It is not every day that a contempt case against a Tennessee lawyer gets some national coverage, but it also is not every day that a celebrity former television judge and former candidate for District Attorney has a criminal contempt ruling and sentence of 5 days in jail against him affirmed on appeal.
The appellate ruling is a relatively straightforward one released yesterday. (Coincidentally, almost exactly 1 year to the day of the incident in question.) My fellow Memphians will likely recall that the in-court exchange in question took place during the 2014 campaign season.
Were it not for the celebrity status of the lawyer involved, the ruling would likely not be worthy of much note. It does stand as another pretty good example, despite the effort to argue otherwise on appeal, of a lawyer who loses sight of when they stopped being engaged in zealous advocacy for a client and started engaging in conduct that really has nothing to do with advancing their client’s interests.
Pointing out exactly where that line was crossed can be something of an art form, but here it looks like it can be pinpointed to somewhere around the time where the lawyer started trying to hand two $10 bills to the judge.
Tennessee’s ethics rules get implicated by acts of criminal contempt in a number of facets. RPC 3.5(e) prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct intended to disrupt the court; RPC 8.4(b) prohibits certain criminal acts, including ones that can reflect adversely on fitness as a lawyer; RPC 8.4(d) prohibits conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; Typically, lawyers in Tennessee who are found in contempt of court end up also finding themselves hit with discipline, more often than not in the form of a public censure, so this is likely not the last wave of publicity regarding this story.