State suspends Butler from practicing law

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Attorney to appeal decision

By Damon Lawrence

After weeks of waiting, Harriman attorney Donice Butler finally received a verdict in her disciplinary case on Friday. 

It wasn’t the decision she wanted. 

“Based upon these findings of fact and conclusions of law, the Hearing Panel finds that the respondent (Butler) shall be suspended from the practice of law for a period of nine months,” the panel ruled. 

Butler said she plans to appeal the decision. 

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I’m really upset, disappointed and angry — very angry.” 

Butler said she can continue to practice law while the suspension is being appealed. 

“I maintain that I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong to receive discipline,” she said. 

“Just like I fight for my clients, I’m going to fight for myself.”   

Several of Butler’s former clients accused her of misconduct. 

The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, which oversees the conduct of attorneys for the Tennessee Supreme Court, filed a petition to have Butler disciplined over the allegations.

A trial was held at the Roane County Courthouse on Feb. 10-11.       

The hearing panel who heard the case and decided Butler’s fate consisted of three attorneys – Steve Erdely IV of Knoxville, Heidi Anne Barcus of Knoxville and Carl P. McDonald of Maryville.

“I’m angry about the panel ruling the way they have,” Butler said. “I think they did it to please the people that are paying them, which is the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility.”  

The hearing panel concluded Butler violated rules of professional conduct in five of the six complaints that were under consideration. 

In the case of Bobby and Loretta Murray, the panel concluded Butler violated rules on competence, diligence, communication, expediting litigation, candor to the tribunal and misconduct.

Butler represented Harold Pickard in a child custody matter. 

“While respondent (Butler) filed a petition for temporary emergency custody, the juvenile court file reveals that the order submitted by respondent to the juvenile court purporting to grant Mr. Pickard temporary custody was never signed by the judge,” the hearing panel said.

“An unsigned order is void and of no effect.” 

In the Pickard case, the hearing panel concluded Butler violated rules on diligence, communication, declining and terminating representation, expediting litigation and misconduct. 

In the case of Paul Lawson Jr., the hearing panel concluded Butler violated the rule on communication. 

In the case of Tom Hogan, a former Harriman police officer, the hearing panel concluded Butler violated rules on competence and diligence. 

In the case of Margie Delozier, the hearing panel found that Butler violated rules on scope of representation, termination of representation, communication, candor to the tribunal and prejudice to the administration of justice. 

“Respondent has been disciplined in the past for similar conduct (dismissing a case without knowledge and consent of client; failing to file a brief and withdrawel three days before hearing); the complaints in this case establish a pattern of misconduct, and there are multiple offenses,” the hearing panel said.

Butler disputed the findings.   

“I’m a very competent lawyer,” she said. ”I have success in court daily.”

The hearing panel concluded that the first three months of Butler’s suspension should be an active suspension. 

“In light of the mitigating circumstances in this case, the remaining six months of the suspension will be served under probation, and respondent shall be assigned a practice monitor ... Respondent shall engage a practice monitor at her own expense who shall meet with respondent on a monthly basis to review basic office procedures such as scheduling, maintenance of case deadlines and the use of written communication.”

The hearing panel also ordered Butler to confer with the Tennessee Lawyer Assistance Program for a consultation and comply with any recommendations.

“I’m going to appeal this decision and finally get it heard by someone who is trained in the law and is neutral,” Butler said.