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The State Bar of Georgia has dropped its ill-fated bid to discipline Atlanta lawyer John J. Lieb. The Bar moved to dismiss proceedings against Lieb on Feb. 15, less than a month after a special master criticized the Bar’s lax service procedures. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the Bar’s motion to dismiss Feb. 19. That ended a year-and-a-half ordeal for Lieb, a nonpracticing attorney who teaches at area colleges and universities. Lieb declined a request for an interview, but, in a formal statement released through his lawyer, says the disciplinary process left him “shocked by the accusations and the punishment it sought. I was frightened and horrified by the extreme public humiliation I had to live with day in and day out.” Lieb says his lawyer, D. Brandon Hornsby, “gave me a hand up off my knees in a time of great spiritual doubt and allowed me to stand up for my rights and convictions.” Hornsby, who took the case pro bono, says Bar officials could have appealed Special Master Jerry L. Gentry’s ruling granting summary judgment to Lieb, and he’s thankful they didn’t. “When confronted with the special master’s order, they did the right thing,” says Hornsby, of Alembik, Fine & Callner. State Bar General Counsel William P. Smith III declined comment on the case. The Bar first tried to disbar Lieb, after a convicted killer alleged that Lieb had charged for the defense while working for the Fulton County Public Defender’s Office. The claim turned out to be false. Lieb had been retained privately on the case and never worked for the Public Defender’s Office. Bar officials dismissed that disciplinary action, but brought another. They insisted that Lieb should get a public reprimand for failing to answer the killer’s complaint promptly. In re Lieb, No. S00Y0446 (Sup. Ct. Ga. Dec. 2, 1999). Lieb said he was unaware of the first disciplinary action until it had reached the Georgia Supreme Court and a friend read a newspaper article about it. The Bar offered to settle the second disciplinary matter if Lieb would accept a public reprimand, but Lieb refused and continued to battle the Bar. IN NEED OF A ‘HELPING HAND’ Hornsby says he became acquainted with Lieb while a graduate student at Georgia State University and considers him a friend and “someone who really needed a helping hand.” Lieb was lucky, Hornsby says, that Alembik, Fine & Callner gave him the time to pursue the case. In Hornsby’s hands, the case turned into an examination of and challenge to many of the Bar’s disciplinary procedures and rules. The defense, in filings with the State Disciplinary Board, claimed many of the Bar’s procedures violated Lieb’s due process rights under the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions. In particular, Lieb’s case challenged the following Bar practices: � Prosecutors from the Office of General Counsel sit in on the deliberations and votes of investigative panels; � Staff investigators from the General Counsel’s Office, who are not disinterested parties, are used to serve notices of discipline to metro area lawyers. Outside the metro area, notices are served through local sheriff’s departments; and � Minimal efforts are made to locate lawyers for service, according to Hornsby. “The significance of this case for Georgia’s Bar membership cannot be overstated,” said Hornsby in an earlier interview. At stake, he added, was “whether Georgia’s lawyers enjoy the full protections of the state and federal constitutions.” In a deposition taken last year, Smith insisted that the Bar’s actions were appropriate in Lieb’s case, no matter what state statutes, common law or constitutional principles said. “[T]his process is sui generis,” he testified, a term which means “the only one of its kind,” “and it rests on its own set of rules and not the rules that govern the relationship between plaintiffs and defendants.” And, Smith testified, when lawyers don’t keep their addresses current with the Bar, it isn’t obliged to “go to the expense in the utilization of resources to go out and find the lawyer.” The Bar squarely blamed Lieb for his predicament for failing to give the Bar a current address. The rule about current addresses was enacted, the Bar argued, so lawyers couldn’t duck disciplinary proceedings. SPECIAL MASTER: BOTH BROKE RULES But Gentry’s order last month found that, while Lieb hadn’t followed the rule, the Bar had broken its own rules about serving disciplinary papers. Bar officials didn’t try hard enough to find Lieb and used an unauthorized person — the staff investigator — to try and serve him, Gentry found. “It certainly appears that there were reasonably available other channels of possible information available to determine the location of the Respondent,” he wrote. He added that the Bar hadn’t fulfilled the statutory requirements governing personal service. Hornsby says the case had broad implications for all Georgia lawyers, but those will now have to be “raised by another attorney at another time.” In his statement, Lieb calls the experience a valuable lesson that is “far more important to me than to harbor petty feelings against the State Bar. These lessons in duty, responsibility and compassions, I will apply to the rest of my life,” he wrote.

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