In a unanimous Opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the nine-month suspension of a Chattanooga attorney’s law license for violation of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct in his representation of two clients.
H. Owen Maddux, a solo practitioner, represented a Hamilton County mother and son in a dispute with a business associate. As part of that proceeding, Mr. Maddux collected funds owed to the business by various customers. Despite sending a letter to customers stating the funds would be deposited with the court while the legal case played out, Mr. Maddux released more than $35,000 of the collected funds to his client the son, without notifying any other parties, including the customers, the mother, the court, or the business associate.
An attorney for the business associate filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility, citing Mr. Maddux’s actions regarding the funds in question. After an investigation, a petition for discipline was filed, but Mr. Maddux failed to answer.
A board panel then filed a default judgment against Mr. Maddux, which he later sought to set aside. In a hearing, Mr. Maddux stipulated to the facts regarding his work, but disputed the appropriateness of the nine-month suspension the board’s panel imposed.
The board upheld the nine-month suspension, which Mr. Maddux appealed to the Hamilton County Circuit Court, which also affirmed. Mr. Maddux then brought his appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The Court found that the hearing panel’s imposition of a nine-month suspension was not arbitrary and was supported by the evidence. The Court determined that the punishment was appropriate considering Mr. Maddux’s violation of duties owed to his client, to third persons, and to the legal profession, as well as Mr. Maddux’s experience, failure to answer the petition filed against him, and his disciplinary history, which includes two prior suspensions of his law license.
To read the H. Owen Maddux v. Board of Professional Responsibility Opinion, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit TNCourts.gov.