Tennessee Supreme Court Affirms Disbarment of Attorney Convicted of Bank Fraud

September 20, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the disbarment of Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan from the practice of law in Tennessee based on her conviction for bank fraud in federal court.

Ms. Meehan served as president of a sorority’s housing board overseeing construction and furnishing of a new sorority house at her alma mater, the University of Alabama.  Through this work, she mishandled funds, including using false documents to open unauthorized banking accounts, submitting false invoices, and moving funds to a personal account. After Ms. Meehan pleaded guilty to bank fraud, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama sentenced her to six months in prison and ordered her to pay restitution.

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Ms. Meehan from practicing law and referred the case to the Board of Professional Responsibility to start disciplinary proceedings. A hearing panel appointed by the Board of Professional Responsibility heard evidence related to the plea agreement in the federal bank fraud case as well as a previous disciplinary matter for misrepresenting her credentials in which she received a public sanction. The hearing panel applied Standards 5.1 and 5.11 under the American Bar Association’s Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and considered both aggravating factors submitted by the Board and mitigating factors submitted by Ms. Meehan. Ultimately, the panel determined that Ms. Meehan should be disbarred.

On appeal, the Davidson County Circuit Court held that the hearing panel’s decision was arbitrary and imposed a five-year suspension. The Board of Professional Responsibility appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the circuit court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the hearing panel and erred in modifying the hearing panel’s decision based on a review of sanctions imposed in similar cases.

The Supreme Court examined the presumptive sanction and the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors under the American Bar Association’s Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, and concluded that the hearing panel’s decision to disbar Ms. Meehan was supported by substantial and material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court also held that the trial court did not have the authority to modify the hearing panel’s decision based on a review of sanctions imposed in similar cases. Thus, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s judgment imposing suspension and affirmed the hearing panel’s decision to disbar Ms. Meehan.

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