Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Tennessee Supreme Court opinion disbarring a lawyer for, inter alia, giving a false statement under oath, knowingly testifying falsely in a court proceeding, and seeking an unreasonable fee The case is Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility v. Loring Edward Justice, Case No. E2017-01334-SC-R3-BP. The link with the July 2, 2019 SC opinion is here: https://docs.tbpr.org/justice-2254-sc-decision.pdf.
According to the opinion, the lawyer made false and exaggerated time entries when he submitted a request for more than $103,000 in legal fees for the time that he spent fighting Lowe’s Home Centers over a discovery violation. The lawyer also claimed his paralegal’s work as his own and falsely stated that he had kept “contemporaneous records” of the time he spent in the underlying discovery dispute. The lawyer also submitted a “grossly exaggerated” fee itemization that included work for which he was not supposed to be paid.
A federal district judge had ordered that the lawyer be paid for the time that he spent locating and deposing a store human resources manager as a sanction for the store’s failure to disclose the name in discovery. After questions arose about Justice’s legal billings, including seventeen items described as attorney time which were identical or nearly identical to invoices submitted by the lawyer’s paralegal, the judge declined to award fees to the lawyer.. In addition, other billings in the lawyer’s fee itemization were found to be for tasks that were “completely unrelated” to the issues in the dispute.
A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel had recommended a one-year suspension rather than a disbarment and the lawyer, and the Board of Professional Responsibility appealed. The hearing panel’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are here: https://docs.tbpr.org/justice-2254-hp-judgment.pdf.
A judge assigned to hear the case later modified the suspension recommendation to disbarment, stating that the lawyer’s “intentional deceit” and “total lack of remorse” required disbarment.
The lengthy Supreme Court opinion stated that the evidence “furnishes an eminently sound factual basis for the hearing panel’s decision” and the judge’s modification of the sanction to disbarment. In a footnote, the opinion stated that some of the lawyer’s arguments were “too outlandish to dignify with discussion”, including the argument that the trial judge’s given name illustrates bias. The footnote states: “Not only is this argument without merit, it is absurd.” The opinion disbarred the lawyer.
Bottom line: According to the very lengthy opinion, this lawyer apparently decided to fabricate his time, make false statements, and then continue to argue and claim that the fee was appropriate throughout the proceedings. He and his lawyers also made arguments that were “too outlandish to dignify with discussion.”
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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