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More than a year has passed since the State Bar of Georgia took the word of a convicted killer and tried to disbar his former lawyer, John J. Lieb. While the killer’s claims were shown eventually to be false, Lieb’s not out of trouble with the Bar. The Bar still insists the Atlanta lawyer should be punished — for failing to answer the false complaint against him. For his part, Lieb is incensed at the Bar’s conduct. It failed to investigate the complaint against him, Lieb contends, and then made scant efforts to find and serve him with notice of the complaint before trying to disbar him. The Bar has offered to settle if Lieb will accept a public reprimand, an offer Lieb has refused. While he no longer practices law and believes nothing can undo the damage that the Bar complaint has caused his reputation, Lieb intends to pursue the case, says his lawyer, D. Brandon Hornsby. “If only to make sure no other lawyer is treated the same way,” Hornsby adds. The resulting disciplinary case, now before a special master on summary judgment motions, raises the issue of what constitutional rights are and should be accorded to lawyers facing disciplinary charges. Lieb, in filings with the State Disciplinary Board, contends that many of the Bar’s procedures violate his due process rights under the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions. The Bar, he argues, has engaged in “constitutionally outrageous conduct” that wouldn’t fly in a court setting. “The significance of this case for Georgia’s bar membership cannot be overstated,” says Hornsby of Atlanta’s Alembik, Fine & Callner. At stake, he adds, “is whether Georgia’s lawyers enjoy the full protections of the state and federal constitutions.” To State Bar General Counsel William P. Smith III, the Constitution simply doesn’t apply to disciplinary proceedings, because that document doesn’t discuss lawyer discipline. Lawyer discipline, Smith testified at a May deposition, is controlled by the disciplinary rules approved by the Georgia Supreme Court. Nor does the Bar have to follow state statutes governing service of court papers, Smith said. The burden is on lawyers to keep their addresses current with the Bar, he testified. When a lawyer doesn’t do so, he added, “that certainly does not place upon the Bar the obligation to go to the expense in the utilization of resources to go out and find the lawyer.” Smith went on to accuse Hornsby of having an “inflated impression” of the importance of Lieb’s case and to inform him that Bar officials weren’t waiting “with bated breath” to find out how the case would turn out. Couldn’t he appreciate that the case was important to Lieb? Hornsby asked the General Counsel. Smith had an analogy for an answer: “Sometimes attorneys attempt to adorn a Tom tit with the plumage of a peacock. Frankly, sir, I think that’s what happened in this case.” GRIEVANCE FILED IN ’98 Lieb’s troubles began when a former client, Don Cornelius Bridges, filed a grievance against him in September 1998. Bridges, now serving a 15-year sentence for manslaughter in a 1995 shooting death, claimed that Lieb had promised to secure a lighter sentence in exchange for a $10,000 fee. Bridges also alleged that Lieb took that fee while working for the Fulton Public Defender’s Office. Bar rules prohibit criminal defense lawyers from promising clients a specific result and from accepting private fees if they are court-appointed. Lieb never worked for the Public Defender’s Office and was not appointed by a court to represent Bridges. But the Bar never checked Bridges’ version of events, either by calling the Public Defender’s Office or by checking for court appointment records. Instead, Bar officials tried to serve Lieb with Bridges’ complaint by mailing it to the address the Bar had on file. The mail was returned because Lieb had moved. A Bar investigator said in a deposition that he attempted unsuccessfully to locate Lieb through drivers’ license records, directory assistance and a credit bureau. The Bar then decided to serve Lieb by publication, and had a notice of the disciplinary matter published in the Marietta Daily Journal. With no response from Lieb, the Bar accepted Bridges’ allegations as fact, and the Investigative Panel recommended disbarment to the Georgia Supreme Court. In re Lieb, No. S99Y1460 (Sup. Ct. Ga. June 29, 1999). Lieb finally got wind of the disciplinary proceedings against him when a friend called Aug. 19, 1999, to tell him about articles in the Daily Report concerning the disbarment proceedings. Minutes later, he contends, he walked from Georgia State University, where he was then teaching a sociology class, to Bar offices in the Hurt Building 300 feet away to ask about the charges. The Bar subsequently dismissed that disciplinary proceeding. It then instituted another formal complaint, this one for Lieb’s failure to respond to Bridges’ grievance. In re Lieb, No. S0040446 (Sup. Ct. Ga. Dec. 2, 1999). Bar officials don’t dispute that Lieb didn’t know about Bridges’ grievance until the day he came to the Bar offices. Yet they claim he violated Standard 68, which requires members to respond to grievances, and broke the rule requiring lawyers to provide the Bar current addresses. That rule was enacted, they argue, so members couldn’t duck disciplinary proceedings. Hornsby filed a motion to dismiss the new proceeding against Lieb, arguing that the Bar’s failure to investigate Bridges’ claims constituted outrageous conduct. “When truth and justice were either a phone call or moments away, the Bar took steps that would allow them to disbar John rather than seek truth and justice,” he wrote. Special Master Jerry L. Gentry, however, ruled that the Bar’s actions or inactions in investigating Bridges’ grievance weren’t the issue in this case. It concerned only Lieb’s failure to respond to the grievance. However, Lieb complains that: � Prosecutors from the Office of General Counsel sit in on the deliberations and votes of investigative panels, a practice he likens to prosecutors sitting in on grand jury deliberations. � 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 via local sheriff’s departments. � Only minimal efforts are made to locate lawyers for service. Smith, in an interview, says Bar proceedings are not criminal in nature. “The rules that apply are the rules of civil procedure,” he says. In his deposition 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.” By virtue of their license, he said, lawyers have inherent duties placed on them, including a duty to cooperate in disciplinary proceedings. “I don’t believe that a lawyer has the ability to ignore a document that he or she has received because of some technical defect in the service process. I think there’s an equal duty there.” Lieb, in a May deposition, testified that had he known about the disciplinary action, he would have responded. Instead, he said, he has been embarrassed by the matter, which has caused him to have anxiety attacks and insomnia. “Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I think about this. It has humiliated me and my colleagues at Georgia State University. I have had to explain to my classes, my students, this proceeding,” he said. “It has been a devastating and humiliating experience for a year now.”

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