NATHAN E. BROOKS
BOARD OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Session September 6, 2018
Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hamilton County No.
17-0506 Jeffrey F. Stewart, Chancellor
1998, the appellant attorney agreed to entry of a consent
order suspending his law license for two years. In 2017, the
appellant filed this petition for reinstatement of his
suspended law license. Instead of the advance cost deposit
required by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section
30.4(d)(9), he filed a pauper's oath and affidavit of
indigency. Upon motion of the Board of Professional
Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, the hearing
panel dismissed the appellant's petition without
prejudice to his ability to file a new petition in compliance
with Rule 9. On appeal, the chancery court affirmed. The
appellant now appeals to this Court, arguing that a Tennessee
statute entitles him to file his petition without paying the
advance cost deposit, and also that mandating payment of the
advance cost deposit deprives him of his constitutional right
to due process. Discerning no error, we affirm.
Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 33.1(d) Judgment of the Chancery Court
E. Brooks, Chattanooga, Tennessee, appellant, Pro Se.
William C. Moody, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Board of Professional Responsibility.
Kirby, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., Cornelia A. Clark, and Roger A.
Page, JJ., joined.
Procedure and Background
Nathan E. Brooks became licensed to practice law in Tennessee
in 1986. In 1997, Mr. Brooks was served with a petition for
discipline by the Respondent/Appellee Board of Professional
Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
("Board"). "Faced with possible
disbarment," Mr. Brooks "entered into a negotiated
settlement with the Board on February 13, 1998," in
which he admitted he was guilty of violating multiple
disciplinary rules, agreed to a two-year suspension of his
law license, "agreed to pay restitution on twelve
complaints totaling $8, 532.50, and [agreed] to pay costs and
expenses of the proceeding, totaling $2, 028.82."
Brooks v. Bd. of Prof'l Responsibility, 145
S.W.3d 519, 520-22 (Tenn. 2004). Thus, pursuant to an agreed
order of this Court, Mr. Brooks' law license was
suspended for two years. Payment of costs and expenses was
required as a condition precedent to reinstatement.
Id. at 522.
2002, approximately four years after the suspension of his
law license, Mr. Brooks filed a motion for reinstatement.
Id. at 522. In that proceeding, Mr. Brooks claimed
he was "indigent and therefore unable to pay the costs
and restitution that he previously agreed to pay as part of
the conditional guilty plea." Id. at 525. Mr.
Brooks was denied a hearing by both the hearing panel and by
the chancery court because he had not paid the restitution
and past costs. Id. at 523. On appeal to this Court,
he claimed, inter alia, that "by denying him a
hearing on his petition for reinstatement based on his
inability to pay the costs and restitution, the hearing panel
and Chancery Court were denying him due process."
Id. at 525. This Court rejected that argument,
holding that Mr. Brooks had been "denied a hearing on
the merits of his petition due to his failure to meet certain
conditions precedent." Id.
years later, Mr. Brooks filed the instant petition to
reinstate his Tennessee law license. Instead of the advance
cost deposit required for petitions to reinstate under
Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 30.4(d)(9),
Brooks submitted a pauper's oath and an affidavit of
light of Mr. Brooks' failure to pay the required advance
cost deposit, Disciplinary Counsel for the Board filed a
motion seeking dismissal of Mr. Brooks' petition to
reinstate. The motion to dismiss noted that Rule 9 made no
provision for waiver of the advance cost deposit in cases of
indigency and asserted that Mr. Brooks' petition was
response to the Board's motion to dismiss, Mr. Brooks
argued that he should be permitted to file his petition to
reinstate pursuant to a pauper's oath. He claimed he had
a "substantial property interest in the return of his
law license" and argued that denying him the opportunity
to proceed as a pauper would violate his rights under the
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal
Constitution. Mr. Brooks also relied on Tennessee Code
Annotated § 20-12-127, which provides generally that a
"civil action" may be commenced upon filing a
pauper's oath. Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-12-127(a)
Brooks' petition was referred to a hearing panel.
See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 30.4(d). On May 16,
2017, the hearing panel dismissed Mr. Brooks' petition.
The panel noted that the language in Rule 9 makes the advance
cost deposit mandatory and makes no "provision for use
of the pauper's oath in the filing of a petition for
reinstatement." It concluded that Tenn. Code Ann. §
20-12-127 was not applicable. The hearing panel dismissed Mr.
Brooks' petition without prejudice to his ability to file
a new petition in compliance with Rule 9.
2017, Mr. Brooks filed an appeal from the hearing panel's
decision with the Hamilton County Chancery Court.
See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 33. In it, Mr.
Brooks raised the same arguments he had made to the hearing
panel. Mr. Brooks' appeal included another pauper's
oath and affidavit of indigency.
matter was heard by the trial court on December 4,
2017. On December 28, 2017, the trial court
issued its findings and conclusions, affirming the decision
of the hearing panel. The trial court took note of Rule 9's
advance cost deposit requirement and the Board's need to
secure funding from such deposits. It acknowledged the
general provisions in Tennessee Code Annotated §
20-12-127 but held that Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9
controls because it "specifically provides that an
attorney shall provide an advance cost deposit when filing a
petition for reinstatement." The trial court held that
Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-12-127 does not apply to
attorney reinstatement proceedings and affirmed the decision
of the hearing panel.
January 18, 2018, Mr. Brooks filed an appeal as of right to
this Court. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, §
case, the issues presented involve only questions of law,
which are reviewed de novo with no presumption of
correctness. Bd. of Prof'l Responsibility v.
Cowan, 388 S.W.3d 264, 267 (Tenn. 2012) (citing
Sneed v. Bd. of Prof'l Responsibility, 301
S.W.3d 603, 612 (Tenn. 2010)).
appellate brief, Mr. Brooks describes the issue before the
Court as whether the trial court erred in affirming the
hearing panel's dismissal of his petition to reinstate
solely on the ground that he was not entitled to proceed as a
pauper. Under this broad umbrella, he argues generally that
the public policy of Tennessee, as embodied in Tennessee Code
Annotated § 20-12-127, requires that he not be denied
access to the courts based on his poverty. Mr. Brooks also
contends that refusal to reinstate his law license because he
cannot afford to pay the advance cost deposit required by
Rule 9 violates his due process rights as guaranteed by the
Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution.
discuss these issues in turn.
Code Annotated, Section 20-12-127
Brooks asserts that public policy favoring access to the
courts undergirds Tennessee Code Annotated ...