The Supreme Court of Georgia on Monday issued the following attorney discipline opinions:
In the Supreme Court of Georgia
Decided: March 5, 2018
S18Y0348. IN THE MATTER OF SAM LOUIS LEVINE
This disciplinary matter is before the Court on the report and recommendation of the Review Panel, recommending that Sam Louis Levine (State Bar No. 448738) be disbarred for his neglect of matters involving two clients and his misconduct arising out of his contentious divorce proceeding.
The State Bar initiated this matter in September 2016 by filing three formal complaints after Levine rejected notices of discipline. See Bar Rule 4-208.4 (a). Levine, who was admitted to the Bar in 2004, acknowledged service and filed answers and counterclaims. The Bar served written discovery in December 2016. In early January 2017, Levine filed a notice of leave of absence in all three matters, covering all but 22 weekdays of 2017; the notice did not list any pending cases in which Levine was counsel of record, but stated that Levine would be on vacation or attending CLE seminars. The notice further stated, “[a]ll affected judges and opposing counsel shall have ten (10) days from the date of this Notice to object to it. If no objections are filed, the leave shall be granted.” The notice cited Uniform Superior Court Rule 16, and presumably intended to invoke USCR 16.1, which provides that under certain circumstances a leave of absence of 30 days or less shall stand granted without the necessity of a court order.1 The Bar filed an objection, noting that Levine had attempted to informally negotiate an indefinite stay of the disciplinary proceedings with the first special master appointed, but had not filed a motion for a stay. In mid-February 2017, the Bar filed a motion seeking sanctions for Levine’s failure to respond to discovery.
Special Master Patrick H. Head set a hearing on the motion for sanctions in all three matters for March 3, 2017. Upon Levine’s objection, the hearing was rescheduled to March 31, because that was one of the days not listed in Levine’s notice of leave of absence. Nonetheless, Levine did not respond to the motion for sanctions and did not appear for the hearing; instead, at around 9:00 p.m. on March 30, he sent an email announcing that he would not appear. The email stated that there was no provision under USCR 6.4 that allowed for a hearing on a motion for sanctions. But see Bar Rule 4-210 (11) (special masters have power to exercise general supervision over discovery matters, including to conduct hearings). The evidentiary hearing was held in Levine’s absence, and following the hearing, the special master entered a detailed order concluding that Levine’s failure to respond to discovery was willful and intentional. As sanctions, the special master struck Levine’s answers, defenses, and counterclaims, with the result being that the facts of the formal complaints were deemed admitted. Rule 4-212 (a) (facts alleged and violations charged in formal complaint shall be deemed admitted if respondent fails to file an answer).
In May 2017, the special master issued his report and recommendation with findings of fact and conclusions of law, recommending disbarment. The facts, as found by the special master and based on Levine’s default, show the following. With respect to State Disciplinary Board Docket (“SDBD”) No. 6866, Levine was retained to defend a client in five civil actions. The client paid Levine $1,750 to file answers and negotiate settlements. However, Levine failed to file an answer in any of the actions, resulting in a default judgment being entered against the client in one of the cases and his wages being garnished. Throughout the representation, Levine misled the client about his actions, falsely telling him that he had obtained an extension of time for filing answers and falsely telling him that he was in the process of negotiating settlements. Levine also falsely told the Bar during the disciplinary proceedings that settlement negotiations were ongoing and close to fruition.
The facts underlying SDBD No. 6878 involve Levine’s representation of another client. Levine was retained by the client to file suit for damages arising from an automobile accident. Levine filed the suit in April 2011, dismissed it without prejudice in April 2012, and refiled it in October 2012. Levine did very little work on the case for 18 months, and when the case was placed on a trial calendar, Levine, who had another lawyer as co-counsel, filed for a continuance on the day the pretrial order was due, stating that he was unable to act as lead counsel for financial, mental, and physical reasons arising out of his on-going divorce action and preexisting medical issues. In communications with the trial judge, Levine admitted that he had not prepared the case. After a pretrial conference at which the court instructed Levine to designate lead counsel for trial, Levine submitted a letter to the court, asserting that he had a conflict with another case, contrary to his first request for a continuance. The client then designated the co-counsel as lead counsel, but Levine refused to abide by this direction and instructed co-counsel that he would no longer be needed. Levine ultimately associated, with his client’s acquiescence, another lawyer. This third lawyer conducted discovery, including depositions of multiple physicians, and ultimately resolved the matter with a substantial settlement in the client’s favor.
