My Suspended Lawyer Failed to Show Up

What happens when your attorney fails to show up for trial because he's suspended from practicing law? Oh, and the suspended lawyer apparently never bothered to tell you that he wasn't going to be there or that he was suspended? A woman in Lawrence County, Tennessee recently found out – albeit fairly late in the process.

In Tidwell v. Burkes, two sisters sued each other over whether a real property deed was forged or not. Both sisters had legal representation who participated in the case for about 1 ½ years. Sister A's lawyer, however, was suspended from practicing law at some point before trial (we don't know why). The now suspended lawyer never told his client that he was suspended or that trial was set for September.

What does the trial court do on the day of trial? It moves on and makes Sister A try her case with no lawyer!

Sister A testified that her lawyer never told her about the trial and that she didn't learn about the suspension until that same morning. She pleaded with the court that she wasn't prepared. The trial court didn't seem concerned with this, finding that because her now suspended lawyer had notice, she did too, and that the court would accommodate the out of state witnesses over her.

Obviously, Sister A lost, but she hired new counsel who appealed. The court of appeals reversed the trial court, finding that Sister A should have been granted a continuance to hire a new lawyer and that it was error for the trial court to make her try the case.

It will be interesting to see how the case ends up now that both sides appear to have counsel, who aren't suspended, and who likely will show up for the new trial. What's the takeaway? Hire an attorney who you trust and with whom you can communicate effectively.