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.



TVA Inspector General Resigns To Be U.S. Attorney For Southern District Of Alabama

The TVA Inspector General, Richard W. Moore, was confirmed by the United States Senate on Sept. 14, as the new U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama after having been nominated by President Donald J. Trump in June of this year. Mr. Moore submitted his resignation letter as Inspector General to President Trump effective the date of his appointment as the ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Chamber Calendar For Sept. 25-29

Here is the calendar for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce for Sept. 25-29: Tuesday, Sept. 26, Government Contracting: Managing the Maze to Get the Contract 9-11:30 a.m. BrightBridge Women’s Business Center: 535 Chestnut St., Ste. 161 Are you ready for government contracting? How to sell your products and services to federal, state and/or local governments. How to register ... (click for more)

Witness Says Morse Told Him "His Emotions Got The Best Of Him" At Triple Killing In Lookout Valley

A witness told a Criminal Court jury on Friday that Derek Morse told him "his emotions got the best of him" at a triple killing in Lookout Valley. Michael Shavers also said Morse told him in detail about the slayings of John "Jake" Lang, Jon Morris and Caleb Boozer and the shooting of Matthew Callan at the Rolling Hills Trailer Park on April 9, 2014. Morse is standing trial ... (click for more)

Prosecutor Calls For "Meaningful Punishment" For Dyer, Brennan In $4.9 Million Swindle

Federal prosecutor James Brooks is calling for a "meaningful sentence" for Doug Dyer and James Brennan, who are charged in a $4.9 million swindle. He rejected arguments that they should receive leniency due to their age and health problems. They are set to be sentenced next Friday at 9 a.m. by Judge Travis McDonough. Prosecutor Brooks said concerning Dyer, "As this Court ... (click for more)

September Is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

The calendar fills up quickly in September as families return to a packed routine after quieter summer days. Unfortunately, your health might take a backseat to your busy schedule. So make a note on your calendar that September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and remind yourself—or the men in your life—about the importance of a healthy prostate.   Prostate cancer is ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: I Am Very Privileged

A California professor who teaches sociology at San Diego State told her students she would give each extra credit if they would participate in a “White Privilege Checklist” the other day. Understand, there is no pass or fail but, the more of the 20 statements you agree with, reveals you are “more guilty” of being white and therefore more “privileged” than those who are not. ... (click for more)