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Board seeks discipline against attorney Cawood

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood heard arguments from Board of Professional Responsibility attorney Sandy Garrett and Kingston attorney Chris Cawood on Friday.

The board wants to see Cawood disciplined for a sexual tryst that involved the girlfriend of one of his clients.

However, the board’s own hearing panel ruled in December that no disciplinary action should be taken. The board wasn’t happy with that decision and appealed.  

“Who chose the hearing panel?” Cawood said. “It was selected by the petitioner (the board) itself from a list of lawyers who have been approved by the petitioner to sit on hearing panels.”

The hearing panel called Cawood’s conduct repulsive, inappropriate and outrageous, but determined that he didn’t violate any rules of professional conduct.

Garrett, who is the board’s disciplinary counsel, argued that the panel’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

“Therefore, this court should reverse and remand the hearing panel’s judgement,” Garrett said.

Blackwood took the matter under advisement and said he’ll make a decision in the coming weeks.

According to the findings of fact as determined by the hearing panel, Cawood engaged in consensual sexual conduct with Lisa Steinmetz and Christy DeRossett. The panel’s report states that he performed a sex act in the presence of the two women and fondled one or both women with their consent.

Garrett argued that the board’s finding of consent was unsupported by the evidence.

Steinmetz was the girlfriend of Maurice Pryor, a client of Cawood’s at the time.

She alleged that Cawood promised he would get Pryor out of jail in exchange for sexual favors.

Garrett said Steinmetz declined the sexual favors, so Cawood requested she bring him someone who would comply. The encounter was recorded.

“Ms. Steinmetz brought Ms. DeRossett to (Cawood’s) law office,” Garrett said, “and it was after they were there that (Cawood) escalated the sexual conduct, despite the audio tape’s clear reflecting the repeated protests of Ms. DeRossett.”

The hearing panel determined that Steinmetz and DeRossett had serious and fatal credibility issues.

“For example, both women affirmatively testified that they did not go to Mr. Cawood’s office for the purpose of engaging in any sexual activity,” the panel’s report states. “In fact, this panel finds their statements to be untruthful.”

Cawood pointed that out to Blackwood during his argument on Friday.

“The petitioner lives and dies with the witnesses it put on,” Cawood said. “They were liars who were seeking money. The hearing panel saw through their lies, as should this court.”  

Cawood also told Blackwood that he suspects money is the reason the board continues to pursue the matter.

“That’s why we’re here today is about money,” Cawood said. “They want me to be, at least if I get a public censure I would have to pay all their expenses coming up here for the last two years, probably up to $20,000 to $30,000 now.”

Cawood’s libido has been the subject of controversy before. He was previously involved with a legal fight with local authorities over what he described as “just a little sex with a divorce client.”

He detailed that saga in his 2006 book “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”

Cawood, a former state representative, has most recently been in the spotlight as the attorney for embattled District 6 constable Mark Patton.

Patton was removed from office earlier this summer as the result of an ouster suit filed by District Attorney General Russell Johnson and Roane County Attorney Tom McFarland.

The first attempt at having an ouster hearing was thwarted when Cawood became embroiled in a courthouse ruckus that ensued because officers at a security checkpoint wanted to search a box Patton was carrying.

Cawood was charged with resisting arrest. Johnson said his office has recused itself from the matter, and it has been assigned to the 10th Judicial District.