Tennessee Supreme Court Reinstates Hearing Panel's Denial of Attorney Reinstatement

June 26, 2018

The Supreme Court has overturned the decision of a chancery court, which held that an attorney’s license to practice law should be reinstated.

Drayton Beecher Smith, II, a former attorney, agreed to disbarment in conjunction with his 2007 guilty plea to federal charges of receipt and possession of child pornography.  The disbarment was ordered in 2008.  In 2014, he sought reinstatement of his license to practice law in Tennessee. 

Mr. Smith’s reinstatement petition was heard before a hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility (“BPR”), which ultimately denied the petition.  He then appealed the denial of reinstatement to the chancery court.  Upon review, the chancery court reversed the decision of the hearing panel and ordered that Mr. Smith be reinstated to the practice of law.  The BPR filed an appeal with the Tennessee Supreme Court.

In a unanimous decision authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the decision of the chancery court, which had reversed the decision of the hearing panel.  Instead, the Court concluded the hearing panel was within its authority to deny reinstatement of Mr. Smith’s law license.  In so doing, the Court held that the chancery court misapplied the standard of review applicable in appeals for disciplinary cases.  Specifically, the Court held that the hearing panel’s decision to deny reinstatement based on the attorney’s failure to prove his moral qualifications was supported by substantial and material evidence in the record and that the chancery court inappropriately reweighed the evidence in determining that reinstatement was appropriate. 

The Supreme Court also reversed the chancery court’s decision regarding the award of costs in the matter and determined that costs should be awarded to the BPR, even though the BPR’s application for costs was late-filed. 

To read the Court’s opinion in Drayton Beecher Smith, II v. Board of Professional Responsibility, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.