Session October 14, 2015
from the Circuit Court for Williamson County No. 2014113
Joseph A. Woodruff, Judge
Reguli, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellants, Debra M.
and Michael N.
A. Abel, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellee, Anne Best.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Andy D. Bennett,
NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE
Factual and Procedural Background
present case arises out of a dependent and neglect proceeding
initiated by DCS in the Juvenile Court of Williamson County,
Tennessee. On January 17, 2014, the juvenile court entered an
order finding Carolina M., daughter of Debra M.
("Mother") and Michael N. ("Father"),
dependent and neglected. Mother and Father then appealed to
the Circuit Court of Williamson County where they were
represented by Connie Reguli, a licensed attorney practicing
family law in Middle Tennessee.
discovery dispute arose when Ms. Reguli, on behalf of Mother
and Father, subpoenaed investigative records from Anne Best,
a volunteer with Williamson County CASA
("CASA") who had been appointed by the juvenile
court to work with the child throughout the dependency and
neglect proceedings. On June 24, 2014, the circuit court
heard several motions, including a motion filed by CASA to
quash the subpoena and limit discovery. In its order, the
court outlined the limitations on which records CASA was
required to produce. The order states in relevant part:
The Court finds that CASA . . . is subject to deposition and
discovery of their records and communications. . . . [A]ny
internal communication that involved only the CASA
administrators or other volunteers seeking advice on the case
or how to proceed are not discoverable; but all
communications with other attorneys, witnesses, or other
persons are subject to disclosure to the parents. CASA . . .
will redact the names and identifying information of any
person who made a disclosure of abuse, however everything
else, including the nature of the allegations and the
surrounding circumstances is discoverable.
. . . .
If CASA has certain records or information that they believe
would be harmful to the child if disclosed to the parents,
they may file it with the Court and seek an in camera review.
. . .
hearing on the discovery motions, Ms. Reguli served CASA with
a new subpoena ordering Ms. Best to appear for deposition and
produce the requested documents just six days later, on June
30, 2014. Ms. Best appeared for the deposition and produced
CASA records, including over 100 pages of written notes. In
reliance on the discovery order, certain portions of the
records that CASA believed to contain privileged information
were redacted. Following the deposition, Ms. Reguli contacted
CASA and demanded the documents be produced without
redactions. In response, CASA's counsel explained to Ms.
Reguli that, due to the short notice of the subpoena, CASA
did not keep copies of the documents as redacted. CASA asked
her to identify the specific redactions she was disputing so
that they could be submitted to the court for in camera
review if the issue could not be resolved.
9, 2014, rather than responding to CASA's request, Ms.
Reguli filed a motion for civil contempt and sanctions
against Ms. Best alleging that she did not produce properly
redacted documents as required by the court's discovery
order. The same day, CASA filed a motion for in
camera review of the three documents identified in the
petition for civil contempt. On July 22, 2014, the circuit
court held a hearing on the civil contempt petition and
CASA's motion seeking in camera review. The court found
the documents in question were properly redacted and
sustained CASA's objection to producing the redacted
material. The court took no action with respect to the civil
on August 6, 2014, Ms. Reguli filed a petition for criminal
contempt against Ms. Best based on the contents of two
e-mails obtained during discovery. The petition claimed that,
during the pendency of the juvenile court proceedings, Ms.
Best sent the emails in question to Carolina's elementary
school teacher, both of which included information Ms. Best
was allegedly prohibited from disclosing by statute. The
first e-mail included a proposed set of interrogatories,
which were drafted by CASA. The other included, as an
attachment, a motion filed by the child's guardian ad
litem seeking a forensic interview of Carolina. According to
the e-mail, the guardian ad litem provided Ms. Best with a
copy of the motion, which Ms. Best then shared with the
teacher. According to Ms. Reguli, Ms. Best's actions
violated Tennessee Code Annotated § 37-1-153(d), which
provides that "it is an offense for a person to
intentionally disclose or disseminate to the public the files
and records of the juvenile court, " and a violation of
that subsection is punishable "as criminal contempt of
court as otherwise authorized by law." Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 37-1-153(d)(1), (2) (2014).
circuit court held a hearing on the criminal contempt
petition, and in its order, entered September 18, 2014, the
court found Ms. Best not guilty and dismissed the petition.
The court noted in its oral findings that it remained
unconvinced that the attachments to the e-mails were records
to which the confidentiality statute applies. Even so, the
court found that there was insufficient evidence to conclude
that Ms. Best knowingly and intentionally committed a
Motions for Rule 11 Sanctions
response to the contempt petitions, CASA filed two separate
motions for sanctions against Ms. Reguli under Rule 11 of the
Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. CASA served her with a copy
of the first motion after she filed the civil contempt
petition regarding the redacted discovery documents. Ms.
Reguli did not withdraw the petition despite CASA's
motion for in camera review of the documents, and on August
25, 2014, CASA filed its first Rule 11 motion with the court,
seeking the imposition of sanctions against Ms. Reguli for
filing the civil contempt petition. That same day, in
response to her criminal contempt petition, CASA served Ms.
Reguli with a copy of the second motion. Ms. Reguli failed to
withdraw the petition. CASA then filed the second Rule 11
motion with the court on September 30, 2014.
October 28, 2014, the circuit court held a hearing on both
Rule 11 motions. The court's order, entered December 30,
2014, required Ms. Reguli to complete three hours of
continuing education in legal ethics in connection with her
petition for civil contempt. It reasoned that the appropriate
remedy for the dispute over the redacted documents was to
seek an in camera review and that filing the civil contempt
petition "was intended for improper purpose and to cause
needless expense and delay in the litigation, in violation of
circuit court also ordered that Ms. Reguli pay CASA $3,
145.50 in attorneys' fees stemming from the
representation of Ms. Best in connection with the criminal
contempt petition. Noting Ms. Reguli's failure to make a
reasonable inquiry before signing, the court found the
petition was presented for improper purposes, contained
claims not warranted by existing law, and contained factual
allegations without evidentiary support. Regarding the
decision to grant monetary sanctions, the order states that
Ms. Reguli's actions "caused CASA, a not-for-profit,
tax exempt organization, to incur significant expense
including attorneys' fees to defend against the unmerited
and improper Criminal Contempt Petition."
the record does not contain a transcript of the hearing, the
court also presumably considered that Ms. Reguli filed two
other contempt petitions in connection with the present case
in addition to the petitions filed against Ms.
Best. The order states that the sanctions also
functioned "to deter her from continuing in her
demonstrated habit and practice of ...