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Lawyer Wasn't 'Grandfathered In' Under Old Ethics Rules, Court Rules

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on December 01, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Tennessee appeals court has affirmed a defense lawyer's contempt conviction, rejecting his claim that he was exempt from the state's ethics rules.

Paul Whetstone, whose in-court temper tantrum was reprinted verbatim in the appeals court's ruling, will probably now face a disciplinary hearing.

The drama unfolded in February 2010, when Whetstone got into a spat with a judge and a prosecutor. The exchange included threats and a remark about panties.

Whetstone was defending a 65-year-old woman against DUI and drug charges at a preliminary hearing. The woman was also set to be indicted on felony evading arrest.

Whetstone apparently misunderstood a suggestion by prosecutor Charles Murphy. Confusion took over, and unleashed Whetstone's frustrations.

He first complained about having to wait for hours for the hearing to start. Judge Ben Strand tried to move on.

Then prosecutor Murphy jumped in, telling the judge that "Mr. Whetstone's got his panties in a wad over something he's taking personally."

"I'll be glad to show him that I'm not wearing panties," Whetstone fired back.

After more back-and-forths and admonishments to sit down, Judge Strand held Whetstone in contempt. "Good. I'm going to report you too," Whetstone retorted.

Whetstone appealed to get his contempt overturned -- but didn't do himself any favors in his choice of words. He called Judge Strand "a mimicking doppelganger" who formed a "freak amalgam that is aptly described as a prosecutorial-judicial tag team."

Appeals Judge John Kerry Blackwood replied in part, "The court is neither persuaded nor amused."

Whetstone also tried another angle: that the latest revision of Tennessee's Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted in 2003, didn't apply to him.

Because he was admitted to the bar in 1990, Whetstone opined he was "grandfathered in" by the old rules -- which require an attorney to zealously defend his clients.

Blackwood's response: "Even an attorney licensed in the days when Andrew Jackson served on this state's supreme court" would still have to abide by the 2003 rules.

Blackwood also said Whetstone's actions were "zealous, but hardly appropriate."

Whetstone now wants the appeals court to reconsider -- but the court's tone suggests that's not likely to happen.

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