Tennessee Supreme Court Disbars Davidson County Attorney for Three Criminal Convictions

Nashville, Tenn – The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the decision of a Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel disbarring a Davidson County attorney for three criminal convictions.  The criminal convictions arise from the attorney’s conduct in representing a client in post-divorce proceedings. 

Robert Allen Doll, III, practiced family law in Tennessee.  In 2013, one of his clients expressed concerns about her children’s safety during visitations with her ex-husband.  An emergency petition was filed in the Williamson County domestic relations court to prevent the client’s ex-husband from exercising his visitation.  Attached to the petition was an oath containing what appeared to be his client’s notarized signature swearing to the facts in the petition.  The signature was notarized by a Davidson County notary, and Mr. Doll signed as the client’s attorney.  A judge granted the petition, temporarily stopping the ex-husband from exercising his parenting time, and set the case for a hearing.

Mr. Doll was not present at the initial hearing, but the client testified that she had not signed the petition.  The judge terminated the restraining order and requested Mr. Doll be present and explain the signature at another hearing.  At the second hearing, Mr. Doll told the judge his client was in his office and reviewed the petition the day it was signed.  The judge informed Mr. Doll he was potentially facing criminal allegations based on the inconsistent testimony.  At a later hearing, Mr. Doll’s client testified that she went to Mr. Doll’s office and signed the petition.

The District Attorney General obtained grand jury indictments against Mr. Doll and his client.  At Mr. Doll’s criminal trial, the client testified the signature on the petition was not hers and she had never gone to Mr. Doll’s office to sign the petition.  The client explained before one of the hearings, Mr. Doll met her outside the courtroom and instructed her to tell the judge she had signed the document.  The client said Mr. Doll never informed her she could get in trouble for lying under oath.  The client agreed she perjured herself and was indicted for two counts of aggravated perjury.     

A jury convicted Mr. Doll on two counts of subornation of aggravated perjury for having his client lie under oath and one count of criminal simulation for forging the client’s signature.  All three convictions are Class E felony offenses and serious crimes under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9.  The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Mr. Doll’s law license and referred the matter to a Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel to hold a hearing to determine the extent of final discipline to be imposed. 

In the hearing, Mr. Doll admitted the fact of his convictions and agreed they all related to his actions as a practicing attorney and occurred while he was representing his client before the court.  The panel determined disbarment was the appropriate discipline for Mr. Doll’s conduct because he engaged in serious criminal conduct which involve intentional interference with the administration of justice, and he violated the duties owed by every attorney causing serious or potentially serious injury to his client.  Mr. Doll appealed the hearing panel’s decision to the Davidson County chancery court, which affirmed. 

Mr. Doll appealed his sanction to the Tennessee Supreme Court.  He argued the hearing panel should have reviewed similar cases of attorney misconduct where a suspension was imposed, and that he should be suspended based on the sanction imposed in those cases.  Alternatively, he argued under the Supreme Court’s review, he should be suspended rather than disbarred.

The Supreme Court rejected Mr. Doll’s arguments.  The Court held the rules governing the process for attorney discipline do not give Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panels or trial courts authority to consider similar cases of attorney misconduct when deciding the discipline to be imposed.  The Court further held it has authority to review similar attorney disciplinary cases, but that no comparable case convinced the Court that suspension was the appropriate sanction for Mr. Doll.

The Court considered the circumstances of Mr. Doll’s three felony convictions, acknowledging “it is undisputed that the jury in the criminal case credited testimony showing that Mr. Doll took advantage of the trust his client placed in him and pressured her into lying in court, all in order to shield Mr. Doll from the fallout of his actions.”  The Court agreed with the panel that Mr. Doll’s conduct “cuts through the very heart of the judicial system and cannot be minimized in any way.”  The Court ordered Mr. Doll disbarred from the practice of law in Tennessee.

To read the Court’s opinion in Robert Allen Doll, III v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, authored by Chief Justice Holly Kirby, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.