Tennessee Supreme Court Affirms Three-Year Suspension of Knoxville Attorney

In an opinion released today, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed a finding of multiple ethical violations by Knoxville attorney Loring Justice and reinstated a three-year suspension imposed by a hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility.

Although Mr. Justice previously was disbarred in 2019, that disbarment was not permanent under the applicable professional ethics rules at that time.  As a result, Mr. Justice remains subject to additional discipline such as the suspension the Court approved in today’s opinion.  The Court since has revised the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct to provide that any disbarment after the effective date of the revisions will be permanent. 

In 2013, Mr. Justice was a party in a child custody dispute involving his minor child and the minor child’s mother.  During the course of the proceedings, Mr. Justice and his co-counsel filed various motions that contained numerous insulting and inflammatory statements about the judge presiding over the case.  In 2018, the Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition for discipline against Mr. Justice alleging that his use of these statements violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.

A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility held a hearing on the petition in 2021.  The hearing panel found that Mr. Justice violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct, and it determined that he should be suspended from the practice of law for three years. 

Mr. Justice appealed to the chancery court, challenging the hearing panel’s finding that he violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and raising two issues pertaining to procedural aspects of his case.  Following a hearing, the chancery court denied Mr. Justice relief on the issues he raised.  The court affirmed the hearing panel’s finding that Mr. Justice violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.  However, the chancery court concluded that the hearing panel erred in applying the American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and in determining that Mr. Justice should be suspended rather than disbarred.  Accordingly, the chancery court increased Mr. Justice’s punishment to disbarment.

Mr. Justice then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, raising the same procedural challenges and arguing that the trial court erred in increasing his punishment to disbarment.  Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court on all issues with the exception of the issue regarding Mr. Justice’s punishment.  The Court held that the trial court erred in increasing Mr. Justice’s punishment to disbarment, and it reinstated the three-year suspension imposed by the hearing panel to begin immediately and run concurrently with his prior disbarment.

Chief Justice Kirby wrote a separate opinion, concurring in the result reached by the majority but disagreeing with some of the majority’s reasoning. Chief Justice Kirby would have used disbarment as the presumptive sanction because Mr. Justice engaged in the misconduct to benefit himself personally. Nevertheless, she agreed with the majority’s decision to impose suspension instead of disbarment based on prior cases with similar offenses.    

To read the majority opinion in Loring E. Justice v. Board of Professional Responsibility, authored by Justice Jeff Bivins, and the separate opinion authored by Chief Justice Holly Kirby, visit the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.