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Shortly after jailing a disbarred lawyer who continued to practice law—while forging documents, court clerk seals and even judges’ signatures—a Columbus judge was so concerned about the possible damage that he sent out his own press release warning the public and urging any clients “scammed” by the man to contact his office or the police. On Nov. 22, Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Judge Bobby G. Peters ordered Elliot J. Vogt jailed for 20 days without bond on criminal contempt charges following a hearing during which “numerous witnesses, including lawyers and clients,” recounted being told that Vogt was a lawyer in good standing when, in fact, he had been disbarred in Alabama in August and had his Georgia law license suspended indefinitely in January after he “failed to adequately respond to the State Bar’s Notice of Investigation,” according to the Georgia Supreme Court’s order. “Some citizens who thought they were legally divorced and even received a copy of a final divorce decree signed by a superior court judge learned last week they are in fact not divorced, and their cases were never filed,” said the news release Peters sent out Monday. Vogt “continued to practice law, charged fees, forged legal documents, forged signatures of other attorneys, and then forged the signatures of at least three superior court judges,” wrote Peters. “Even the seal from the clerk of the superior court and the case number on the file were forged to mislead clients that their case was filed with the court, when it was not.” “We’ve already gotten calls from other clients of his worried about their cases,” said Peters in an interview. “I think we’ve had about 25; we had one from Canada.” “I just wanted to send up a red flag so people would know about this,” he said. “He may try to do it again.” Vogt, 33, a graduate of the University of Alabama who became a member of the Georgia Bar in 2005, lived and maintained an office in Phenix City, Ala., just across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus. He remains in jail and is “deeply sorry” for the trouble he’s caused, and has vowed to pay back all the money he collected from clients who retained him after his law licenses were pulled, said his attorney, Neal J. Callahan of Columbus’ Waldrep Mullin & Callahan. Vogt, he said, is not a scam artist but a sad figure whose struggling legal career was spiraling down the drain and who was simply “buying time to be with his wife and 3-year-old daughter before it all came out.” Vogt, he said, is “just a good, quiet person” who “graduated from law school completely unprepared to practice law. He had no mentors, no law partners; he set up shop in Phenix City and failed. By his own admission he’s not a good lawyer; he just never had the guts to tell his wife he had financial problems. He never told her he’d been disbarred; he’d get up every morning and get dressed, and go to the office.” Making matters worse, he said, was the fact that Vogt’s wife had referred some of her friends to him as clients, and he was afraid to tell them that he couldn’t represent them. He knew he would eventually be found out, said Callahan. “Nobody who’s intelligent enough to pass two bar exams and law school could have ever believed he’d get away with it,” Callahan said. “He was very depressed, trying to buy time, and just kept digging his hole deeper and deeper.” Callahan said Vogt had collected about $16,000 from clients after losing his law licenses, “just enough to meet overhead.” Vogt’s real troubles began when he bounced a trust account check and did not respond to a complaint filed with the Alabama Bar, and subsequently lost his license there, said Callahan. The Georgia suspension, he said, was reciprocal. Vogt had a small general practice, mainly focused on child custody and divorce cases, said Callahan, and “some of his clients are going to have to start all over with new lawyers. My client understands he is going to have to pay the price: He will work hard to make restitution, he’s agreed to permanent disbarment. He has no interest in ever practicing law again.” On Nov. 1, Columbus attorney Brian A. Ramey filed a complaint with the Georgia Bar’s unlicensed practice of law section against Vogt. The complaint says Ramey was contacted by Peters’ office in October concerning “a lady … who was claiming to be my client” concerning a purported hearing scheduled for that day. Ramey had no such client, nor was any hearing scheduled, says the complaint, “so we disregarded.” The next day, the woman called Ramey’s office and said Vogt had told her he was Ramey’s law partner and had said Ramey would handle her case. Ramey’s complaint says he had never been involved with Vogt and only knew him as opposing counsel in a custody case five years earlier. When Ramey asked how the woman was to reach Vogt, she provided a phone number. “Upon calling the number she provided I was appalled to hear the voice message say, ‘Brian Ramey is unavailable, please leave a message,’ to which I left a message that, ‘This is the real Brian Ramey, Mr. Vogt, and I am calling the police.’” Vogt called and begged Ramey not to turn him in, “to which I flatly stated ‘no,’” says the complaint. During the contempt hearing, Peters was similarly unmoved when Callahan said his client was depressed and freely admitted to the multiple forgeries and failures to file documents, according to Peters’ news release. After informing Vogt that he was being jailed without bond, the judge said, “you are an officer of the court and it is my responsibility to protect the integrity of the court. There is no telling how many people that hired you [who] believe they are now divorced or their case was filed and completed when it, in fact, was not. You did not do this out of desperation, you created this scam out of greed and for money.” The release concludes with a plea for anyone who hired Vogt to contact the court or the Columbus Police Department. Peters said Vogt had never appeared before him until the contempt hearing, and that Vogt displayed little emotion during the proceedings. “He just sat there and said he was depressed. He said he was trying to carry on a normal life and not let his family find out, but his wife testified she already knew he’d been disbarred, so that didn’t fly. I think he just wanted to keep the money coming in.” Callahan, who said he is a former prosecutor, said he is troubled by Vogt’s actions and the impact on his unsuspecting clients. “This is one of the saddest cases I’ve been involved in,” he said. “These people went to him to seek legal help and didn’t get it. But his life is ruined, too. He’s still paying off his student loans, he has no livelihood. This is not a case of greed; it’s just a guy trying to avoid dealing with it. He knew this day was coming.” Staff Reporter Greg Land can be reached at [email protected]

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