Supreme Court Upholds Disbarment of Knoxville Attorney

July 2, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld a decision of the Chancery Court of Knox County that disbarred Knoxville attorney Loring Edwin Justice.

The disbarment stems from Mr. Justice’s conduct in a federal personal injury lawsuit in which he represented the plaintiff. The federal district court imposed a discovery sanction against the corporate defendant and ordered it to pay the attorney’s fees and costs the plaintiff had incurred in locating and deposing a witness the corporate defendant failed to disclose. When Mr. Justice submitted an itemization of the fees and costs to the federal district court, he falsely claimed as his own work the work that a paralegal had performed. Mr. Justice also submitted a written declaration along with the itemization falsely claiming that he had kept contemporaneous time records on the case and attesting to the truth and accuracy of the itemization. Mr. Justice also requested in the itemization “grossly exaggerated and unreasonable” attorney’s fees of more than $103,000 for work beyond the scope of the federal district court’s order. Later, Mr. Justice testified falsely in a hearing before the federal district court by reaffirming the truth and accuracy of the itemization and the written declaration.

A Hearing Panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that Mr. Justice had violated four provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”)—RPC 1.5(a) (Fees); RPC 3.3(a) (Candor Toward the Tribunal); RPC 3.4(b) (Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel); and RPC 8.4(a) and (c) (Misconduct). After finding six aggravating and two mitigating factors, the Hearing Panel suspended Mr. Justice for one year and ordered him to obtain 12 additional hours of ethics continuing legal education.

On appeal, the Chancery Court affirmed the Hearing Panel’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, but modified the sanction to disbarment. The Chancery Court noted that the Hearing Panel had failed to consider the ABA Standard establishing the presumptive sanction for Mr. Justice’s conduct as disbarment. After considering the aggravating and mitigating factors, the Chancery Court concluded that no sanction less than disbarment was warranted. Mr. Justice appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

In its decision today, the Supreme Court affirmed the Chancery Court’s decision in all respects, pointing out that Mr. Justice’s misconduct “evidenced his utter disregard for the fundamental obligation of lawyers to be truthful and honest officers of the court.” The Supreme Court agreed with the Chancery Court that the presumptive sanction of disbarment is appropriate because Mr. Justice’s conduct in falsely claiming the paralegal’s work as his own, submitting the false itemization and written declaration, and testifying falsely in federal court “strikes at the very heart of the legal profession.”

To read the unanimous opinion in Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Loring Edwin Justice, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.