The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that Williamson County attorney Walter Ray Culp, III is not entitled to reinstatement of his law license, which was suspended in 2006 after he pleaded guilty to the crime of attempted extortion in federal court.
The Supreme Court suspended Mr. Culp from practicing law for five years based on his extortion conviction, which arose out of Mr. Culp’s attempt to broker the testimony of a witness in a civil trial for a multimillion-dollar fee. Any attorney suspended for one year or more is required to petition the Supreme Court for reinstatement to the practice of law. Mr. Culp filed such a petition in January 2011.
A hearing panel of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility ruled that Mr. Culp’s law license should not be reinstated. Mr. Culp appealed to the Chancery Court for Williamson County, which affirmed the hearing panel’s decision. On further review, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court, ruling that Mr. Culp failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that he possessed the moral qualifications, competency and learning in law, and that his reinstatement would not be detrimental to the integrity of the legal profession or the administration of justice.
The Court noted that attorneys who have been suspended or disbarred may petition for reinstatement, but Mr. Culp’s attempt to extort millions of dollars for the testimony of a witness was “threatening to the very core of a legal system based on probity and honor.” Based on the egregious nature of the conduct and Mr. Culp’s lack of credibility, the Court ruled that Mr. Culp should not be readmitted to the practice of law in Tennessee.