Cookeville attorney disbarred

PUTNAM COUNTY – Former Cookeville attorney Samuel Joseph Harris was disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court last week and ordered to pay restitution to three former clients after a state board investigated a series of complaints of misconduct.

The disbarment, according to an issued release, is effective immediately.

Harris, licensed in the state since 1995, held court in a number of prominent Putnam County cases during his career, including the murder trial of Jimmy Burgess, convicted in the May 2007 shooting deaths of Elizabeth Burgess and James Prewitt. He also represented Geoff Davidian, editor and publisher of the Putnam Pit, in a public records case against the City of Cookeville in the late 1990s through 2001; he also wrote editorials for the watchdog website.

He also made an unsuccessful run for the 13th Judicial District public defender’s office in 2006.

The Board of Professional Responsibility, which supervises the conduct of lawyers in the state, filed petitions for discipline after receiving five complaints by former clients. The petitions allege that Harris accepted fees from his clients but failed to perform the professional services for which he was retained; failed to reasonably communicate with his clients regarding the status of their legal matters; failed to inform his clients his license had been suspended by the Supreme Court; and abandoned his clients and his law practice.

Mr. Harris’ license to practice law was temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court of Tennessee on May 2, 2014, for failure to respond to a complaint of misconduct.

A panel found Harris violated Tennessee rules for competence, diligence, communication, safekeeping of property and funds, declining or terminating representation, expediting litigation, unauthorized practice of law, bar admissions and disciplinary matters and misconduct.

Harris attended law school at the University of Memphis. His office had been located at 320 E. Broad St., Suite 200, Cookeville.

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