Legal Ethics

Top Tenn. Court OKs 4-Year Suspension for Longtime Partner Who Took Legal Fees Owed to His Law Firm

A four-year suspension was an appropriate punishment for a longtime partner who misappropriated legal fees that should have gone to his Tennessee law firm, the state’s highest court has determined.

However, it took issue in a Tuesday written opinion (PDF) with the way the attorney disciplinary case against William S. Lockett Jr. had been adjudicated both by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility and, after an appeal by Lockett, the Knox County Chancery Court.

Lockett, who himself had earlier served as a hearing panel member for the Board of Professional Responsibility, was a partner of Kennerly Montgomery & Finley for 21 years before being elected as Knox County Law Director. He resigned that position in 2010, after being accused of pocketing over $62,000 in client fees that should have gone to the law firm and repaying a little less than half of that amount, as a previous post details.

Lockett said earlier that he had taken the fees in order to pay his son’s medical bills, and emphasized that no client was harmed. He pleaded guilty to felony theft in 2010, and also pleaded guilty in a separate federal case for willful failure to file income tax returns.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

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