NASHVILLE — Former Hawkins County prosecutor Doug Godbee was officially disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court as of this past Sunday, but he might be eligible to get his law license back in five years.
Godbee, 59, of Rogersville, entered a “no contest” plea on Oct. 1 to a single count of felony official misconduct related to a sex-for-leniency scandal that came to light in 2010.
He was sentenced to two years of supervised probation, 200 hours of community service, must undergo a psycho/sexual mental evaluation and complete the therapy and counseling regime already in place.
Although his law license had already been suspended since August, a Nov. 15 Supreme Court order stated that his official disbarment took effect 10 days later, or Sunday, Nov. 25.
The order also said Godbee will pay court costs in the amount of $5,613 to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BOPR) which prosecuted his disbarment.
When former Hawkins County judge James “Jay” Taylor pleaded guilty to felony theft charges this past September, his plea agreement stated he could not seek to have his disbarment lifted until 2025.
There was no disbarment time limit placed in Godbee’s plea agreement, however.
BOPR senior litigation counsel Sandy Garrett told the Times-News Wednesday that Godbee will be eligible to petition for his law license to be reinstated in five years. Although Godbee became a convicted felon on Oct. 1, Garrett said there is no Tennessee Supreme Court restriction of felons from holding a law license.
“Under the Supreme Court rules, an attorney who is disbarred may petition for reinstatement after five years,” Garrett said. “Then, if he did that, he would have the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that he has the moral qualifications, competency, and that his reinstatement wouldn’t be adverse to the public or the administration of justice. He’s got a pretty high burden of proof, but he can petition for reinstatement in five years.”
Garrett couldn’t say if the BOPR would oppose Godbee if he filed for reinstatement in five years. That decision would be made by the BOPR if and when the time came.
Garret did say, however, that one attorney who was disbarred for attempting to bribe a witness recently applied for reinstatement and was approved by a hearing panel. The BOPR appealed that reinstatement, took it all the way to the Supreme Court and won.
“The Supreme Court said even though he had met the burden of proof, some things are just so bad that the court in its own authority over lawyers isn’t going to give him his license back,” Garrett said.
Godbee had held a Tennessee law license since 1978 and served as Rogersville’s chief prosecutor for more than 30 years. He resigned from the attorney general’s office in September 2010 amid allegations he solicited, and in some cases received, sexual favors in exchange for leniency from female drug defendants and/or their mothers.
Attorney General Russell Johnson from Kingston, who served as special prosecutor in the case, said that at last count 14 women had filed civil lawsuits against the state seeking compensation for harm they suffered as a result of Godbee’s conduct.