Tennessee Supreme Court Suspends Rutherford County Attorney

May 4, 2018

The Tennessee Supreme Court has suspended a Rutherford County attorney, James Carl Cope, for an additional 25 months.  Mr. Cope was temporarily suspended in October 2016, and he requested that his final suspension be retroactive to the date of his initial suspension.  The Court rejected Mr. Cope’s request and also rejected the Board of Professional Responsibility’s request to disbar Mr. Cope.

Mr. Cope pleaded guilty to insider trading in 2016, and pursuant to the rules governing the discipline of attorneys, the Tennessee Supreme Court immediately suspended him and referred the matter to the Board of Professional Responsibility for formal proceedings to determine his final discipline.

A hearing panel of lawyers heard the evidence against Mr. Cope. It was not disputed that Mr. Cope purchased stock in Avenue Bank based on non-public information he received as a member of the Board of Directors for Pinnacle Financial Partners. Mr. Cope pleaded guilty to insider trading in federal district court as a result of this conduct.  The hearing panel also heard from several witnesses who each testified to Mr. Cope’s excellent reputation in the community.

The hearing panel determined that Mr. Cope should be suspended for 25 months, retroactively to his summary suspension in October 2016. When the Board of Professional Responsibility sought an order of enforcement from the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court proposed that the attorney’s discipline be increased. Subsequently, Mr. Cope and the Board of Professional Responsibility argued their respective positions before the Court.

The Tennessee Supreme Court analyzed the circumstances of this case and the discipline imposed in other cases where attorneys were convicted of felony offenses. The Court concluded that the hearing panel’s judgment must be modified to conform to discipline imposed in other cases.  While the Court agreed that with the panel that a 25-month suspension was appropriate under the circumstances, the Court ordered that the suspension period would begin upon the filing of this opinion.

To read the unanimous opinion in In re: James Carl Cope, authored by Justice Roger A. Page, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.