We’re all aware of the cancel culture. Its strength is visible on college campuses throughout the country, especially in liberal strongholds. But in a politically conservative state such as Tennessee? Surely it wouldn’t have any foothold in state employment, right?
In February 2019, I joined the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (“the Board”), the agency in Tennessee handling attorney discipline. I handled my own litigation caseload, and all appeals were assigned to me, including appearances before the Supreme Court of Tennessee. The Supreme Court is the “ultimate arbiter” of attorney discipline in the state, and thus every disciplinary appeal is taken by the Court. I presented six oral arguments to the Court in one and a half years, likely more than any other attorney in the state during that time period. I loved oral argument days, and in my opinion, the judges on Tennessee’s Supreme Court are some of the finest in the country.
Some attorneys facing potential discipline will go to great lengths to excuse their misconduct, including lashing out at Board counsel. Unfortunately, that happened to me. The Board has been dealing with a Nashville-based attorney for several years. His alleged misconduct is really secondary to what happened to me. The Board conducted a trial against him, and the Hearing Panel (comprised of three volunteer attorneys) issued its judgment that the attorney should be suspended for two years. The attorney appealed, and the appeal was assigned to me.
That attorney filed a motion to put a hold on the appeal, claiming that the Board attorney handling the trial was dishonest with him in discussing certain procedural matters. I filed a memorandum opposing the motion, and attended the oral argument by Zoom. That was the full extent of my participation in his appeal.
I have never met this attorney. I have never spoken to him. In fact, he had independent counsel file his motion and make the argument, so I did not even see him then. Nonetheless, the day after his motion to stay was denied, he – through his counsel – filed a motion to disqualify me as an “anti-Muslim bigot.” He claimed that his wife (who I also have never met) is Muslim, and therefore I could not be an objective attorney handling the appeal. Moreover, he claimed that I was not even fit to be employed by the state of Tennessee.
What was his basis for such an outrageous claim? He apparently did a deep dive into my Twitter account and found tweets from 2015 and 2016 – four years before I was even a state employee – in which I apparently supported then-candidate Trump’s position that the country should not continue to allow people in from Islamic terrorist hot spots if we could not verify them. In that vein, I allegedly tweeted several articles discussing this issue, and emphasized that we should be diligent and aware of Islamic terrorism.
In one of the tweets, it appears that I referenced a Muslim being removed from one of Trump’s campaign events. That particular individual claimed that he was mistreated and that it was “scary.” In response, I allegedly indicated that bombs were scary, making the point that people exercising their free speech at a political rally paled in comparison to bombs being set by Islamic terrorists.
I could not find the tweets when I searched for them. I could only go back in my history to 2018. So I could never actually confirm that the tweets from 2015 or 2016 were mine.
The attorney claimed that I also posted numerous tweets ridiculing liberals and Democrat lawyers, and that I was clearly a conservative bigot. In support, he included more recent tweets which were nothing more than political commentary.
But it didn’t matter. As a result of his ridiculous motion, the Board and state HR conducted an investigation and ultimately determined that I could not continue as a Board attorney because I was in a position of “public trust.” Apparently, this means that I should not have expressed a political viewpoint (which millions of Americans share) years before I even became a state employee.
I have never treated anyone unfairly or with a religious bias, whether on the Board or otherwise. In fact, I have worked with Muslim immigrants in Romania, while on trips to visit my wife’s family. Nor do I believe that all Muslims are terrorists. In fact, I believe that the number of Islamic terrorists is incredibly small when compared to the overall number of Muslims.
Nor did my religious or political viewpoint have anything at all to do with this attorney’s case. I have no idea who his wife is, or her religion, beyond what he claims in his motion. Even had I known, it would have had no impact on me handling his appeal, as there was absolutely nothing in the underlying case that touched on religion. The attorney did not claim that I had actually done anything wrong to him or violated his rights in any way. Instead, his claim was that because of my political (conservative) viewpoint, I could not possibly be objective.
In the end, I was given the Hobson’s choice to resign or be terminated. This was not based on any actual conduct while I was a state employee. Nor was it based on any interactions with this attorney or my handling of his case. Instead, it was based on nothing more than his own allegations that I could not be objective. The attorney sent a copy of his motion to the Nashville Tennessean, which reported on the motion without even bothering to give me the opportunity to respond. The bad publicity which resulted was surely a primary reason for the decision. Instead of fighting the motion on its merits, it appears that getting rid of me was the easiest solution.
The cancel culture was victorious once again.