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Cawood dodges another complaint

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

The Board of Professional Responsibility failed to convince a hearing panel that Kingston attorney Chris Cawood violated rules of professional conduct.

The board couldn’t convince Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, either.

“Having reviewed the entire record, the court agrees with the findings and conclusions of the hearing panel that there were no violations of the rules of professional conduct,” Blackwood wrote in his ruling.

The ruling means the hearing panel’s decision to dismiss the board’s petition for discipline against Cawood stands.

Cawood said he was pleased.

“I had done some things that weren’t morally or whatever appropriate, but there’s no rule against it,” Cawood said. “He (Blackwood) said I didn’t violate any rule. I didn’t use it as leverage to represent somebody and I wasn’t dishonest or deceitful.”

Blackwood heard arguments from Cawood and Board of Professional Responsibility attorney Sandy Garrett on Aug. 14. The board was asking Blackwood to reverse a decision its own hearing panel reached in December 2008 about a sexual tryst Cawood had with two women in his law office.

According to the findings of fact as determined by the hearing panel, Cawood engaged in consensual sexual conduct with Lisa Steinmetz, the girlfriend of one of his clients, and Christy DeRossett.

The panel’s report states that Cawood performed a sex act in the presence of the two women and fondled one or both women with their consent.

The board wanted Cawood disciplined for his behavior. The hearing panel found his actions repulsive, inappropriate and outrageous, but determined Cawood did not violate any rules of professional conduct and dismissed the board’s complaint.   

Blackwood also found disdain with Cawood’s behavior, but determined it didn’t rise to a violation of any rules.

“The prurient nature of the incident is more appropriate conduct for the locker room than a law office,” Blackwood wrote.

Cawood’s sexual appetite has gotten him in trouble before.

He was previously involved in a legal fight with local authorities over what he contended was “just a little sex with a divorce client.” Cawood, who also moonlights as an author, detailed the saga in his 2006 book “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”

Blackwood cautioned that Cawood, a former state legislator, could find himself in trouble again if he doesn’t learn to control his libido.

“The respondent (Cawood) admits a lack of self control in the sexual realm and realizes that this lack exposes himself to exploitation,” Blackwood wrote. “It is not farfetched to foresee circumstances in which enterprising or intriguing individuals would compromise respondent’s ability to perform his legal and ethical responsibility.”

Nancy Jones is the chief disciplinary counsel for the Board of Professional Responsibility. She said the board has not yet decided whether or not to appeal Blackwood’s decision. 

“They will have their next meeting on September 11,” Jones said. “At that time they will take this matter under consideration.”

Cawood said he fully expects the board to appeal.

“This may even go up to the State Supreme Court,” he said.

In his ruling, Blackwood hinted that the state’s highest court may need to address the matter.

“Tennessee does not have a rule of conduct that governs consensual sexual behavior of an attorney, even if that behavior is repulsive,” Blackwood wrote. “This court is reluctant to extend the interpretation of conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice beyond its already announced parameter. Any extension of this rule awaits the considered and reasoned judgment of the Tennessee Supreme Court.”

The board publicly censured Cawood in 2001, saying a conflict of interest arose as a result of his personal relationship with a client. Cawood called the latest attempt to have him disciplined a vendetta on behalf of the board.  

“Certainly. Most assuredly,” Cawood said. “Whatever affirmative way I can say it.”

Jones denied Cawood’s assertion that the board is out to get him. 

“We do not have a vendetta against Mr. Cawood,” she said.

Not all of Cawood’s legal troubles have to do with his sex drive. He was charged with resisting arrest in May after he got rowdy with deputies in the courthouse.

The incident started when Cawood’s client, former constable Mark Patton, tried to slip by a security checkpoint with a box. Cawood got upset because Patton was stopped. Cawood used profanity and even squared off with one of the deputies. He was handcuffed and taken to jail. 

That case has been assigned to the 10th Judicial District because District Attorney General Russell Johnson recused his office. Cawood said he’s hired Pat Cooley to represent him.

“He handles all my criminal stuff,” Cawood said.