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Atlanta�A North Carolina jury has indicted lawyers F. Edwin Hallman Jr. and H. King Buttermore III�along with their firm, Decker, Hallman, Barber & Briggs�for alleged unauthorized practice of law. Cleveland County District Attorney William C. Young said the misdemeanor charges could result in probated sentences for Hallman and Buttermore and an order that their Atlanta firm return fees paid by Gardner-Webb University, a 3,500-student Baptist school in Boiling Springs, N.C. While a bitter dispute at the university seems to have prompted the charges, the action raises the question of how far law firms can go in serving clients in states where they are not members of the bar. In 2002, Decker Hallman conducted an investigation that largely cleared M. Christopher White, Gardner-Webb’s president, of wrongdoing for ordering that a basketball player’s grade-point average be recalculated in a way that made the student eligible for the season. The firm’s report, however, led the school’s board of trustees to reassign two faculty members who had been critical of White’s actions-moves that led several faculty members to resign in protest. White later resigned. The National Collegiate Athletic Association last month cited White’s grade-change order, among other things, in its decision to put Gardner-Webb on a three-year probation. In response to calls to Hallman and Buttermore, the firm issued a statement to Fulton County Daily Report, a sister publication of the NLJ, declaring that its lawyers conducted interviews and provided a report to the board of trustees at the school-but did not practice law. “It is difficult for us to understand what is motivating these actions against us,” the statement states. “If former university employees, or those unhappy with the steps taken by the Board of Trustees, are disgruntled and seeking some form of retribution against this firm, their ire is misguided.” Decker Hallman’s chief accuser is O. Max Gardner III, 58, a former Gardner-Webb trustee and a bankruptcy attorney in Shelby, N.C. His brother, John M. Gardner, a former trial judge, was one of the faculty members who left in protest after the board reassigned White’s critics. He said he filed a complaint against the firm with the North Carolina State Bar and copied it to the district attorney because he objected to the lawyers’ “aggressive tactics” against critics of the trustees and White. He also said it is a lawyer’s duty to report the unauthorized practice of law.

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