Bd. of Prof'l Responsibility of Supreme Court of Tenn. v. Walker, M2021-00099-SC-R3-BP

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtSHARON G. LEE, JUSTICE
PartiesBOARD OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE SUPREME COURT OF TENNESSEE v. CHARLES EDWARD WALKER
Docket NumberM2021-00099-SC-R3-BP
Decision Date18 November 2021

BOARD OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE SUPREME COURT OF TENNESSEE
v.

CHARLES EDWARD WALKER

No. M2021-00099-SC-R3-BP

Supreme Court of Tennessee

November 18, 2021


Assigned on Briefs Date: October 6, 2021

Direct Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 20-0616-II Robert E. Lee Davies, Senior Judge

A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel found that an attorney should be suspended from the practice of law for three years for violating multiple provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct. The trial court affirmed, finding that the hearing panel's decision was supported by substantial and material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor an abuse of discretion. Finding no error, we affirm.

Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 33.1(d); Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed; Decision of the Hearing Panel Affirmed

Charles Edward Walker, Nashville, Tennessee, Pro Se.

James W. Milam, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellee, Board of Professional Responsibility.

Sharon G. Lee, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Jeffrey S. Bivins and Holly Kirby, JJ., joined. Roger A. Page, C.J., not participating.

OPINION

SHARON G. LEE, JUSTICE

I.

In August 2018 and February 2019, the Board of Professional Responsibility filed petitions for discipline against Nashville attorney Charles Edward Walker. The petitions were based on complaints of misconduct submitted by two Davidson County chancellors and two lawyers. The complaints mainly arose out of Mr. Walker's conduct involving a chancery court tax sale redemption proceeding, a chancery court injunction, and a pro hac vice application.

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After an evidentiary hearing, a Board hearing panel found that Mr. Walker had violated Rules of Professional Conduct 3.1, 3.3, 3.4, and 4.1 by his conduct in the chancery court tax sale redemption proceeding and should be suspended for three years; that he had violated Rule 8.4(c) and (d) by not complying with a chancery court injunction and should be suspended for three years; that he had violated Rule 3.3 by omitting his disciplinary history in the pro hac vice application and should be suspended for two years; and that he violated Rule 8.4(a) by his misconduct. The hearing panel also found that Mr. Walker's suspensions should be served concurrently for an effective suspension of three years, with two years on active suspension and one year on probation supervised by a practice monitor.

Mr. Walker appealed the hearing panel's decision to the Chancery Court for Davidson County.[1] The trial court affirmed the hearing panel's decision, finding that it was supported by substantial and material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor an abuse of discretion.

Mr. Walker appealed to this Court under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 33.1(d), raising these issues:

1) Whether the trial court could modify the hearing panel's decision without an express finding of one or more of the five enumerated circumstances present in Supreme Court Rule 9, § 33
2) Whether the trial court erred by affirming the hearing panel's decision that Mr. Walker violated Rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.4 arising out of his conduct representing REO Holdings LLC in a tax sale redemption matter

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Mr. Walker did not appeal the hearing panel's decision that he also violated Rules 3.3, [2] 4.1, [3] 8.4(a), [4] 8.4(c), [5] and 8.4(d)[6] by his conduct in the tax sale redemption proceeding, his violation of the chancery court injunction, and his omissions on the pro hac vice application. Nor did Mr. Walker challenge the suspensions imposed for these violations.[7]

II.

This Court has the "'inherent power' and 'fundamental right' to regulate the practice of law in Tennessee." Meehan v. Bd. of Pro. Resp., 584 S.W.3d 403, 412 (Tenn. 2019) (quoting Bd. of Pro. Resp. v. Parrish, 556 S.W.3d 153, 162 (Tenn. 2018)). We review a hearing panel's decision using the same standard of review as that applied by the trial court. Id. at 413 (citing Bd. of Pro. Resp. v. Reguli, 489 S.W.3d 408, 417 (Tenn. 2015)). A trial court reviews the transcript of the evidence before the hearing panel, as well as its findings of fact and decision. Garland v. Bd. of Pro. Resp., 536 S.W.3d 811, 816 (Tenn. 2017) (citing Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 33.1(b)). The trial court "shall not substitute its judgment for that of the hearing panel as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact," Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 33.1(b), and "[a]ny modification to a hearing panel's decision must be based on one of the [factors enumerated] in Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 1.3."[8]

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Garland, 536 S.W.3d at 816 (alterations in original) (quoting Skouteris v. Bd. of Pro. Resp., 430 S.W.3d 359, 362 (Tenn. 2014)).

