Monday, November 30, 2009
The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed a hearing panel order imposing a one-year suspension in a matter involving four separate complaints. The court rejected a variety of claims, including that the sanction was excessive in light of the attorney's claim that he had acted negligently and that the "proceedings were procedurally flawed because a member of the hearing panel and a lawyer-witness were subsequently disciplined for professional misconduct in other matters."
The panel member was later suspended for failure to respond to a bar complaint. The witness was disbarred. The court found that the issue was not properly documented in the appeal but rejected the claim on the merits:
While we firmly reject [his] argument that his Panel was compromised by unlawful procedure, we conclude our analysis by emphasizing that we take seriously the integrity of attorney disciplinary proceedings in Tennessee. We regret those instances when attorneys standing in judgment of their peers are themselves subsequently found in violation of the rules that govern our profession. We aspire to a system where Panel members are of the highest ethical character and scrupulously refrain from even the appearance of professional misconduct in their own practice of law. Nonetheless, where a disciplined attorney may obtain two levels of review of the Panel's judgment, the subsequent discipline of a Panel member cannot automatically negate the outcome of all the prior disciplinary proceedings where that attorney served on the Panel. In this case...the Panel's judgment is independently supported by the decision of the other two Panel members, against whom [he] alleges no procedural improprieties.