October 9, 2008
Representing The Bishop
An attorney who had represented the Episcopal Bishop of Montana in connection with sexual misconduct charges involving an adult parishioner was censured by order of the Tennessee Supreme Court. The attorney had met the Bishop when they both served on the board of an entity that was devoted to assisting persons recovering from substance abuse. The terms of the engagement were disputed, with the Bishop contending that the fee was $1 plus expenses. The lawyer claimed to have sent a retainer agreement letter setting forth a contingent fee, which the client claimed he had not received. The court credited the lawyer's version.
The charges involved the handling of a settlement check. The lawyer was found entitled to the fee he had taken in light of the court's resolution of the fee agreement issue. Thus, he was not culpable of conversion or failure to return an unearned fee. However, the lawyer had placed an unauthorized endorsement on the check in order to deposit it in his`escrow account. The court found that this conduct did not amount to forgery. The court rejected a suspension sanction in favor of a public censure. (Mike Frisch)
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