EXCLUSIVE: Councilman Willis Faces Bar Complaint, Investigation


(APN) ATLANTA — Atlanta City Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large), who is also a private attorney for the Willis Law Group, LLC, is currently under investigation by the State Bar of Georgia, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

A source provided APN with a copy of the State Bar of Georgia’s Notice of Investigation, which the State Bar sent to Willis on January 18, 2013; APN has published the Notice online here: bit.ly/Ud3CwH.

The Notice is addressed to “Mr. Henry Lamar Willis, State Bar 885497.”

“This is a Notice of Investigation issued pursuant to Rule 4-204.1 of the Rules and
Regulations for the Organization and Government of the State Bar of Georgia (“Bar Rules”),” the Notice states.

“The Grievance filed by (REDACTED) is being referred to the Investigative Panel of the State Disciplinary Board.  A copy of the Grievance is attached,” the Notice states.

“The Grievance alleges a possible violation of Bar Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 3.2,” the Notice states.

“Bar Rule 4-204.3 requires you to file a written response under oath specifically addressing the Rules charged in this Notice.  Your failure to respond to this Notice of Investigation in writing and under oath within 30 days of service may be a violation of Rules 8.1(b) and 9.3 in addition to the Rules mentioned below.  Bar Rule 4-204.3 also authorizes the Investigative Panel to request that the Supreme Court suspend you until a written response under oath is filed.  See Rules 8.1(b), 9.3 and Bar Rule 4-204.3,” the Notice states.

The Notice then provides the name of the investigator in the case, and instructs Willis to respond directly to the investigator.

The fact that a Notice of Investigation has already been sent to Willis means that the complaint has already passed an initial review by the State Bar of Georgia’s Office of General Counsel, who has deemed that the complaint is neither “unjustified, frivolous, [nor] patently unfounded,” and has deemed that the complaint states facts sufficient to “invoke the disciplinary jurisdiction of the State Bar of Georgia.”

According to the source, the bar complaint deals with allegations that Mr. Willis accepted payment to provide legal services for a client, but did not provide the services.

According to the source, the client was Ragazza Motorsports Inc., and Willis was supposed to have helped the company initiate litigation against the Credit Union of Atlanta.

Ragazza Motorsports currently has a lawsuit in DeKalb County Superior Court against the Credit Union of Atlanta, before Judge Asha Jackson.  This is the litigation that Mr. Willis was supposed to have worked on for Ragazza Motorsports.

According to the Notice, Willis is alleged to have violated Bar Rules governing diligence, communication, confidentiality of information, conflict of interest, and expediting litigation.

This is not the first of ethical issues for Mr. Willis, who has already been fined 3,500 dollars by the Ethics Office of the City of Atlanta for a case related to his so-called “Foundation.”  In a related complaint filed by former Secretary of State Karen Handel he was found to have stolen money for personal gain from a purported foundation he ran that was in fact never registered as a tax exempt organization.  A judgment was issued in that case against Willis for 25,000 dollars.

“Funds donated for charitable purposes were transferred from the charitable account into both the personal and election campaign accounts maintained by Willis.  The funds thus transferred were not used for a charitable purpose,” Handel’s complaint stated.

“Willis withdrew cash donated to the ‘Foundation’ from the charitable account.  The cash was withdrawn without any corresponding charitable purpose evidenced,” the complaint stated.

Willis has even been hostile on ethics issues.  During the airport concessions debacle, Willis criticized Common Cause Georgia for pushing pay-to-play reform while having a racially homogenous Board of Directors.  And he introduced a proposal that failed, but which would have allowed the Council more say over selecting who heads the City’s Ethics Office.

Late last year, Atlanta Progressive News filed an ethics complaint with the Ethics Office against Councilman Willis, after APN published an email from the CEO of a company called FogFuels, introducing Willis as a new team member on the government side.  Willis had pushed a sole source contract between FogFuels and the City of Atlanta.

In that case, the Ethics Office found no evidence of any actual monetary payment that Willis had received from FogFuels.  However, their investigation did find that employees at FogFuels had come away from a staff meeting with the CEO with the impression that Willis would be working as a paid consultant for FogFuels.