Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Assessment of Costs Against Disbarred Attorney

August 16, 2021

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a decision of a Board of Professional Responsibility Hearing Panel denying an attorney’s petition seeking relief from costs associated with his disbarment proceedings. 

This case stems from a petition of discipline filed against Knoxville attorney Loring Edwin Justice by the Board of Professional Responsibility on September 25, 2013.  A hearing panel of the Board determined that Mr. Justice had violated four provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct, and he was sanctioned with twelve additional hours of continuing legal education and a one-year active suspension.  The Board and Mr. Justice both appealed to the Sixth Judicial District Chancery Court, which affirmed the hearing panel’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, but modified the sanction to disbarment.  Mr. Justice appealed to the Supreme Court, and it affirmed the Chancery Court.  Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the Board assessed costs and expenses amounting to $25,403.65 against Mr. Justice under pre-2014 Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9.  These expenses were detailed in an August 22, 2019 invoice.

Mr. Justice filed a petition for relief from costs and objected to certain time entries and expenses, arguing that he should be relieved from all costs because the disciplinary proceedings were unconstitutional, the standard of proof used in the proceedings was preponderance of the evidence rather than clear and convincing evidence, and his Fifth Amendment privilege against
self-incrimination was violated.  He also argued that certain time entries were inflated and other expenses were unnecessary.  Mr. Justice then filed a written request to depose disciplinary counsel, propound interrogatories, and conduct discovery.  The Board filed a response in opposition to Mr. Justice’s request to conduct discovery and responded to Mr. Justice’s petition for relief from costs.  A Board of Professional Responsibility Hearing Panel held two telephonic hearings and ultimately issued orders denying Mr. Justice’s request to conduct discovery and his petition for relief from costs and objections to costs assessed, except that the Hearing Panel reduced the attorney time the Board billed for certain activities.  Mr. Justice appealed to the Supreme Court.

In a unanimous opinion, the Court affirmed the Hearing Panel’s decision.  The Court held that the Hearing Panel did not abuse its discretion when it denied Mr. Justice’s discovery request and heard his case on the pleadings and arguments of counsel.  The Court further held that, while pre-2014 Rule 9 gives attorneys the opportunity to seek relief from costs assessed for a disciplinary proceeding, it does not provide attorneys with a second chance to relitigate issues decided against them in the underlying disciplinary proceedings.  Therefore, the Court concluded that the Hearing Panel did not abuse its discretion when it declined to address Mr. Justice’s claims that his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in the underlying disciplinary case was violated.  Finally, the Court held that the Hearing Panel’s decision to not reduce the Board’s assessment of fees and costs and enforce the Board’s assessment of costs against Mr. Justice was supported by substantial and material evidence. 

To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in In re: Loring Edwin Justice, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov