Supreme Court Rules Memphis Attorney’s Behavior Warrants 2-Month Suspension

August 18, 2014

The Tennessee Supreme Court has reinstated a Memphis attorney’s 60-day suspension from the practice of law for his behavior during a trial.

Attorney R. Sadler Bailey was representing a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case in 2008. On the opening day of trial, in a case that already had become volatile among the attorneys, Mr. Bailey became upset when it appeared that Circuit Court Judge Karen Williams was about to rule against his client. After vehement arguments between the attorneys for the parties, the defense began their opening statements and Mr. Bailey objected 12 times, most made in a manner that was in defiance of Judge Williams’ instructions.

The next day, Mr. Bailey criticized Judge Williams multiple times in court, and the defense sought a mistrial, which the judge initially denied. After continued complaints from Mr. Bailey, a mistrial was declared based on Mr. Bailey’s “contentious conduct toward the court.”

Both Judge Williams and defense counsel filed a complaint regarding Mr. Bailey with the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR), which is responsible for investigating complaints and initiating disciplinary proceedings against attorneys in Tennessee.

A BPR hearing panel heard from four witnesses who described Mr. Bailey’s behavior as “disrespectful,” “frenetic,” and “harsh.” Mr. Bailey asserted that he was merely fulfilling his duty to zealously represent his client.

The Panel found that Mr. Bailey violated several Rules of Professional Conduct and that his extensive experience, misconduct during the course of the trial, and lack of remorse for his behavior supported imposing a 60-day suspension. Mr. Bailey appealed to the Chancery Court for Shelby County, which agreed that the violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct occurred, but decided that a 60-day suspension was not warranted. The BPR appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court concluded that Mr. Bailey’s 60-day suspension is consistent with Tennessee cases involving similar violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and noted that the 60-day suspension is well below the minimum of six months that national standards of the American Bar Association recommend. The court also rejected Mr. Bailey’s claim that his actions were necessary to properly represent his client.

“Attorneys who cross this line may not avoid punishment by claiming that their misconduct served the greater good or the interests of their clients, as such exceptions would overwhelm the rules,” wrote Justice Cornelia A. Clark in the unanimous Opinion.

Read the opinion in R. Sadler Bailey v. Board of Professional Responsibility, authored by Justice Clark.