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A real estate attorneys group has gone to court to stop those at a title services company from allegedly practicing law without a license. The group’s lawyer says the suit’s aim is “half protecting the public and half protecting ourselves.” In what appears to be the first such court action by a local bar group other than the State Bar of Georgia, the Georgia Real Estate Closing Attorneys Association is asking a Fulton County Superior Court judge to enjoin Omni Title Services Inc. from acting as a settlement agent for real estate transactions. GRECAA claims that nonlawyer employees or officers at Omni have been presiding over closings and preparing legal documents to convey real estate. That, GRECAA’s complaint says, constitutes the unauthorized practice of law and causes “irreparable harm to the individual victims of such unlawful conduct and the citizens of the State of Georgia in general.” But Omni lawyers Nisbet S. Kendrick III and C. Lawrence Meyer of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice dispute both of GRECAA’s allegations. Omni is a lawyer owned “title shop,” where lawyers prepare the documents and do the closings, said Kendrick, adding that GRECAA “ought to get their facts straight before they file suit.” He added that only the Georgia Supreme Court and its administrative arm, the State Bar, can regulate the practice of law and police instances of the unauthorized practice of law. Steven J. Kaczkowski, director of the State Bar’s unauthorized practice of law section, said this may be the first time a local bar association has brought such a complaint. The State Bar, he added, has at times sought injunctions to stop instances of the unauthorized practice of law. One of GRECAA’s attorneys in the litigation, real estate lawyer Harry S. Kuniansky, said he had recently noticed a number of real estate transactions where Omni Title had been listed as the settlement agent and received a fee as such. The purpose of the suit is, he said, is “half protecting the public and half protecting ourselves.” Real estate closing business, he added, is being taken away from attorneys. In court filings, GRECAA also has argued that when real estate services are illegally and negligently performed by nonlawyers, “the victims are deprived of the protections afforded the clients of regulated professionals,” such as regulated escrow accounts, disciplinary proceedings, victim reimbursement funds and malpractice insurance. But Kendrick said GRECAA is wrong when it says Omni has nonlawyers performing legal services. Kendrick said that for a short time Omni employed a lawyer who was licensed in another state, but not in Georgia. Some members of GRECAA tried to block that attorney’s pursuit of Georgia Bar membership, he said, adding that personal vendettas may be at work. He said he knows little about GRECAA. “If they do anything other than protectionism, I’d be interested to know,” he said. Omni filed a motion to dismiss the suit last week, arguing that GRECAA has no standing to bring the complaint. The association is relying on a state law, O.C.G.A. � 15-19-57, that provides that “The State Bar of Georgia, the Judicial Council of the State of Georgia, and all organized bar associations of this state are each authorized to inquire into and investigate: Any charges or complaints of unauthorized or unlawful practice of law.” The subsequent code section, O.C.G.A. � 15-19-58, provides that those same entities may bring an action in a superior court seeking injunctive relief against individuals, firms or corporations engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. “We definitely fall within the statute,” Kuniansky said. But Omni’s motion to dismiss argues that those two statutes, which date back to the 1940s, were nullified by the 1963 State Bar Act, which established a unified statewide bar as the administrative arm of the supreme court, and by subsequent decisions and orders of the supreme court. Their brief cites a Dec. 6, 1963, order of the supreme court that describes the State Bar as “the exclusive means of governing the practice of law in Georgia.” The supreme court’s goal in creating a unified State Bar, the brief says, was to “provide for the consistent regulation of the practice of law throughout the state, a goal that would be frustrated by allowing the patchwork litigation scheme established by the legislation” in those statutes. Omni’s brief notes that specific State Bar rules address the investigation and prosecution of the unlicensed practice of law. They also show, the brief says, that the supreme court intended those responsibilities to fall only with the State Bar. GRECCA v. Omni Title Services, No. 2002CV54444 (Fult. Super. June 13, 2002). Clifton A. Brashier, executive director of the State Bar, said the bar doesn’t have a position now on whether a local bar group can bring such an action.

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