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Sallee v. Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility

469 S.W.3d 18 (2015)

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Sallee v. Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility

Tennessee Supreme Court

469 S.W.3d 18 (2015)

Facts

Lori Noll died after falling down steps in her home. Her parents suspected her husband was responsible and hired attorney Yarboro Sallee (defendant) to represent them. Sallee initially collected a $5,000 retainer and verbally told Noll’s parents she would charge $250 an hour and expected the lawsuit would cost no more than $100,000. Sallee later collected another $30,000 without writing up a retainer agreement and filed a wrongful death complaint including Noll’s children and estate as claimants. When Noll’s parents demanded a written fee agreement, Sallee drafted several asking for different hourly charges plus contingency fees and threatened to drop Noll’s parents from the case unless they signed. Instead, Noll’s parents fired Sallee. Sallee refused to turn over her entire file, including some critical evidence, asserting she was owed an additional $80,000. Noll’s parents complained to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (plaintiff). Sallee responded with a lengthy so-called billing statement claiming she worked over 493 hours on the case in three months, amassing over $140,000 in fees, while serving other clients. She had gathered little evidence while spending countless hours at lawyer rates watching 48 Hours, performing administrative tasks, and waiting at the hospital for records. She also billed time-and-a-half for after-hours work without telling Noll’s parents and did not provide an itemized statement until after she was fired. A disciplinary panel found Sallee violated the ethics rules governing communication and fees and suspended her from practice for one year. Sallee appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Kirby, J.)

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