Lawyer disbarred for claiming paralegal's work as his own; he regrets only 'one license to lose' for clients
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The Tennessee Supreme Court has disbarred a Knoxville lawyer for alleged false and exaggerated time entries when he submitted a request for more than $103,000 in legal fees for the time that he spent fighting Lowe’s Home Centers over a discovery violation.
The lawyer, Loring Justice, claimed his paralegal’s work as his own and falsely stated that he had kept “contemporaneous records” of the time he spent fighting Lowe’s in the discovery dispute, according to findings cited by the Tennessee Supreme Court in its July 2 decision. In addition, Justice submitted a “grossly exaggerated” fee itemization that included work for which he wasn’t supposed to be paid, the state supreme court said. Law360 has coverage.
A federal judge initially had ordered Lowe’s to pay Justice for the time that he spent locating and deposing a store human resources manager as a sanction for the store’s failure to disclose the name in discovery. The manager had helped Justice’s personal injury client on the day that he was seriously injured by a stack of metal roofing sheets.
The judge never awarded attorney fees, however, after questions arose about Justice’s legal bills. Seventeen items described as attorney time were identical or nearly identical to invoices submitted by the paralegal.
Other items in Justice’s fee itemization were for tasks that were “completely unrelated” to locating and deposing the witness, the state supreme court said.
Justice is a 1998 graduate of Yale Law School who once clerked for a federal appeals judge. The paralegal had attended law school at Yale with Justice but did not have a Tennessee law license.
A hearing panel of the state supreme court’s Board of Professional Responsibility had recommended a one-year suspension rather than a disbarment. The hearing board said Justice wasn’t credible when he testified about the 17 entries that were virtually identical to the paralegal’s invoices.
The hearing board noted an email that Justice sent to the paralegal that included an initial version of the itemization. Justice wrote: “I billed a lot of time for my reading your work rather than you doing it so you won’t have to testify if it comes to that. Hope you are not mad about that.”
Yet Justice’s itemization did not include any entries for Justice “reading” the paralegal’s work, the hearing board said.
Both Justice and the Board of Professional Responsibility appealed. A chancery court modified the suspension to disbarment, saying Justice’s “intentional deceit” and “total lack of remorse” left no alternative.
Justice made several arguments to the Tennessee Supreme Court, including that the evidence against him was entirely circumstantial and did not rise to the required level of substantial and material evidence.
The Tennessee Supreme Court disagreed, saying the evidence “furnishes an eminently sound factual basis for the hearing panel’s decision.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court did not address all Justice’s arguments, saying in a footnote that some are “too outlandish to dignify with discussion.” The footnote gave an example: Justice’s lawyer had argued that the trial judge’s given name illustrates bias. “Not only is this argument without merit, it is absurd,” the footnote said.
Justice told Law360 in a statement that the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision serves industry and insurance interests and is “disturbingly dishonest.”
“I regret I only had one license to lose for my clients and for the interests of an uncorrupted, fair and constitutional legal system in Tennessee,” he said.