Nashville at law: 3 November 2008

TennCare talker accused of wiretapping, bank countersues its whistleblower former CFO, local lawyer's homebuilding company in Chapter 11, and more...

This week, the news from the courts includes human dramas set at a state office and a local bank.

A lawsuit filed Thursday reveals that the spokesperson for the state's TennCare health plan has left her job amid claims of electronic skullduggery, allegedly meant to trick Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Muriel Robinson into ruling in favor of her husband in a bitter child-custody dispute.

Jerry Wilson and Regina Baines divorced and are now trying to gain custody of their two children. Baines and her husband Allen, of Louisville in East Tennessee, claim that Wilson and his wife Marilyn of Nashville used ‘key-logging’ spyware to access an e-mail account belonging to Allen Baines.

The lawsuit, filed in Nashville's federal court, cites messages sent from the Baines account that call Jerry Wilson an "inbred hypochristian bastard" and issue this threat: "I can finish off you, that slut wife of yours and those two kids you say you love." Another message, sent to one of the divorced couple's children, states: "Next time you're with your mother, be prepared for the consequeneses" [sic].

The complaint alleges that the Wilsons sent these messages themselves by hacking the e-mail account. It lists the unique internet addresses of computers that have been discovered accessing the Baines family's online banking and mail accounts, and it claims that one of the addresses belongs to a computer that Marilyn Wilson used as a state employee.

Wilson left her job earlier this month. The lawsuit claims she resigned "due to an ongoing investigation into... use of State electronic equipment to wiretap the Plaintiffs."

Michael K. Parsley, D. Scott Parsley and Gerald E. "Jerry" Martin of Barrett, Johnson & Parsley represent the Baines family. Nashville attorney Rachel C. Nelley, who brought the custody case in Circuit Court, ceased to represent the Wilsons earlier this month after telling the court that Jerry Wilson insisted on terminating the representation immediately. Andrew M. Cate took her place.

Franklin bank fires back against ex-CFO

Tennessee Commerce Bank is pulling no punches. The Franklin-based bank is countersuing George W. Fort, its former chief financial officer, who filed suit against Tennessee Commerce after being fired earlier this year.

Fort claimed in his July lawsuit, also filed in federal court, that the bank's other top officers got rid of him because he was a whistleblower, telling federal regulators about alleged illegal activity at the bank. In responding this week, the bank denies any wrongdoing and takes aim at Fort.

The banker "was terminated after he engaged in gross neglect of his duties," the complaint alleges. His work on compliance issues was "grossly inadequate and off-schedule," the bank claims, and he was "insubordinate and unprofessional" toward management and the board of directors.

The lawsuit goes on to accuse Fort of "openly blaming subordinates for errors" and stifling dissent "with angry outbursts, degrading comments, and humiliating tirades."

Tennessee Commerce says it hired an outside investigator to look into assertions by Fort that bank officials were involved in check kiting and insider trading, and that "the investigation found no illegal activity."

The bank says Fort's "intentional, fraudulent, malicious, or reckless conduct" warrants punitive as well as compensatory damages. Plaintiffs' attorneys: Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr., Stanley E. Graham and John J. Park of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis LLP. Defendants' attorneys: D. Bruce Shine and Donald F. Mason of Shine & Mason, Kingsport.

Here are some other civil legal cases of note for the week of October 24 - 30:

United States Bankruptcy Court:

Green Investors LLC. Chapter 11 petition filed October 29. Local attorney Michael P. Dolan is chief manager and 60 percent owner of this homebuilding company, with Russell Looney of Franklin owning 40 percent. Its only significant asset is a home on 10 acres in the deluxe equestrian subdivision of Beechwood Plantation, created by California developer Tower Investments on pastureland near Leipers Fork in Williamson County. The filing says the property was scheduled for foreclosure on Friday. Total assets: $2.65 million. Liabilities: $2.89 million. Largest creditor: First State Bank, with a claim of $1.4 million. Debtor's attorney: Steven L. Lefkovitz of Nashville.

Tennessee Supreme Court, Board of Professional Responsibility:

In re: Ronald K. Nevin. Disciplinary order upheld by the Supreme Court on October 27. Nevin, a veteran local attorney, served for many years as Davidson County's public guardian. In that role, he managed the financial and personal affairs of people under conservatorships and guardianships. The Board found that he had improperly managed funds and had caused problems for those he represented by pursuing their legal interests without adequate diligence. The high court affirms his six-month suspension from legal practice.

Davidson County Circuit Court:

State of Tennessee v. Marcus Jones, d/b/a Jones Memorials and Half-Off Stones. Amended petition filed October 29. The Attorney General's office amends a lawsuit covered in last week's "Nashville at Law" to remove the erroneous assertion that consumer-protection agencies in three states have lawsuits pending against internet gravestone-seller Jones.