Jack Garton

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The Tennessee Supreme Court entered an order permanently disbarring a Dickson County attorney from practicing law in Tennessee after he took money from a trust fund set up to provide for the daughter of a Tennessee state trooper who was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer in 2005.

Jack Garton set up the trust fund to provide for the 14-year-old daughter of Trooper Todd Larkins. The trust contained over $2 million from the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit.

The trust was administered out of the probate and juvenile court of Dickson County. Over a period of years, Garton began quietly disbursing trust monies to himself in the form of excessive fees. As the probate judge neared retirement, Garton began taking bolder measures to disburse more trust money to himself and hide his wrongdoing. He persuaded the judge to shield disclosure of trust transactions from Larkins' daughter, who by then was an adult. He also convinced the judge to issue an order saying that disbursements from the trust could be made without court approval.

Garton's scheme was uncovered when the daughter graduated from college and decided she wanted to use the trust monies to start her own business. By then Garton had secretly misappropriated well over $1 million from the trust.

In 2019, Garton was convicted of wire fraud aggravated identity theft and tax fraud. The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended his law license. After that, a hearing panel of Tennessee's Board of Professional Responsibility, which regulates lawyers in Tennessee under the authority of the Tennessee Supreme Court, found that Garton committed multiple violations of the ethics rules, including misappropriation of client funds and engaging in dishonest and fraudulent conduct. The hearing panel and the Board recommended that the Court disbar Garton.

The Court agreed and entered its order disbarring Garton on Thursday. Under a new state law enacted earlier this year, Garton will never be eligible to be reinstated to the practice of law in Tennessee.

"When lawyers engage in misconduct serious enough to warrant disbarment, citizens should be confident that they will never again have a license to practice law," Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins said in a news release. "From now on, Tennessee citizens can have that confidence. The rule change adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court ensures that lawyers who are disbarred in our State will remain disbarred, and will never again have a Tennessee law license."

Until 2020, attorneys in Tennessee who had been disbarred for five years had the right under the ethics rules to ask the Supreme Court to reinstate them, no matter how bad the misconduct.

In January, the Tennessee Supreme Court amended its rules on discipline of lawyers to state that attorneys who are "disbarred on or after July 1, 2020, are not eligible for reinstatement." The change means that attorneys who are disbarred after July 1 are permanently disbarred and can not ask the Court to reinstate their law license.

Garton is the first case to take effect after the new rule was enacted.


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