s Tennessee law license for eighteen months, two months of which were to be served on active suspension. After the Board appealed, the chancery court held that the hearing panel’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and that disbarment was the only appropriate sanction. The attorney now appeals to this Court, arguing that disbarment is not warranted. In the alternative, the attorney argues that the disbarment should be made retroactive to the date of her original temporary suspension. Under the circumstances of this case, we affirm the chancery court and disbar the attorney from the practice of law in Tennessee, and we decline to make the disbarment retroactive.

Click here to read the opinion in Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Robin K. Barry authored by Justice Holly J. Kirby.