The Tennessee Supreme Court confirmed the disbarment of an attorney who committed bank fraud by scamming her college sorority.
The state high court upheld a 2017 disciplinary board finding that Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan be disbarred, rejecting a state trial court ruling that the board’s decision was arbitrary and that a five-year suspension was warranted.
The supreme court found that the trial court “erred by substituting its judgment for that of the hearing panel” regarding the weight of the evidence.
Meehan pleaded guilty in 2015 to bank fraud for her actions while serving as president of the University of Alabama’s Gamma Phi Beta sorority’s housing board and was sentenced to six months in jail. She submitted false invoices for furniture purchases for the sorority, according to the court.
At her 2017 Tennessee disciplinary hearing, the panel found two aggravating factors that favored disbarment. One, Meehan received a public censure several years earlier for misrepresenting her credentials on her resumé. She claimed that she’d clerked for a federal judge, when she’d only taken part in a judicial externship. And two, her resume represented that she had published a law review article, when she’d actually only submitted one, the high court said.
“The hearing panel expressed concern about Ms. Meehan engaging in the dishonest conduct underlying her conviction just three years after her public censure for making false statements,” the state high court noted.
Mitigating factors included personal and emotional problems, good character, and remorse, it said.
But American Bar Association Standard 5.11 provides that disbarment is the presumptive sanction for bank fraud, and the disciplinary board found no justification to depart from it, given the aggravation and mitigating factors, the court said.
The case is Meehan v. Bd. of Prof’ Responsibility of Supreme Court of Tenn., Tenn., No. M2018-01561-SC-R3-BP, 9/20/19.