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That Julia Mae Shiggs slipped into a coma after she gave birth, that she stayed unconscious for 28 months, that she died at age 33 and left four children motherless, brought more tragedy than any family should have to endure. But that she died without enough money available for her burial is tragedy compounded.

Those who compounded it were those hired to ease it: two lawyers now accused of offenses that could result in their disbarment. At a disciplinary hearing in April, David Roberson and John Woodall explained why they helped themselves to $2.4 million in fees�72 percent of the money in a medical malpractice settlement they won for this then-comatose mother and her barely literate husband. At the hearing, they were trying to hold on to their law licenses by blaming each other. But there is no question they worked as a team. And the way they handled Julia Mae Shiggs�s settlement should serve as a warning to lawyers who let temptation turn their ethical compass — believing, perhaps, that an unsophisticated client will never know the difference between what is acceptable practice and what isn�t. Louisa Abbot, a Savannah lawyer named by probate court to oversee the finances of Shiggs�s children, says that only the sums in the Roberson and Woodall matter are shocking. This is not the first time she�s been appointed guardian ad litem to protect young or incapacitated people after a previous lawyer — or even a parent == did not. She now has four such cases, including the Shiggs case.

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