Atlanta Councilman Lamar Willis Disbarred
(APN) ATLANTA — The Supreme Court of Georgia has ordered that Atlanta City Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) be disbarred as a Georgia attorney.
Willis is in a close reelection battle with candidate Andre Dickens.
Atlanta Progressive News first reported on February 04, 2013 the appointment of a Special Master to review the State Bar of Georgia complaint against Willis. Later, APN was the only news outlet to have reported on the final recommendation of the Bar’s Review Panel dated July 18, 2013, which was disbarment.
In the opinion released today, the Supreme Court found that Willis violated a number of rules contained in the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct that govern the legal profession.
Among the violations, Willis represented a client in a personal injury action who was to be paid 30,000 dollars after the parties settled. However, rather than distribute the funds to his client and according to the court order, Willis deposited the check into his personal or business account.
As previously reported by APN, according to the State Bar’s complaint filed with the Court, Willis originally deposited the 30,000 settlement check in connection with the minor child’s personal injury suit into his personal account by way of a fraudulent endorsement.
However, the maker of the check, Century Surety, disputed the check with Chase Bank, and the bank reversed the check, returning the funds to Century Surety, and debiting Willis’s account, leaving the account with a negative balance.
The State Bar instructed Willis to deposit the funds with the Court, so at the very least, Chase Bank could be made whole, the complaint states.
Willis told the State Bar that he would deposit the funds with the Court, but he failed to do so.
Willis originally did not respond to the State Bar’s investigation, thus admitting all factual allegations by default. Willis then sent in a motion for reconsideration, in which he claimed that he did not understand the law–adding that he only recently became a practicing attorney and that he did not know what he was doing–and that he was depressed at the time because he had been going through a divorce.
“Respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration was not submitted under oath and offers no documented excuse for his failure to respond to the proceedings in a timely fashion. For example, Respondent does not support his claim of depression and inability to respond to these proceedings with any supporting medical documentation such as a letter or affidavit from a treating physician or counselor,” the Review Panel wrote.
“Also, in direct contrast to Respondent’s assertion that he was depressed and unable respond to the disciplinary complaint, Respondent points to his continued active involvement in the community during this same time period as a member of the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Board of the Young Family YMCA, the Board of Tech Bridge, and the Parent Teacher Student Association at his child’s school. Respondent’s active participation in community affairs appears to have taken priority over Respondent’s obligation to his client and his duty to respond to the disciplinary complaint. The Review Panel declines to adopt the facts offered in mitigation,” the Review Panel wrote.
“Having reviewed the record, we agree with the Review Panel that the facts in this case demonstrate Willis’s extreme disregard of his duty to safeguard the property of a client, which undermines the public trust,” the Court wrote in its opinion.
“Accordingly, we hereby order that the name of Henry Lamar Willis be removed from the rolls of persons entitled to practice law in the State of Georgia,” the opinion states.
Former State Rep. Ralph Long (D-Atlanta) called on Willis to resign from office immediately.
Long pointed to Mayor Kasim Reed’s blatant hypocrisy in his continued support for Willis, who was Reed’s flood leader.
“Earlier this year, when the former Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia [Mike Berlon] was voluntarily suspended from the State Bar, Mayor Kasim Reed said that the party Chairman should ‘move on’ from office because Reed was concerned with ‘insuring that the Chair is focused on the campaign and not personal distractions,’” Long noted in a statement.
“Well, if Mike Berlon’s SUSPENSION from the Bar is a distraction from his former job, then it’s not a stretch of logic to conclude that City Councilman Lamar Willis’s DISBARMENT will interfere with his work for the people of Atlanta,” Long said.
“It is past time for Lamar Willis to leave office. I… call on Mayor Reed to hold Lamar Willis to the same standard he held Mike Berlon – Lamar Willis should MOVE ON from the Atlanta City Council and RESIGN from office immediately. Our world-class city deserves better, and can do better, than a disbarred and dishonorable City Councilman,” Long wrote.
“The people of Atlanta have been subject to Lamar Willis’ ethical lapses and dishonest dealings for years. From fraudulently collecting charitable contributions supposedly intended for our City’s children, to serving as a lobbyist for a private corporation before the same City Council on which he sits (that company now faces an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission), to diverting legal judgment funds from a minor he represented to his own personal bank accounts, Lamar Willis has shown time and time again that his only motivation for holding a City Council seat is to advance his personal and financial interests,” Long wrote.