First, Mr. Walker argues that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to modify the hearing panel's decision "without an express finding of one or more of the five enumerated circumstances present in Supreme Court Rule 9[, ] § 33." We agree. This issue has no merit because the trial court affirmed the hearing panel's decision with no modification.

Next, Mr. Walker contends that he did not violate Rules 3.1, 3.3, and 3.4 in his representation of REO Holdings, LLC in a chancery court proceeding involving the redemption of real property. The property at issue was owned by Mildred Huff. In 1992, she executed a note and a deed of trust to Capitol Builders, Inc. to secure a debt. Ms. Huff failed to pay her Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County property taxes. In June 2014, by order of the Davidson County Chancery Court, the Clerk and Master sold Ms. Huff's property at a delinquent tax sale. John R. Sherrod, III was the successful bidder. In August 2014, the chancery court confirmed the sale.[9]

In May 2015, REO Holdings LLC, through its attorney and owner Mr. Walker, filed notice and tendered funds to the chancery court to redeem the Huff property under Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-5-2701.[10] To show REO Holdings' statutorily

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required interest in the property, [11] Mr. Walker submitted an Assignment of Deed of Trust, signed by Merdan Ibrahim and recorded on May 6, 2015, in the Davidson County Register of Deeds office. The Assignment, prepared by Mr. Walker, stated that Mr. Ibrahim was the lawful holder of the note signed by Ms. Huff to Capitol Builders in 1992; that Mr. Ibrahim had bought the note from Capitol Builders; and that Mr. Ibrahim was assigning his interest in the note and deed of trust to REO Holdings, LLC. Mr. Walker also filed an Appointment of Substitute Trustee, dated and recorded on May 6, 2015, which stated that Mr. Ibrahim, as an "authorized member" of REO Holdings, appointed Mr. Walker as substitute trustee of the deed of trust. Based on this showing of REO Holdings' interest in the property, the chancery court approved the property redemption by REO Holdings.

The property redemption began to unravel in September 2015 when Mr. Ibrahim was deposed in a case unrelated to the Huff property redemption against several defendants, including Mr. Ibrahim, REO Holdings, and Mr. Walker.[12] Among other things, Mr. Ibrahim testified that he had done remodeling work for Mr. Walker; that he was neither a member nor a manager of REO Holdings; that he had never heard of Capitol Builders; that he knew nothing about the Assignment of Deed of Trust and Appointment of Substitute Trustee relating to the Huff property--only that he had signed the documents at the request of someone at Mr. Walker's law office; and that he received no payment for assigning his interest.

Mr. Sherrod moved the chancery court to strike REO Holdings' redemption of the property. Mr. Sherrod asserted that Mr. Ibrahim had never owned the lien he purportedly assigned to REO Holdings. Thus, REO Holdings had no right to redeem the tax sale property, and its attempted redemption was based on fraudulent documents.

After the deposition but before Mr. Sherrod moved to strike the redemption, Mr. Walker prepared and recorded another Assignment of Deed of Trust. In this document, Jill Ann Landman Carmack, as successor in interest to Capitol Builders, assigned to Mr. Ibrahim all of Capitol Builders' interest in a note and deed of trust from Ms. Huff. The stated purpose of the Assignment was "to confirm and replace a prior lost and mislaid assignment of Deed of Trust dated March 16, 2011, from Capitol Builders, Inc., to Merdan

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Ibrahim."[13] Mr. Walker had Ms. Carmack execute the Assignment and also sign an affidavit stating that she was the sole heir of the now-deceased owner of Capitol Builders.

At the chancery court hearing on Mr. Sherrod's motion to strike, he argued that Capitol Builders never assigned the note and deed of trust to Mr. Ibrahim in 2011 and so, the purported assignment from Mr. Ibrahim to REO Holdings in 2015 was not valid. Thus, REO Holdings had no interest in the property and no right of redemption. Mr. Sherrod relied on the testimony of Mr. Ibrahim that he had never heard of Capitol Builders, was not a member of REO Holdings, and knew nothing about the 2015 assignment to REO Holdings other than he had signed it at Mr. Walker's office. To this Mr. Walker responded: "And Your Honor, I would submit to the court I have the documents from Capitol Builders confirming--they're embossed and confirming that the note was transferred to Mr. Ibrahim." Later he added: "And we would be glad to submit this document for inspection by the court."

The chancellor granted the motion to strike, concluding that Mr. Ibrahim never held a valid interest in the real property, so his purported assignment to REO Holdings was not valid based on Mr. Walker's deceitful actions:

Charles Walker, his firm, Walker Law Offices and those associated with him, have been preparing legal documents for
...

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