Snake-bit Attorney Fields Now Under Suspension

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Richard Fields
  • JB
  • Richard Fields
Even in the news world, there’s a case to be made on behalf of forbearance when it comes to reporting all the events in the history of someone’s slide downward.

There were numerous people, of course, who for basically partisan reasons rejoiced in every jot and tittle of Richard Nixon’s fall. Presumably most Americans, especially those members of Nixon’s “silent majority” who had just voted for him, winced as the details of Watergate kept tumbling out in 1973-4. Not for nothing did Nixon’s successor as president, Gerald Ford, proclaim upon his resignation that “our long national nightmare is over.”

So, honestly, it gives us no pleasure to report the latest calamity in the saga of attorney Richard Fields, the once-upon-a-time well-regarded civil rights attorney, whose career has become something of a train wreck.

So we’ve held on to a piece of news for more than a week before deciding, reluctantly and even sadly, that it has to be reported.

Here it is, in its entirety, as reported by the state Board of Professional Responsibility:

On June 19, 2012, the Supreme Court of Tennessee issued an Order summarily and temporarily suspending Richard Bryan Fields from the practice of law upon finding that Mr. Fields has failed to respond to the Board regarding a complaint of misconduct. Section 4.3 of Supreme Court Rule 9 provides for the immediate summary suspension of an attorney's license to practice law in cases of an attorney's failure to respond to the Board regarding a complaint of misconduct.

Effective June 19, 2012, Mr. Fields is precluded from accepting any new cases and he must cease representing existing clients by July 19, 2012. After July 19, 2012, Mr. Fields shall not use any indicia of lawyer, legal assistant, or law clerk nor maintain a presence where the practice of law is conducted.

Mr. Fields must notify all clients being represented in pending matters, as well as co-counsel and opposing counsel of the Supreme Court's Order suspending his law license. Section 18 of Supreme Court Rule 9 requires Mr. Fields to deliver to all clients any papers or property to which they are entitled.

This suspension remains in effect until dissolution or modification by the Supreme Court. Mr. Fields may for good cause request dissolution or modification of the suspension by petition to the Supreme Court.

As my colleague John Branston has documented in the past, there was a longish time in local history when Fields, as attorney for various civil rights plaintiffs, performed well and successfully.

All of that began to change dramatically when Fields, not quite a decade ago, began to reinvent himself as a kingmaker, playing on an existing relationship with then Mayor Willie Herenton and both releasing and ballyhooing sample ballots containing the names of his preferred candidates at election time.

He also made a point of trashing candidates he disapproved of, publicizing every misdeed of theirs, real and imagined, without a grain of mercy.

There was always something disingenuous at the heart of this. Several candidates whom Fields had found nothing to muckrake about and whom he had promised an endorsement complained that he had pulled the rug out from under them, switching ballot favorites at the last minute for nakedly political reasons.

We now condense. In a word, Fields became Ozymandias. His empire of influence crumbled. First, his longtime ally Herenton accused Fields of trying to set him up with a sexual liaison as part of a blackmail plot designed to force Herenton out of a reelection campaign. Accused by Herenton of being both a "rat" and a "snake," Fields began to appear snake-bit.

There followed a period of erratic behavior, both in and out of the courtroom, where he once became involved in a shouting match with a judge. At one point he was the subject of an official censure by the state Supreme Court, later expunged at Fields’ determined pleading.

He was twice forced off the Shelby County Democratic executive committee, to which he had been elected in 2005, the second time for good. He had the misfortune to become the steady object of vilification by influential blogger/activist Thaddeus Matthews, who accused Fields of private debaucheries as well as public mendacity.

By fits and starts, Fields made efforts to regain his former prominence. His attempts to become a party to proceedings in the complicated city/county school-merger case died on the vine, however, and the following paragraph from a Flyer article of last September 29 documents another effort by Fields, speaking from the dock of the County Commission, to insert himself into a subject of personal controversy, this one a case of misappropriated funds involving Chancery Court employees:

“…In rapid sequence, Fields made an unelaborated accusation that[Shelby County Attorney Kelly] Rayne, who has issued at least an arguably comprehensive report on the Chancery situation, was ‘incompetent,’ made unsourced allegations of oral sex performed by employees on Chancery officials, told Commissioner James Harvey, who was commenting on the Chancery situation, that he had no right to speak, and was finally gaveled into silence by commission chairman Sidney Chism, who must have wondered if a full moon had somehow risen in broad daylight. …”

And now the suspension, for reasons as yet unexplained. In the idiom of the day: It is what it is, and right now it doesn't seem to favor Richard Fields.

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