Circuit court candidate Lynne Ingram Credit: Campaign photo

A new Nashville judge may receive scrutiny for legal work performed after she won her primary.

On May 2, then-attorney Lynne Ingram logged into a video hearing for her firm’s client, Dr. Hau La. A week earlier, La had been indicted by a federal grand jury on 16 counts of distribution of a controlled substance. The indictment was not a surprise: La hired the firm of Robinson, Reagan & Young, where Ingram worked, months before he was indicted in late April.

La pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment 11 days later and a trial was set for early July. But by the time that date was set, Ingram had pulled off a huge upset and beat Judge Kelvin Jones in the May 3 Democratic primary. With no Republican to oppose her in the August general election, Ingram effectively had won her position on Davidson County Circuit Court.

Ingram kept working on the case. On June 27, she and co-counsel Bryna Grant were formally hired for the trial after La paid an $80,000 non-refundable retainer. At the end of the trial three weeks later, La was convicted on 11 of the 16 counts. Immediately after the trial, Ingram removed herself from the case and told the court she no longer could represent La because she was “preparing to take the bench in State Court and will be unable to continue representing the Defendant.” Grant bowed out, as well, and noted she did not have enough experience to represent La without a lead counsel.

In a request for a new trial, La’s new attorney claims Ingram and Grant never should have brought the case to trial so quickly and that the pair never interviewed key government witnesses or reviewed the government’s discovery evidence “in any meaningful way.” The motion, which was filed Friday in federal court, also alleges the defense team’s own expert witness, as well as a consultant on opiate prescriber cases, told Ingram and Grant they were “unprepared” and should seek a continuance. The motion also cited a “failure to engage in any meaningful pretrial legal analysis for pretrial motions or investigation.”

While quick trials in federal court are a rarity, particularly on the civil side, the 1974 Speedy Trial Act guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a trial 70 days after arraignment. In a typical case, pretrial motions, a proper examination of discovery evidence and defense investigations may stretch that period out an indefinite amount of time. For example, Dr. Gilbert Ghearing, a Celina doctor facing similar charges, was indicted in 2019 and has yet to go to trial. Trials are routinely continued and defendants routinely waive their rights to a speedy trial. 

The filing raises the question of whether La received adequate legal representation because of the speed of the case. If the case had been continued, Ingram would not have been able to serve as counsel.

Meggan Sullivan, La’s new attorney, declined to comment. 

The Tennessee Supreme Court prohibits sitting judges from practicing law. Court Rule 3.10 states: “A judge shall not practice law. A judge may act pro se and may, without compensation, give legal advice to and draft or review documents for a member of the judge’s family, but is prohibited from serving as the family member’s lawyer in any forum. A newly elected or appointed judge can practice law only in an effort to wind up his or her practice, ceasing to practice as soon as reasonably possible and in no event longer than 180 days after assuming office.”

It’s unclear how the directive to “wind up his or her practice” applies to Ingram in this case. While she was not formally elected until the August election, her July 26 filing in the La case indicates clearly that she was taking a seat on the bench. 

A footnote to Rule 3.10 states that “the only law practice allowable is that which is necessary to wind up a law practice. Accordingly, no new matters may be accepted. … The 180-day bright-line rule in winding up a law practice does not prohibit the judge from receiving fees after this deadline for services performed prior to the deadline.”

Ingram and Grant declined to comment Monday through Worrick Robinson, a co-owner of the firm.

“It would not be appropriate for Lynne Ingram or Bryna Grant to respond through the media about an active case, and they will have no comment until the matter is resolved by court order,” Robinson told the Banner by email.

Steve is a three-decade veteran of newspapers, working around the country at places like the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune before returning home to Nashville in 2011 to edit The City Paper and Nashville...