Disqualification of Attorney

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion. 

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals


Nelson v. Justice, No. E2021-01398-COA-R3-JV, p. 13-14 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 27, 2023). 

Concerning the standard of review this Court applies in reviewing a trial court’s decision to disqualify a party’s attorney, we have explained that

[a] trial court’s disqualification of an attorney is usually reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. Clinard v. Blackwood, 46 S.W.3d 177, 182 (Tenn. 2001). “A trial court abuses its discretion whenever it ‘applie[s] an incorrect legal standard, or reache[s] a decision which is against logic or reasoning that cause[s] an injustice to the party complaining.’” Id. (quoting State v. Shirley, 6 S.W.3d 243, 247 (Tenn. 1999)). That standard is not, however, always applied.

The same appellate deference is not appropriate when the facts are undisputed and the conduct at issue does not directly involve conduct in open court. Trial courts enjoy no particular functional advantage over appellate courts in formulating and applying the ethical principles governing the attorney-client relationship. Accordingly, we will review trial courts’ decisions to disqualify a lawyer based on undisputed facts and conduct not taking place in court using Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d)’s standard of review.

In re Ellis, 822 S.W.2d 602, 605-06 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1991). “In other words, in such cases, we presume the disqualification was proper unless the evidence preponderates to the contrary.” In re Conservatorship for Allen, No. E2010-01625-COA-R10-CV, 2010 WL 5549037, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 29, 2010).

Maloney v. Maloney, No. W2013-02409-COA-R9-CV, 2014 WL 3538553, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 17, 2014).


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