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State Bar: Willis Stole Thousands from Child; Special Master Appointed

(APN) ATLANTA -- Atlanta City Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) has a second State Bar of Georgia matter that is currently pending before a Special Master appointed by the Supreme Court of Georgia, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.  In the case, the State Bar of Georgia has filed a complaint charging that Willis “converted”--that is, stole--settlement funds intended for a child in a personal injury case.

APN previously reported that the State Bar of Georgia is investigating Willis in another case where a former law client alleges Willis was not diligent in her case, did not respond to her communications, and conspired with the other party in the case--the Credit Union of Atlanta--to sabotage her case.  In that case, the State Bar has assigned an investigator and Willis still has about two and a half weeks to respond.

APN reviewed the file “In the Matter of Henry Lamar Willis” today at the Clerk’s Office of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

On October 18, 2012, the State Bar of Georgia filed a Petition for Appointment of Special Master, attaching two additional documents: a Notice of Finding of Probable Cause, dated September 28, 2012; and a Formal Complaint.

“The investigative panel of the State Disciplinary Board has concluded its probable cause investigation and determined that probable cause exists for the issuance of a Formal Complaint against Henry Lamar Willis, State Bar Number 885497, with this motion,” the State Bar of Georgia wrote in its Petition.

In the Notice of Finding of Probable Cause, the State Bar of Georgia says it has found probable cause to charge Willis with a violation of Rules 1.3, 1.15(I), 1.15(II), and 8.4.  These rules deal with diligence, safekeeping property, and misconduct, respectively.

“The Panel has ordered counsel for the State Bar of Georgia to prepare a Formal Complaint in this matter and to proceed with prosecution of these proceedings,” the State Bar wrote.

“The Panel warns Respondent that successful Bar action against him in these proceedings could result in the imposition of disciplinary sanctions as set forth in Bar Rule 4-102(b),” the State Bar wrote.

Based on the possible sanctions available for violations of the rules cited in this case, Councilman Willis may very well face disbarment on several counts.

According to the Formal Complaint, beginning in 2009, Willis represented a Plaintiff in a personal injury suit, Alicia Upshaw v. Flipper Temple Associates, 09C-01577-4, in the State Court of Gwinnett County.  Upshaw had brought the lawsuit on behalf of a minor child referred to as VSU.

The two parties in the case settled, with defendants agreeing to pay 30,000 dollars for the benefit of the minor, with a settlement approved by two different courts on May 16 and September 09, 2011, respectively, according to the State Bar.

On July 11, 2011, the State Bar writes that the Defendants’ counsel sent a check for 30,000 dollars made out to Willis; as well as to Tammy Stanley, a Conservator appointed to protect the interests of the minor; and to co-counsel, Marlena Middlebrooks.

According to the State Bar, Willis deposited the check into either his personal or business account, not an attorney trust account, and without endorsement of neither Stanley nor Middlebrooks.

“Instead of disbursing the funds to those entitled to receive them Respondent kept the funds and converted them all to his own personal use,” the State Bar wrote.

The court-approved settlement provided that of the 30,000 dollars, 15,716.55 was to go to Ms. Stanley on behalf of the child; 3,000 was to go to Middlebrooks, and 2,791.54 was to go to medical providers.  Presumably, that left 8,491.91 for Willis; however, he kept the whole thirty thousand for himself, according to the State Bar.

“Respondent did not disburse the settlement funds as directed by the order of the Probate Court of Clayton County,” the State Bar wrote.

Because Willis failed to pay the Conservator or the co-counsel, “the Probate Court of Clayton County ordered the Defendants in the personal injury action to pay Ms. Stanley and Ms. Middlebrooks directly, in effect requiring the Defendants to pay that portion... of the settlement twice and leaving them to seek reimbursement from Respondent.”

“Though counsel for the defendants in the personal injury action has asked Respondent to reimburse them, Respondent has failed or refused to do so,” the State Bar wrote.

“In addition, Respondent has not paid the 2,791.54 owed to medical providers,” the State Bar wrote.

“In his sworn answer to the Notice of Investigation in this matter, Respondent has admitted violating Rules 1.3, 1.15(I), 1.15(II), and 8.4(a)(5), but not 8.4(a)(4).  However, Respondent violated Rule 8.4(a)(4) because he deposited the settlement check in his personal or business account without all proper endorsements and converted all of the settlement funds to his own personal use,” the State Bar wrote.

The Supreme Court of Georgia granted the State Bar’s petition for the appointment of a Special Master, appointing retired former Supreme Court Chief Justice George Carley on October 19, 2012.  However, in an apparent change of appointment, Joseph Szczekco was sworn in as Special Master on the case on November 01, 2012.


Comments (3)

Brian Deforrest
Said this on 2-5-2013 At 06:37 am

I appreciate the work that you do. I just wish that you got more exposure . . . and the access that Stephanie Ramage used to get.

Good reporting!
Said this on 2-5-2013 At 11:34 am

I don't want to minimize APN and I read it regularly, but perhaps these findings can be sent to the larger news outlets and maybe, by some miracle the local media would run a story--maybe one of the local TV news investigative teams? APN could get credit for first discussing the story and maybe get more exposure.  It's amazing that this kind of stuff doesn't get pounced on--he should be removed from the council immediately, at least pending the completion of the investigation.  Has APN contacted the City "Ethics" Department?  Although with the history of the last Ethics Chairwoman, we can't expect much---can't have the pot calling the kettle out for being black, can we?  (and no, that isn't supposed to be even vaguely racist--it's an apt expression)

AJC late to the game...
Said this on 2-6-2013 At 12:06 pm

Well, the AJC has decided to finally report on this issue (see link below)...they gave Mr. Cardinale credit for earlier reporting on Mr. Willis's earlier shenanigans, but did not acknowledge that they'd been scooped on this story.  I wonder if the AJC writer subscribes to your newsletter?  If not, he should; and if so, he should have given you credit.  I would contact the writer if I were APN's editor.  I think he owes you an update on the story noting that you put this story up more than a day before he did...

Keep up the good work, Mr. Cardinale.


A fan of your work

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