Tennessee Supreme Court Affirms Thirty-Day Suspension Of Davidson County Attorney

June 6, 2022

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the thirty-day suspension of Davidson County attorney Candes Vonniest Prewitt from the practice of law in Tennessee.

A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel found that Ms. Prewitt violated multiple provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct in her handling of a personal injury case for a client with whom she had an on-and-off romantic relationship. The hearing panel determined that Ms. Prewitt did not advise the client that their personal relationship created a potential conflict of interest. After taking the case, Ms. Prewitt failed to make proper expert disclosures, resulting in the exclusion of two expert witnesses. When the defendants filed summary judgment motions, Ms. Prewitt did not respond to the motions but instead withdrew from the case, forcing her client to find a new attorney within thirty days. After withdrawing from the case, Ms. Prewitt asserted a substantial attorney’s lien, and the client was unable to retain a new attorney until Ms. Prewitt agreed to release the lien. For this misconduct, the hearing panel concluded that Ms. Prewitt should be suspended from the practice of law for thirty days, that she should complete ten extra hours of continuing legal education in ethics, and that she should be supervised by a practice monitor for six months after her reinstatement.

On appeal, the Chancery Court for Davidson County affirmed the hearing panel’s decision. Ms. Prewitt then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, arguing that the hearing panel’s decision was unsupported by the evidence and was arbitrary, capricious, or characterized by abuse of discretion. She also claimed that a member of the hearing panel had a conflict of interest and that the hearing panel violated public policy by assessing the costs of the disciplinary proceedings against her.

The Supreme Court concluded the hearing panel’s finding that Ms. Prewitt violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.7, 1.16, and 8.4(a) was supported by substantial and material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court found that Ms. Prewitt had waived the issue of a hearing panel member’s potential conflict of interest when she raised the issue to the hearing panel, but declined the opportunity the hearing panel gave her to address it. The Supreme Court also rejected Ms. Prewitt’s argument that the assessment of the costs of the disciplinary proceeding violated public policy, noting that it is equitable to shift the significant costs of attorney discipline to attorneys who do not comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court’s judgment upholding the hearing panel’s decision to suspend Ms. Prewitt’s license to practice law and the conditions for her reinstatement.

To read the unanimous opinion of the Court in Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Candes Vonniest Prewitt, authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, please visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.