December 9, 2009
A Privilege, Not A Right
The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the denial of a petition for reinstatement of an attorney admitted in 1975. He had been privately admonished in 1987 and publically censured in 1994. Then, three complaints led to his two-year suspension.
In the suspension case, a hearing panel committee found numerous ethical violations including forgery, misappropriation and other trust account violations including 24 overdrafts.The panel ruled that the attorney be disbarred. The panel decision was appealed to a county chancery court, which found the sanction excessive and ruled that the some of the conduct was "de minimus" and "need not be noticed further." The chancery court further found that the attorney regretted his errors and had reformed his office procedures. The chancery court imposed public censure. The Board of Professional Responsibility appealed the chancery court's finding of no misappropriation and the sanction. The Supreme Court found the violations to be serious, warranting the two-year suspension.
Here, the court agreed that the attorney had failed to establish the moral qualifications for reinstatement: "There is a dearth of Tennessee case law setting forth specific examples of proof that will establish that an attorney possesses the moral qualifications required for reinstatement." The evidence of the six character witnesses and testimony regarding his operating procedure reforms did not meet the standard:
...perhaps most importantly, none of these changes to [his] accounting procedures constitute proof of rehabilitation as to his [prior] forgery of his clients' signatures or his willingness to involve one of his employees in a scheme to present the signatures as genuine by having her falsely notarize them.
In reinstatement, that should be the hard part--proving that past serious dishonesty will not recur. The court here notes that law practice is a privilege, not a right. (Mike Frisch)
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