Cawood legal decision has ripples

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By Damon Lawrence

The legal community is feeling the repercussions of a Tennessee Supreme Court decision involving Kingston attorney Chris Cawood.

After two unsuccessful attempts to have Cawood disciplined for a sexual tryst, the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility appealed to the Supreme Court.

The court threw out the appeal on Dec. 20 because the board’s petition for certiorari  or appeal failed to meet the requirements of state law.

“Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-8-106 states, ‘The petition for certiorari may be sworn to before the clerk of the circuit court, the judge, any judge of the court of general sessions, or a notary public, and shall state that it is the first application for the writ,” the court wrote.

“The board’s failure to follow the procedures of Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-8-106 deprives the chancery court of jurisdiction and is fatal to the board’s appeal,” the court added.

The opinion didn’t go unnoticed.

“Within days following the opinion, a previously suspended attorney contacted the board requesting copies of the petitions for writ of certiorari filed in his disciplinary appeal and advising that he planned
to challenge his suspension based upon the opinion,” the board said in a petition filed on Dec. 30.

The petition was the board’s attempt to have the Supreme Court rehear the matter involving Cawood.

“The opinion has already impacted the disciplinary process,” the board said.

The board pointed to 16 disciplinary appeals that were pending at the time.

Of those, the board said only three met the oath and statement requirements of TCA 27-8-106.

The board argued that the requirements do not apply to attorney discipline.

“Deputy Chief Disciplinary Counsel has reviewed 30 cases from 1982 through 2010 in which this court granted subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Section 1.3 of Rule 9 and conducted a full review,” the board said. “Of these 30 disciplinary appeals heard by this court, only one complied with the oath and statement requirements of TCA 27-8-106.”

The court denied the board’s petition for rehearing on Jan. 31.  

Cawood said he finds the whole matter rather amusing.

“I think they probably wish they hadn’t appealed mine,” he said.

Last month Senior Judge Walter C. Kurtz threw out a petition the board had pending in Williamson County because “the petition was not filed under oath, nor did it state that it was the first application for the Writ.”

Kurtz cited the Cawood opinion in his order.

The Supreme Court also cited the opinion in an order it issued on Jan. 7. In that case, attorney Thomas E. Cowan Jr. and the board were appealing an order entered in Carter County Chancery Court.

The Supreme Court dismissed both appeals, finding that neither party satisfied the requirements of TCA 27-8-106.

Cawood is now asking that board attorneys who didn’t comply with TCA 27-8-106 be disciplined.

“I have not heard anything from the board since my filings,” Cawood said in a letter sent to board members last month. “And, therefore, I am led to believe that those complaints are being ignored and that the board’s attorneys may be treated differently from other attorneys in the state. I hope this is not true.”   

Cawood’s relationship with the board has been acrimonious throughout his legal career.

He was critical of the board in his most recent book, “The Board of Unprofessional Irresponsibility.”

The Supreme Court established the board in the 1970s to enforce its rules on discipline.

The board’s next scheduled meeting is Friday in Brentwood. Phone messages left for the board’s chief disciplinary counsel Nancy Jones and vice chairman Clarence Halmon were not returned.