Session May 30, 2019
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 17C3204
Robert E. Lee Davies, Senior Judge.
of Professional Responsibility hearing panel found that an
attorney should be disbarred after she was convicted of bank
fraud. On appeal, the circuit court held that the hearing
panel's decision was arbitrary and imposed a five-year
suspension. We reverse. The hearing panel's decision was
supported by substantial and material evidence and was
neither arbitrary nor an abuse of discretion.
Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 33.1(d); Judgment of the Circuit Court
Reversed; Decision of the Hearing Panel Affirmed
Morgan, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellant, Board of
N. Elbert and Benjamin C. Aaron, Nashville, Tennessee, for
the appellee, Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan.
G. Lee, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., and Cornelia A. Clark, Holly Kirby,
and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.
G. Lee, Justice.
and Disciplinary Proceedings
Elizabeth Meehan, a licensed Tennessee attorney, mishandled
funds belonging to Gamma Phi Beta sorority at the University
of Alabama. Ms. Meehan pleaded guilty to bank fraud, 18
U.S.C. § 1344 (2012), in the United States District
Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
Meehan, while attending the University of Alabama, was a
member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority. After graduating, Ms.
Meehan was an active sorority alumna, serving as president of
the sorority's housing board. As board president, Ms.
Meehan oversaw the construction and furnishing of a new
sorority house. Her responsibilities included coordinating
the selection and purchase of furniture and other items for
Meehan arranged to buy furniture for the new sorority house
through Ai Corporate Interiors, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama.
Ai Corporate Interiors, an authorized dealer of furniture
made by Teknion, LLC, gave Ms. Meehan a template that allowed
her to generate invoices on her computer for orders of
Teknion furniture. Ms. Meehan prepared and submitted invoices
for furniture expenditures to Greek Resource Services, Inc.,
which served as manager and custodian of the sorority's
funds, including funds for furnishing the new sorority house.
Under the sorority's agreement with Greek Resource
Services, the sorority could have no bank accounts other than
the accounts managed by Greek Resource Services.
September 2014, Ms. Meehan embarked on a scheme to obtain
sorority funds from Greek Resource Services by submitting
false furniture invoices and using a bank checking account
opened under a fictitious name. She began by creating an
invoice from "Technion, LLC" (Technion is a
misspelling of Teknion, the furniture supplier's name)
with an address of P.O. Box 251, Villa Rica, Georgia. Ms.
Meehan had rented this post office box as a part of her plan.
She submitted an $88, 311.60 invoice to Greek Resource
Services for sorority house furniture that she had not
days later, Ms. Meehan opened a business checking account at
First Citizens Bank & Trust Company in Carnesville,
Georgia, under the "Technion" business name and
listed the Villa Rica, Georgia post office box as the
account's address. To open the account, Ms. Meehan
provided the bank with a false Employer Identification Number
and a fictitious corporate resolution identifying her as the
Chief Financial Officer. Neither the sorority housing board
nor Greek Resource Services knew about the First Citizens
Bank account. Later that day, Ms. Meehan went to a different
branch of First Citizens Bank to deposit a check received
from Greek Resource Services in the invoiced amount of $88,
311.60. The check, issued by Greek Resource Services from the
sorority's account, was payable to "Technion
October 2014, First Citizens Bank notified Ms. Meehan that
the Employer Identification Number she had provided was
incorrect. She then obtained and provided to the bank
Teknion's correct Employer Identification Number and
address in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. After receiving this
information, the bank changed the name on the account to
Teknion, LLC and the address to Teknion's New Jersey
November 2014, Ms. Meehan created and submitted to Greek
Resource Services a second false invoice payable to
"Technion, LLC" for a furniture order in the amount
of $286, 740. Three days later, Greek Resource Services
issued a check for the invoiced amount. Ms. Meehan deposited
the check at a First Citizens Bank branch in Buckhead,
Georgia. With this deposit, the balance in the account she
had opened was more than $375, 000.
January 2015, Ms. Meehan went to a First Citizens Bank branch
in Anderson, South Carolina, and wired $175, 000 from the
Teknion account to her personal business account at Bank of
America. She also changed the address on the First Citizens
Bank account from Teknion's New Jersey address to a
street address in Villa Rica, Georgia. In March 2015, Ms.
