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Sallee v. Tenn. Bd. of Prof'l Responsibility - 469 S.W.3d 18 (Tenn. 2015)

Rule:

Under ABA Standard 7.2, suspension is generally appropriate when a lawyer knowingly engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty owed as a professional and causes injury or potential injury to a client, the public, or the legal system. 

Facts:

Appellant attorney Sallee obtained her license to practice law in Tennessee in 1994. For approximately 18 years, she practiced law in Anderson County and the surrounding areas without disciplinary incident. However, in 2010, she took a wrongful death case and was eventually charged with a disciplinary action based on allegations of failure to communicate with the client, excessive fees, withholding items from the client's files after termination of her representation, and sending the clients' new attorney emails threatening criminal prosecution of the former clients. The hearing panel of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility suspended the law license of the appellant attorney for one year, determining that the attorney violated Rules 1.4, 1.5, 1.16, 4.4, and 8.4 of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct. The attorney sought judicial review of the hearing panel's decision, and the trial court affirmed the decision of the hearing panel. The attorney sought further review.

Issue:

Was the suspension of the attorney's license to practice law proper?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Tennessee held that the trial court did not err in affirming the decision of the hearing panel of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, which suspended appellant attorney's law license for one year. Material and substantial evidence supported the panel's determination that the attorney violated Rules 1.4 and 1.5 because she did not tell her clients that her original estimate for the entire wrongful death action had proven inaccurate, and the fee she sought to charge the clients was not reasonable in light of the minimal results accomplished at the time of her termination. Furthermore, the suspension was supported by the record because the attorney knowingly failed to communicate with the clients regarding her rapidly accruing fees and refused to comply with her duty to surrender certain items to them.

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