Crime

Brian Manookian Loses Bid to Reinstate Law License

CrimeDec 07, 2018

Brian Manookian Loses Bid to Reinstate Law License

Manookian is the Tennessee attorney who was at the center of the diamond overgrading cases that roiled the industry a few years ago.

Nashville, Tennessee—The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that Brian Phillip Manookian, the lawyer at the center of the diamond overgrading cases that roiled the industry, will remain banned from practicing law in the state for the foreseeable future.

The court suspended the Nashville attorney’s license on Sept. 21 after the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR), which governs attorneys’ conduct, found that he “poses a threat of substantial harm to the public.” 

According to the BPR’s William C. Moody, the main impetus for the suspension were emails sent to opposing counsel deemed to be threatening. BPR’s report and recommendation on Manookian contains text from two different emails as well as a list of past and current disciplinary actions against him.   

In the first email, delivered to opposing counsel C.J. Gideon in August 2017, Manookian wrote:

“Clarence,  

I hear [Mr. Gideon’s daughter] is working at [name of company]. What a fantastic opportunity; particularly given her history of academic failure and alcohol and substance abuse.

I happen to have some very close friends at [name of company].

I will make it a point to see what I can do regarding her prospects there.

I am reminded that it is good for us to keep apprised of each other’s lives and the things we can do to influence them.”

The second went to opposing counsel in a separate case about a year later, Phillip North.

In it, Manookian noted that he knew North’s home address, the names of his romantic partner and two daughters, and the make, model, VIN and license plate number of his partner’s vehicle.

About a week after his law license was suspended, Manookian petitioned the board to reconsider, and a three-person BPR panel held two hearings on his case, on Oct. 11 and 19.

According to court papers, in the hearings Manookian contended that in the first email, he was trying to be supportive of Gideon’s daughter in her new job and in the second, he was simply trying to get North to respond to a previous email.

Though he did acknowledge under cross-examination that both emails contained content that was “inappropriate,” he asserted that neither could reasonably be considered threatening.

He maintained that he had done no wrong and asked for his suspension to be dissolved.  

On Nov. 7, the BPR panel shot down Manookian’s petition, stating that it did not believe

the emails weren’t meant to be threatening. It also noted Manookian has been called out for unacceptable behavior multiple times in the past, but it hasn’t deterred him from behaving badly.

Its ruling states in part: “It is Mr. Manookian’s position that speech alone, even rude and insulting speech, cannot present a substantial threat of harm to the public. This position is wrong, particularly with regard to an attorney’s speech. [His] words … go beyond merely rude and insulting and cross the line into threatening and intimidating.

“The practice of law, by its nature, involves conflict and contention. That is why the Rules of Professional Conduct for practitioners of the law require that an attorney’s conduct be circumscribed within the boundaries of civility, decorum, and respect for both the process and the person. Keeping within the boundaries of professional conduct is critical for the proper functioning of the judicial system.”

On Nov. 21, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the panel’s ruling.

Manookian was ordered to stop representing all existing clients within 10 days of the court’s decision, inform all clients, co-counsel and opposing counsel in pending matters of his suspension and give clients any property or papers to which they are entitled.

Manookian first made headlines in the jewelry industry in 2014 when he sued Nashville jeweler Genesis Diamonds on behalf of multiple consumers who were sold diamonds overgraded by EGL International.

Later that year, he told National Jeweler that a “major national [law] firm” would be filing a class-action lawsuit within 60 days against EGL International as well as “major retailers” in the U.S. for selling overgraded diamonds.

The class action suits never materialized, but Manookian, along with other attorneys, launched public campaigns to find plaintiffs to file suits against five independent jewelers.

The campaigns involved physical fliers and online ads calling the retailers in question “a scam” and asking consumers if they were sold a “fraudulent ring.”

Though many in the industry acknowledged the need to confront the issue of diamond overgrading, Manookian’s plaintiff-attracting tactics were met with disdain and one retailer, the now-closed Diamond Doctor in Dallas, fired back.

It sued Manookian, his Nashville law partner Brian Cummings and their firm, Cummings Manookian, in a Texas federal court for violations of the RICO Act, business disparagement and injury to business reputation.

The lawsuit alleged that the public campaigns—purportedly launched in the interest of finding consumers who had been sold overgraded diamonds and helping them to right that wrong—were nothing more than a “cunning shakedown operation” to extort money from the jewelers.

The case was settled out of court in August 2017.

All calls placed to Manookian’s Nashville office Wednesday and Thursday went straight to voicemail. He did not respond to voicemail messages or email requests for comment.

An email sent to Cummings generated an automated response that indicated he has started his own firm, Cummings Law. He did not respond to inquiries about his former partner.
Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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