Tennessee Supreme Court Dismisses Petition For Discipline Against Tennessee Attorney

February 14, 2020

The Supreme Court held today that the Board of Professional Responsibility failed to prove that an attorney, James S. MacDonald, violated any Rules of Professional Conduct, resulting in the dismissal of the disciplinary allegations against him.

This disciplinary matter arose out of Mr. MacDonald’s representation of an individual in a dispute between two business partners.  Mr. MacDonald added the signature of the opposing party to a copy of a draft letter that Mr. MacDonald believed, in the original transmission, was signed and sent by the opposing party.  The Board filed a petition for discipline, alleging that Mr. MacDonald offered and used evidence he knew to be false, unlawfully altered and falsified evidence, and engaged in conduct involving deceit or misrepresentation, all in violation the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct.

The hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that the Board failed to establish a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  On appeal by the Board, the trial court reversed the holding of the hearing panel, determining multiple violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and imposing a sanction of public censure.  Mr. MacDonald then filed a notice of appeal with the Tennessee Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court erred in its determination of ethical violations and in imposing a sanction of public censure.

In the unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, the Court held that the hearing panel had a reasonable basis to conclude that Mr. MacDonald’s addition of the signature was with the good faith belief that there was a signed original and thus did not constitute falsified evidence.  The Court also held that an alleged rule violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c) must be dismissed because the hearing panel failed to address this possible rule violation in its decision.  Because the Court reversed all the chancery court’s determinations as to rule violations, the Court reinstated the hearing panel’s dismissal of the petition for discipline against Mr. MacDonald.

To read the Court’s unanimous opinion in Board of Professional Responsibility v. James S. MacDonald, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.