Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Conditional Plea Leads To Disbarment

The Tennessee Supreme Court agreed that a hearing panel had acted within its authority and affirmed an order of disbarment. The attorney initially had defaulted on consolidated charges arising from four client complaints. At a subsequent hearing on sanction, he tendered a conditional plea in exchange for a three-year suspension. The panel approved the plea and granted the attorney's request to delay the effective date of the suspension on certain specified conditions. The attorney was warned that the panel would reconvene if he failed to certify compliance with the conditions. He failed to do so and the panel reconvened and imposed disbarment.

The court here rejected the contention that the panel was divested of jurisdiction when the Board of Professional Responsibility approved the proposed offer of conditional plea and had no power to modify the terms of the offer. Not so: "It was well within the jurisdiction of the Panel to both vacate the modified conditional plea when [the attorney] failed to timely notify his existing clients of his impending suspension by the established date, and enter an order of disbarment when [he] failed to appear at the [reconvened]hearing."

The court did hold that the attorney was allowed to nonsuit his petition for a writ of certiorari and reversed the trial court's contrary holding. As the appeal to the court was dismissed, the order of disbarment was affirmed. (Mike Frisch)

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