Last year, I wrote about the curious case of a Tennessee lawyer who demonstrated that while it is difficult to get disbarred over a conflict, it is not impossible. You do have to try really, really hard though.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the lawyer’s Quixotic continuing violation of the First Rule of Holes had at least one more wrinkle to it as the Tennessee Court of Appeals revealed in an opinion issued yesterday.
In addition to the all of the various activities that the lawyer in question continued to pursue, despite having been suspended from the practice of law, mentioned in the order of disbarment entered last year, there was one other pretty remarkable one that didn’t get discussed in that order.
In November 2017, the lawyer filed a petition for contempt against the receiver and a number of attorneys back in the original 2002 case at the trial court purporting to act as a pro se party. As disciplinary counsel across the country will gladly tell you, one frustrating fact of life even after disbarring a lawyer is that the lawyer can still file lawsuits representing themselves – and they often do against those that they believe wronged them in the disciplinary process. The problem for this lawyer though was that he wasn’t actually a party to the litigation, just prior counsel of record, and he didn’t undertake any sort of filing to seek to intervene and be made a party in the underlying litigation.
The relatively short appellate opinion issued yesterday details that the trial court astutely figured out that this was a problem and that the lawyer’s conduct was “subterfuge to circumvent his suspension from the practice of law.” It also succinctly addresses and rejects the “somewhat perplexing” arguments the lawyer continued to make on appeal to justify his conduct. Perhaps tellingly in trying to determine whether this will be the last of the efforts, the lawyer attempted in the appeal of that matter to argue that the orders of the Tennessee Supreme Court suspending him from practice were not valid.
The saddest part of that whole story still seems to be that, prior to this more than 15-year period of losing the plot over this one piece of litigation, the attorney had no prior disciplinary problems.
Tennessee, of course, is not alone in having these kinds of stories. In fact, you can go read about a very remarkable new one out of Pennsylvania here if you so desire.
That lawyer is a former state legislator with a clean prior disciplinary record over many years who has now been suspended from practice for 2 years over what the ABA Journal highlights was an inability “to take no for answer.” As the 46-page report that originally recommended a 5-year suspension explains pretty exhaustively, the underlying case that this lawyer refused to let die involved a client seeking less than $4,000 in damages who apparently was willing to ratify the litigiousness as a matter of “principle” but has now had to file bankruptcy.
There are many lessons that can be learned from the things that lawyer did wrong. While the most fundamentally important lesson might well be the need to have a sense of proportionality, I’d say (with all due apologies to Memphis’s own Justin Timberlake), that the story could be made more catchy if set to music and called “Can’t Stop Appealing.”