Supreme Court affirms disbarment of attorney who pleaded guilty to willful tax evasion

November 19, 2012

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that the Chancery Court for Carter County properly disbarred Thomas Ewing Cowan from the practice of law in Tennessee.

In 2009, Mr. Cowan pleaded guilty in federal district court to the felony offense of willful attempt to defeat or evade the payment of taxes, for which Mr. Cowan was sentenced to one year of imprisonment and ordered to pay $270,000 in restitution.

A disciplinary hearing panel convened by the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) found Mr. Cowan’s admitted tax evasion and several other aggravating factors, including a prior disciplinary history, called for a suspension of Mr. Cowan’s law license.   

On appeal by the BPR, the chancery court modified the determination of the panel and disbarred Mr. Cowan, relying on the American Bar Association’s Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions.  The chancellor emphasized that willful tax evasion requires an affirmative act and that Mr. Cowan had not acknowledged the seriousness of his misconduct.

The Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court’s judgment disbarring Mr. Cowan from the practice of law.  The Court noted that other states have disbarred lawyers for willful tax evasion and Mr. Cowan had a significant history of ethical violations, including two suspensions, three public reprimands, and fifteen private admonishments.

To read the Board of Professional Responsibility v. Thomas Ewing Cowan opinion authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark visit TNCourts.gov.