Supreme Court Upholds 30-Day Suspension For Nashville Lawyer Who Criticized Judge In Email

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a 30-day suspension for Nashville attorney William Caldwell Hancock for his conduct in a bankruptcy case, which included sending an email to the judge calling him “a bully and clown.”

The disciplinary action against Mr. Hancock was originated by the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) in 2010 in connection with Mr.

Hancock’s representation of a commercial client in a bankruptcy action. After several months of contentious litigation, Mr. Hancock withdrew from the case in 2008 and sought attorney’s fees totaling more than $350,000. The court ultimately refused the fees and described his behavior throughout the case as, among other things, “unprofessional.”

Mr. Hancock appealed the decision denying his fees in federal court and, after seeking two extensions and filing paperwork outside the deadline that did not conform to standards, was again denied attorney’s fees. He then sent an email in late 2009 to the judge in the original bankruptcy case that said “… if you have a decent bone in your body you will get down off your high horse and act like a man instead of a bully and clown … .”

In 2011, a BPR hearing panel found that Mr. Hancock had violated five of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the panel concluded, when taking into account all the circumstances, the penalty should be a 30-day suspension of Mr. Hancock’s law license. The BPR and Mr. Hancock appealed the decision to the Chancery Court for Davidson County, which found three additional rule violations and upheld the 30-day suspension.

Mr. Hancock then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which addressed each of the violations found in rulings by the hearing panel and chancery court.

The Court determined that Mr. Hancock was in violation of the rule that prohibits ex parte communications with a judge – that is communication that does not extend to all parties in a case – and that his conduct was indeed intended to disrupt a proceeding.

The Court disagreed with the hearing panel’s conclusion that Mr. Hancock was in violation of the ethical rule that prohibits attorneys from making false statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge because his statements, while “extremely disrespectful,” were contained in an email addressed only to the judge and not shared by Mr. Hancock with any third party.

The Court reversed the chancery court’s modification of the hearing panel’s judgment based on Mr. Hancock’s late and noncompliant briefs in the federal court. Finally, the Court concurred with the hearing panel’s conclusion that Mr. Hancock’s acts, along with the aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the specific case, justify a 30-day suspension.

Justice Cornelia A. Clark concurred with the Court’s decision, but wrote in a separate opinion that the record contained “substantial … evidence” that Mr. Hancock sent an email disparaging the judge to third parties, which would be a sanctionable offense. She agreed that the 30-day suspension was appropriate.

Chief Justice Gary R. Wade disagreed with a portion of the Court’s decision, concluding in a separate opinion that Mr. Hancock’s misbehavior, although offensive, did not disrupt or interfere with the proceedings in the bankruptcy court because the email was sent more than nine months after the bankruptcy judge issued his ruling. Based on the plain language of the rules governing attorney discipline, Chief Justice Wade thought that these circumstances warranted a public reprimand rather than a suspension.


New Hamilton County Businesses

Here are the new business licenses from the County Clerk's office: AFFORDABLE AUTO GLASS VARIOUS LOCATIONS CHATTANOOGA, TN 37400 AULTMAN ROOFING & REMODELING LLC VARIOUS LOCATIONS CHATTANOOGA, TN 37402 AUTOTRANSPORT COM INC 2320 E 28TH ST CHATTANOOGA, TN 37407 BLACKBURN ACOUSTICS INC VARIOUS LOCATIONS CHATTANOOGA, TN 37402 BOUNCE BOUNCE ... (click for more)

Business After Hours And Ridgeland High School Artists Reception Will Be May 12

The Walker County Chamber will host the Business After Hours and the Ridgeland High School Artists Reception – Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America celebrates the connection between Amercians and sports in our heritage. The event will be at the 6th Cavalry Museum on May 12, from 4-6 p.m. Hometown Teams captures the stories that unfold on the neighborhood fields and courts, ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Firefighter Arrested For Robbery Of Hixson Convenience Store

The Chattanooga Police Department has arrested a Chattanooga firefighter in connection with a robbery on Sunday morning. The firefighter has been identified as Steven Kyle Ratledge. Firefighter Ratledge was assigned to Station 19 in Hixson and has been with the department for approximately 3 1/2 years. Firefighter Ratledge has been placed on leave without pay as the investigation ... (click for more)

Rescuers Help Man After He Falls 30 Feet From Signal Bluff

Rescuers helped a man back up after he fell 30 feet on a Signal Mountain bluff on Saturday night. However, he was not seriously injured. At 11 p.m., a 911 call was made reporting the fall. Walden's Ridge Emergency Services responded to 1425 East Brow Road. When rescue personnel arrived on the scene, they reported a 25-year-old male had fallen 30 feet off the side of ... (click for more)

Being Proactive With Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s and is the 14th leading cause of death in the United States. It affects an estimated one million Americans and four to six million worldwide,  There is no cure for Parkinson’s, and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States alone. Source: National Parkinson’s Foundation  ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Teachers Day Tomorrow

Years ago at a ritzy dinner party in Westchester County, New York, an editor from Reader’s Digest was seated next to the prettiest woman in the room and noticed her overall glow and countenance was such that he had never noticed a tell-tale scar under her nose. After the dishes were cleared away, admit the mindless chatter, he asked if she would mind telling him about it. The ... (click for more)