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Chattanooga and Michigan Attorneys Lock Horns over Representation of Meigs County Woman’s Death Case

Courthouse legal showdown illustration

Chattanooga and Michigan Attorneys Lock Horns over Representation of Meigs County Woman’s Death Case


The death of a Meigs County woman, Tabitha Smith, who tragically lost her life in a patrol car earlier this year, has sparked a legal tug-of-war in Chattanooga. Attorneys from Chattanooga and Michigan have locked horns over who should represent the estate of the deceased woman.

Origins of The Case

On Valentine’s Day, a late-night arrest turned fatal when Meigs County Deputy RJ Leonard drove into the Tennessee River, resulting in the deaths of both Leonard and his detainee, Tabitha Smith. Ms. Smith reportedly died in the back of the police vehicle, handcuffed, without a chance to save herself. The incident triggered a wave of shock and grief, leading to the involvement of several legal representatives.

The Legal Battle

A group of Chattanooga attorneys, led by Robin Flores, Neil Thomas, and Michael Thomas, launched a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit in March against Deputy Leonard and Meigs County. This lawsuit was filed by Nathan, the son of the deceased.

Simultaneously, another $100 million lawsuit was filed by Alyson Oliver, an attorney from Michigan—assisted locally by Chattanooga attorney Jeff Rufolo—on behalf of Kenneth Colbaugh, the surviving spouse of Ms. Smith. The brewing legal rivalry was further exacerbated when Flores submitted a motion seeking to disqualify Michigan attorney Oliver, deeming her an out-of-state attorney without the right to practice in Tennessee.

Flores also alleges that Oliver’s firm contacted the Smith family within 30 days of the incident, which according to him, is a violation of the Supreme Court rule of improper solicitation. Flores’ contention highlights a text message received by Amber McKinney, Smith’s sister, from an investigator working for Oliver’s firm.

The Upcoming Decision

The state’s Board of Professional Responsibility has been made aware of the situation, with Flores highlighting Oliver’s alleged breaches of ethical conduct in a formal communication. In light of the charges leveled against Oliver, a federal judge will preside over a hearing set for April 30th to decide which attorney has the legal right to represent Smith’s estate and whether Oliver has committed any misconduct.

Complicating the patchwork of lawsuits and contesting attorneys, Rufolo argues that Kenneth Colbaugh, as Smith’s legally surviving spouse, has not waived his right to bring forth a wrongful death action and, therefore, should be recognized as the only valid claimant.

Beyond the legal complications, this tragic event has shown a spotlight on the rules of professional conduct and responsibility in these delicate matters, leading to critical conversations in the legal community.

Stay connected for further developments on this matter, only on HERE News Network.

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