Attorney Woodham Cleared by Supreme Court of Georgia in Bar Complaint
At issue was whether Woodham violated the rules of the State Bar of Georgia when he offered to drop a bond validation lawsuit if the developers paid him a substantial fee. Woodham later claimed the money was intended for donation to a homeless shelter.
While attorneys can offer to settle most lawsuits without issue, a bond validation lawsuit is supposed to be about the public interest, not about personal monetary enrichment.
“November 17, 2008, [Woodham] filed complaints in intervention in each of the bond cases, objecting to the issuance of the proposed bonds. [Woodham] filed on his own behalf and on behalf of Citizens for Ethics in Government, LLC… [Woodham]’s purpose in intervening was to defeat the [p]etitions for bond validation based upon his opinion that the proceedings involved bond transactions known as phantom bonds. [Woodham] opined that the overall result of such a phantom bond is an illegal and unconstitutional tax abatement in favor of the Developers,” the Court’s opinion states.
In a long struggle that started in 2009, Woodham was accused of “egregious, improper and appalling” behavior in the bond validation case regarding bonds that were issued by the Atlanta Development Authority in 2008 for two condominium properties managed by Tivoli Properties, Inc.
The company’s CEO, Scott Leventhal, had filed a complaint with the State Bar of Georgia, accusing Woodham of offering to drop the case if the developer paid 1.3 million dollars.
Woodham and the State Bar had arranged a proposed settlement calling for a reprimand in connection with a smaller violation involving communicating directly with an adversarial party instead of going through their attorney.
However, as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2012 took the unusual step of sending the case back to the State Bar for further proceedings on the full range of alleged ethics violations.
Following this second review, the State Bar had asked for a suspension, APN reported in 2014.
The State Bar review panel found his actions violated Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(a)(4). This rule “provides that it shall be a violation of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct for a lawyer to engage in professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” according to the panel’s report.
The State Supreme Court finally rejected the State Bar’s petition for lack of evidence:
“Although the general purpose of the bond validation process may be to protect the public interest, that purpose is accomplished by permitting ‘[a]ny citizen of this state who is a resident of the county, municipality, or political subdivision desiring to issue the bonds [to] become a party to the proceedings…’ OCGA § 36-82-23 (concerning bond validation generally),” the Court’s opinion states.
Simply put, Woodham was allowed to bring the case, as is any citizen, by law.
“And simply calling his conduct ‘dishonest’–as the dissent does repeatedly–does not make it so. Woodham may have acted badly, he may have attempted to misuse a legal process, and he may have attempted to get money to which he had no legal claim, but there is no evidence that he misled or attempted to mislead the developers about the filing of the complaints in intervention or the legal remedies to which the intervenors might be entitled in the bond validation proceeding,” the opinion states.
“We do not think this conduct can be fairly characterized as ‘dishonest,’ and the dissent cites no authority for the proposition that it should be so characterized,” the opinion states.
As previously reported by APN, Woodham has been involved in several successful cases, including one where the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2008 struck the Atlanta Beltline Tax Allocation District as unconstitutional.
The dissenting justices regarding the State Bar complaint–who believed that Woodham should have been sanctioned–were Carol Hunstein and Robert Benham.
Reached by APN, Woodham declined to comment for this article.
In one of his filings, he accused the complaining parties and those who filed amicus briefs–including the Superior Court judge who heard the bond case, and former Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears–on engaging in an unprecedented political attack on behalf of developers.
“The State Bar grievance process in this State has now evolved into a barbaric political tool in an effort to attack and silence,” Woodham wrote.