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Bailey v. Bd. of Prof'l Responsibility - 441 S.W.3d 223 (Tenn. 2014)

Rule:

In order to determine the appropriate discipline in a given case, the supreme court turns to the American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (ABA Standards). Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 8.4, which are "guideposts" rather than rigid rules for determining appropriate and consistent sanctions for attorney misconduct. The ABA Standards provide a framework that gives courts the flexibility to select the appropriate sanction in each particular case of lawyer misconduct. The ABA Standards specify that when imposing a sanction, the court should consider: (1) What ethical duty did the lawyer violate? (A duty to a client, the public, the legal system, or the profession?); (2) What was the lawyer's mental state? (Did the lawyer act intentionally, knowingly, or negligently?); (3) What was the extent of the actual or potential injury caused by the lawyer's misconduct? (Was there a serious or potentially serious injury?); (4) Are there any aggravating or mitigating circumstances?

Facts:

The Board of Professional Responsibility commenced a disciplinary proceeding against an attorney based on complaints it received from a judge and opposing counsel regarding the attorney's disruptive behavior during trial proceedings. A hearing panel found that the attorney had violated several Rules of Professional Conduct and suspended him from the practice of law for 60 days. On appeal, the Chancery Court for Shelby County affirmed the hearing panel's finding that the attorney had violated several ethical rules but reversed the suspension, instead recommending a public censure. The Board of Professional Responsibility appealed to the state supreme court.

Issue:

Did the Chancery Court for Shelby County err in reversing the lawyer’s suspension?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the chancery court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the hearing panel regarding the weight of the evidence because substantial and material evidence supported the hearing panel’s finding that an attorney’s behavior warranted suspension under the ABA Standards 6.22. According to the Court, the proof supported the hearing panel's finding that the attorney's conduct caused interference or potential interference with a legal proceeding and actual or potential injury to the clients or parties in violation of Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. Prof. Cond. 8, 3.4(c), 3.5(e), and 8.4. Moreover, the Court held that the hearing panel properly considered aggravating and mitigating factors in recommending a suspension, which was consistent with comparable cases involving similar violations, and the length was appropriately tailored to the facts.

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