Saturday, September 21, 2019
From the web page of the Tennessee Supreme Court
The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the disbarment of Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan from the practice of law in Tennessee based on her conviction for bank fraud in federal court.
Ms. Meehan served as president of a sorority’s housing board overseeing construction and furnishing of a new sorority house at her alma mater, the University of Alabama. Through this work, she mishandled funds, including using false documents to open unauthorized banking accounts, submitting false invoices, and moving funds to a personal account. After Ms. Meehan pleaded guilty to bank fraud, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama sentenced her to six months in prison and ordered her to pay restitution.
The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Ms. Meehan from practicing law and referred the case to the Board of Professional Responsibility to start disciplinary proceedings. A hearing panel appointed by the Board of Professional Responsibility heard evidence related to the plea agreement in the federal bank fraud case as well as a previous disciplinary matter for misrepresenting her credentials in which she received a public sanction. The hearing panel applied Standards 5.1 and 5.11 under the American Bar Association’s Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and considered both aggravating factors submitted by the Board and mitigating factors submitted by Ms. Meehan. Ultimately, the panel determined that Ms. Meehan should be disbarred.
On appeal, the Davidson County Circuit Court held that the hearing panel’s decision was arbitrary and imposed a five-year suspension. The Board of Professional Responsibility appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the circuit court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the hearing panel and erred in modifying the hearing panel’s decision based on a review of sanctions imposed in similar cases.
The Supreme Court examined the presumptive sanction and the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors under the American Bar Association’s Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, and concluded that the hearing panel’s decision to disbar Ms. Meehan was supported by substantial and material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court also held that the trial court did not have the authority to modify the hearing panel’s decision based on a review of sanctions imposed in similar cases. Thus, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s judgment imposing suspension and affirmed the hearing panel’s decision to disbar Ms. Meehan.
To read the unanimous opinion of the Court in Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, please visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.
Details from the opinion
Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan, a licensed Tennessee attorney, mishandled funds belonging to Gamma Phi Beta sorority at the University of Alabama. Ms. Meehan pleaded guilty to bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1344 (2012), in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
Ms. Meehan, while attending the University of Alabama, was a member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority. After graduating, Ms. Meehan was an active sorority alumna, serving as president of the sorority’s housing board. As board president, Ms. Meehan oversaw the construction and furnishing of a new sorority house. Her responsibilities included coordinating the selection and purchase of furniture and other items for the house.
Ms. Meehan arranged to buy furniture for the new sorority house through Ai Corporate Interiors, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. Ai Corporate Interiors, an authorized dealer of furniture made by Teknion, LLC, gave Ms. Meehan a template that allowed her to generate invoices on her computer for orders of Teknion furniture. Ms. Meehan prepared and submitted invoices for furniture expenditures to Greek Resource Services, Inc., which served as manager and custodian of the sorority’s funds, including funds for furnishing the new sorority house. Under the sorority’s agreement with Greek Resource Services, the sorority could have no bank accounts other than the accounts managed by Greek Resource Services.
In September 2014, Ms. Meehan embarked on a scheme to obtain sorority funds from Greek Resource Services by submitting false furniture invoices and using a bank checking account opened under a fictitious name. She began by creating an invoice from “Technion, LLC” (Technion is a misspelling of Teknion, the furniture supplier’s name) with an address of P.O. Box 251, Villa Rica, Georgia. Ms. Meehan had rented this post office box as a part of her plan. She submitted an $88,311.60 invoice to Greek Resource
Services for sorority house furniture that she had not ordered.
A few days later, Ms. Meehan opened a business checking account at First Citizens Bank & Trust Company in Carnesville, Georgia, under the “Technion” business name and listed the Villa Rica, Georgia post office box as the account’s address. To open the account, Ms. Meehan provided the bank with a false Employer Identification Number and a fictitious corporate resolution identifying her as the Chief Financial Officer.
Neither the sorority housing board nor Greek Resource Services knew about the First Citizens Bank account. Later that day, Ms. Meehan went to a different branch of First Citizens Bank to deposit a check received from Greek Resource Services in the invoiced amount of $88,311.60. The check, issued by Greek Resource Services from the sorority’s account, was payable to “Technion Accounts Receivable.”
In October 2014, First Citizens Bank notified Ms. Meehan that the Employer Identification Number she had provided was incorrect. She then obtained and provided to the bank Teknion’s correct Employer Identification Number and address in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. After receiving this information, the bank changed the name on the account to Teknion, LLC and the address to Teknion’s New Jersey address.
In November 2014, Ms. Meehan created and submitted to Greek Resource Services a second false invoice payable to “Technion, LLC” for a furniture order in the amount of $286,740. Three days later, Greek Resource Services issued a check for the invoiced amount. Ms. Meehan deposited the check at a First Citizens Bank branch in Buckhead, Georgia. With this deposit, the balance in the account she had opened was more than $375,000.
In January 2015, Ms. Meehan went to a First Citizens Bank branch in Anderson, South Carolina, and wired $175,000 from the Teknion account to her personal business account at Bank of America. She also changed the address on the First Citizens Bank account from Teknion’s New Jersey address to a street address in Villa Rica, Georgia. In March 2015, Ms. Meehan obtained a cashier’s check for $175,000 from her personal business account at Bank of America, payable to Ai Corporate Interiors for furniture that she had purchased for the sorority house. Ms. Meehan closed the Teknion account later that month after being notified by First Citizens Bank that there was a problem with the account. She arranged for the remaining funds in the account to be transferred to Greek Resource Services for deposit into the sorority’s account.
A guilty plea followed indictment.
The hearing panel questioned Ms. Meehan about a 2011 public censure she had received based on her preparation and use of a resume that misrepresented her credentials. The resume falsely stated that she had clerked for a federal district judge when she had only completed a judicial externship. The resume also incorrectly represented that she had published a law review article, but Ms. Meehan had only submitted the article for publication. In addition, Ms. Meehan affirmed in writing during the 2011 disciplinary proceedings that the article had been published.
In sum, the hearing panel’s application of aggravating and mitigating factors and its imposition of disbarment were supported by substantial and material evidence. The hearing panel neither acted arbitrarily nor abused its discretion. See Lockett, 380 S.W.3d at 27 (citing Henderson v. SAIA, Inc., 318 S.W.3d 328, 335 (Tenn. 2010)) (“A hearing panel does not abuse its discretion when it makes a choice among several acceptable alternatives.”). Here, disbarment was an acceptable sanction for Ms. Meehan’s bank fraud conviction. The application of aggravating and mitigating factors did not warrant a departure from the presumptive sanction under the ABA Standards.