Meehan obtained a cashier's check for $175, 000 from her
personal business account at Bank of America, payable to Ai
Corporate Interiors for furniture that she had purchased for
the sorority house. Ms. Meehan closed the Teknion account
later that month after being notified by First Citizens Bank
that there was a problem with the account. She arranged for
the remaining funds in the account to be transferred to Greek
Resource Services for deposit into the sorority's
2015, Ms. Meehan was indicted in the United States District
Court for the Northern District of Alabama on eight felony
charges: three counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud,
and four counts of money laundering. In July 2016, she
pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud in exchange for the
dismissal of the other seven counts of the indictment. As
part of the plea, she agreed to pay $34, 815 to Greek
Resource Services for an audit to account for the funds
deposited into First Citizens Bank and to forfeit $234, 648
in cash belonging to the sorority. In November 2016, the
federal district court sentenced Ms. Meehan to prison for six
months, followed by forty months of supervised release,
together with restitution of $34, 815 and forfeiture of $234,
Meehan, while engaging in bank fraud, was a licensed attorney
in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Texas. Ms. Meehan practiced
law in Tennessee for three years. She worked two years as a
staff attorney for the Tennessee Board for Licensing
Contractors in 2005 and 2006, and then as a contract attorney
for a Nashville firm for another year. In 2008, she moved to
South Carolina, where she was licensed to practice law and
established a small practice focusing mainly on health care
compliance and estate matters. In 2010, Ms. Meehan became
licensed in Texas but never practiced there.
Meehan reported her guilty plea to the licensing board in
each state. In March 2017, the Texas Supreme Court accepted
Ms. Meehan's surrender of her license in lieu of
disciplinary action. In July 2015, the South Carolina Supreme
Court placed Ms. Meehan on interim suspension. In January
2019, the South Carolina Supreme Court disbarred Ms. Meehan
based on her failure to report that she had surrendered her
license in Texas in lieu of discipline, as required by South
Carolina's Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement Rules. The
South Carolina Supreme Court relied on South Carolina's
reciprocal discipline rule and the Texas disciplinary rule
requiring that the Texas surrender be treated as disbarment
for all purposes. Ms. Meehan petitioned for rehearing of her
disbarment. The petition was still pending when briefs were
filed in this case.
August 2016, this Court summarily suspended Ms. Meehan from
the practice of law in Tennessee based on the certified copy
of Ms. Meehan's plea agreement to bank fraud submitted by
the Board of Professional Responsibility. In re Jennifer
Elizabeth Meehan, No. M2016-01606-SC-BAR-BP (Tenn. Aug.
10, 2016) (Order of Enforcement). The Court referred the
matter to the Board to initiate formal proceedings to
determine the appropriate final discipline. Id.
Board began formal proceedings, and a hearing panel set the
disciplinary hearing for January 11, 2017. A week before the
hearing, Ms. Meehan moved to continue the hearing until South
Carolina concluded its disciplinary proceedings or until
January 25, 2017. The hearing panel continued the hearing to
January 25, 2017. Yet the day before the January 25 hearing,
Ms. Meehan filed an emergency motion for continuance because
she had voluntarily reported to prison on January 17, 2017.
At the January 25, 2017 hearing, the hearing panel denied Ms.
Meehan's emergency motion and allowed the Board to
present its proof. The Board introduced Ms. Meehan's 2016
plea agreement in the federal court case, her conditional
guilty plea in a 2011 Tennessee disciplinary matter, and the
public censure arising out of the disciplinary matter. The
hearing panel allowed Ms. Meehan to respond to the
Board's evidence after she was provided a copy of the
Meehan responded, arguing that multiple mitigating factors
under Standard 9.32 of the American Bar Association's
Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (the ABA Standards)
applied. Her response included nineteen letters that had been
filed with the federal district court vouching for Ms.
Meehan's good character. Ms. Meehan renewed her motion to
continue the hearing until after the South Carolina
disciplinary proceedings ended or until after her release
from prison on June 16, 2017. The hearing panel continued the
hearing to July 31, 2017.
in March 2017, Ms. Meehan petitioned this Court to allow her
to surrender her law license. In re Jennifer Elizabeth
Meehan, No. M2017-00498-SC-BAR-SUR (Tenn. Mar. 23, 2017)
(Order). The Court dismissed her petition without prejudice,
citing her ongoing suspension and pending proceedings for
final discipline before the hearing panel. Id.
hearing panel, at the start of the July 31, 2017 hearing,
denied Ms. Meehan's motions to dismiss the disciplinary
proceedings for lack of jurisdiction and to continue the
hearing until the South Carolina disciplinary ...