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Criminal charges against disbarred lawyer William E. Sumner have been dropped — for now. A Fulton County, Ga., grand jury earlier this year indicted Sumner, a former business litigator, on six counts of theft and three of practicing law without a license (while suspended). The charges were based on complaints by three former clients. But recently, Fulton prosecutors stayed the proceedings by filing a nolle pros — a declaration that they will not prosecute. They say they needed more time to prepare the case because of new information, but still fully intend to reindict and prosecute Sumner. Fulton District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. says several people read news accounts about Sumner’s troubles and came forward with new information that would strengthen the prosecutors’ case. Howard wouldn’t specify how many people have offered information, but “it’s more than two or three.” Neither Sumner nor his lawyer could be reached for comment. Jeffrey B. Bogart represents former Sumner client and alleged victim Jeffrey Mesquita, president of TTGTRS Inc., formerly Compass Medical Group. Bogart says Fulton prosecutors were awaiting additional information on Sumner’s activities. He called the nolle pros “really more of a technical glitch than it is a dismissal … on the merits. They absolutely intend to prosecute this man.” COMPLAINTS PILE UP Once one of Atlanta’s top business litigators, Sumner helped found a predecessor firm of Long Aldridge & Norman before striking out on his own in 1982. But in the past few years, unhappy former clients have filed civil suits and bar complaints and have taken out criminal warrants against him. Last year, a Fulton judge entered an $8.25 million default judgment, which included $3 million in punitive damages, against Sumner in a legal malpractice, breach of contract and fraud suit. The ex-clients who sued him included real estate developer Paul A. Duke and Kilpatrick Stockton partner Matthew H. Patton. They alleged that Sumner botched their arbitration case against Marshall & Co., a local brokerage and investment banking firm. Green v. Sumner, No. 1999CV08510 (Fult. Super. Sept. 8, 1999). Less than a week later, the Georgia Supreme Court disbarred Sumner after he failed to answer four grievances filed by disgruntled clients, including a King & Spalding associate. The court noted a “pattern of misuse of client funds and professional deception,” and found that Sumner had failed to return money for cases that he had abandoned. “Sumner repeatedly made false statements to clients regarding the status of their cases, assuring them he was performing legal services that, in fact, he was not,” the court concluded. In re William E. Sumner, 271 Ga. 469 (1999). CRIMINAL CHARGES Sumner’s legal entanglements deepened last year when several irate clients, including Mesquita, filed criminal charges against him. The warrant taken out by Mesquita alleged that Sumner settled a case for him involving a dispute over medical equipment, then kept all of the $200,000 settlement, when he should have given his client $150,000. Sumner had settled the case two years earlier but never told Mesquita, Bogart told the Daily Report last year. Sumner didn’t appear at a June 17, 1999, probable cause hearing on Mesquita’s warrant, but called to tell the Atlanta Police Department detective handling the case that his plane had been delayed. A month later, he was arrested on a second criminal charge, and that one cost him an overnight stay in jail. That charge originated with a bar grievance filed by former client Lewis N. Waltzer of Florida. Waltzer claimed Sumner had $682,845 of his money, part of $1,880,690 that Sumner had offered to keep in escrow so that Waltzer’s estranged wife couldn’t deplete the couple’s assets. Sumner had little to say about the new charge at the time, except that it was “same story, different verse.” He added that when the matter was over, “this is going to be the biggest retraction in the history of the Fulton County Daily Report.” At an Aug. 26, 1999, warrant application hearing in Fulton Magistrate Court, the charges, according to Sumner, appeared to be “piling up.” Sumner was confronted outside the courtroom by an irate businesswoman, Helen Moon, who shouted that her company, Moon Communications, would have to file bankruptcy because of Sumner. Moon’s partner, Jimmy W. Stephens Jr., testified at the hearing that he had hired Sumner on Feb. 1, 1999, to represent the company in three cases, but Sumner missed court appearances and cost the business $280,000. At the time, Sumner’s license to practice law had been suspended. Stephens testified that he didn’t know about the suspension. Also at the hearing, a Sumner neighbor, Dr. Alexander N. Doman, testified that Sumner gave him legal advice while suspended. Doman also said he paid Sumner $6,000 to represent him, but Sumner did nothing and has not returned the money. Certified public accountant Jay B. Goldman testified that he had a similar experience: He paid Sumner $15,000 to handle an arbitration matter, but Sumner did nothing. Goldman said he got his money back after swearing out a warrant, but told the court that Sumner gave him legal advice during periods when he was suspended from practice. The grand jury indictment was returned March 10, 2000. The charges were based on complaints by Stephens, Doman and Mesquita. Bradley M. Elbein, who headed the Fulton District Attorney’s Office’s white collar crime unit at the time, said prosecutors would be asking for “serious time” for Sumner. Elbein also said his office was continuing to investigate Sumner, adding, “We’ve heard that there are other victims, and we will be looking into those cases.” Elbein left his position for a new job in Texas earlier this year. At the time of his indictment, Sumner told the Daily Report, “The matter will be disposed of. That’s all I can say.”

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