The facts underlying SDBD No. 6891 stem from Levine’s actions in and related to his divorce case; Levine represented himself during most of the divorce proceedings. The divorce decree awarded various items of property,including the family dog, to Levine’s wife. Levine repeatedly refused to allow his ex-wife to retrieve these items and challenged the divorce decree in numerous collateral proceedings, most of which stemmed from Levine’s insistence that the dog was a therapy dog that he was entitled to have under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In pursuit of this unwavering belief, Levine filed meritless federal lawsuits against two judges who at different times presided over his divorce action; filed a discrimination complaint against one of the judges; sent a threatening letter to the two judges, with copies to numerous public figures, alleging that the judges had committed heinous crimes and were suffering from psychiatric disorders; filed meritless lawsuits and police complaints against his brother, whom Levine had asked to act on his behalf after Levine was incarcerated for contempt; filed meritless applications for criminal warrants against his ex-wife and others; and filed meritless applications for temporary protective orders and a separate civil action against his ex-wife. Levine was ultimately held in contempt in the divorce action and was incarcerated for three weeks when he continued to defy the court’s orders. To obtain his release, his lawyer negotiated a consent order, which included, at Levine’s mother’s request, a provision for a psychiatric examination.
Based on Levine’s conduct in these three matters, the special master concluded that Levine violated the following Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d): 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.7, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 4.1, 4.4, 8.1, and 8.4 (a) (4). The maximum sanction for violations of Rules 1.2, 1.3, 1.7, 3.3, 4.1, 8.1, and 8.4 (a) (4) is disbarment, and the maximum sanction for violations of Rules 1.4, 3.1, 3.2, and 4.4 is a public reprimand.
The special master looked to the American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions for mitigating and aggravating factors and found that few mitigating but many aggravating factors applied. He concluded that Levine’s personal or emotional problems were a mitigating factor, describing them as “self-evident” but noting that Levine offered no medical evidence in the disciplinary proceeding to support his claim of disability. As aggravating factors, the special master found that Levine’s misconduct demonstrated a dishonest and selfish motive; there was an extensive pattern of misconduct and multiple offenses; Levine engaged in bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary process by lying to the Bar, intentionally refusing to comply with Bar rules governing disciplinary proceedings, and engaging in deceptive practices; he refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his misconduct; and he had substantial experience in the practice of law. The special master noted Levine’s sole prior disciplinary offense, a Letter of Admonition in 2009, but did not consider it an aggravating factor. See ABA Standard 9.32 (m) (mitigating factors include remoteness of prior offenses).
The special master recommended disbarment, and although he found that the facts strongly suggested that Levine suffers from the want of a sound mind, such that he would be subject to removal from the practice of law based on State Bar Rule 4-104 (a), he did not rely on that rule in making his recommendation.
Levine sought review by the Review Panel. The Review Panel granted Levine’s motion for oral argument, but ultimately issued a report and recommendation rejecting all of Levine’s complaints about the procedure before the special master, adopting the findings of fact and conclusions of law in the special master’s report, and recommending that this Court impose the sanction of disbarment.
In this Court, Levine filed three separate exceptions to the report and recommendation, despite there being only one consolidated case in this Court. His filings, which fail to comply with this Court’s procedural rules, see Supreme Court Rule 49, are largely duplicative of each other and contain numerous exhibits, most of which are not included in the record established before the special master and many of which are illegible. In addition to filing exceptions to the Review Panel report, Levine filed three separate motions styled “Motion to Dismiss Bar Complaint,” which he has supplemented in various forms more than a dozen times. These filings—totaling hundreds of pages—seek to relitigate his divorce and the underlying facts of the two client matters and make meritless claims challenging the Bar’s actions in these disciplinary matters. He also filed a motion to have this Court pay for the production and filing of the written and video transcripts of a hearing in the divorce case, and a motion for appointment of counsel.2
As we understand Levine’s position, he contends that the entry of the sanctions order was improper and that in the absence of a default, he is entitled to offer evidence to counter the factual allegations of the underlying grievances. We agree with the Review Panel, however, that the special master did not err in striking Levine’s pleadings and finding him in default for his willful failure to participate in discovery. Additionally, there was no requirement that the special master enter an order compelling Levine to respond to discovery prior to entering sanctions for his failure to engage in the discovery process. See In the Matter of Burgess, 293 Ga. 783, 784 (748 SE2d 916) (2013) (noting that special master struck respondent’s answers for failure to respond to discovery requests and lack of evidence supporting mitigation); In the Matter of Browning-Baker, 292 Ga. 809, 809-810 (741 SE2d 637) (2013) (special master authorized to strike respondent’s answer after respondent twice waited until the day before her scheduled deposition before advising that she would not appear and after respondent failed to appear for subsequently scheduled hearing before special master); In the Matter of Hawk, 269 Ga. 165, 166 (496 SE2d 261) (1998) (finding facts alleged in formal complaint were deemed admitted based on special master’s striking of respondent’s answers as sanction for failure to appear at depositions and to produce documents). See also Rule 4-212 (c) (both parties may engage in discovery under the rules of practice and procedure applicable to civil cases); OCGA § 9-11-37 (b) (2) (C) & (d) (1) (upon failure to serve answers to interrogatories or respond to request for inspection, court may make such orders as are just, including an order striking pleadings or rendering a judgment by default against disobedient party).
In addition to the misconduct in the underlying matters, which amply supports disbarment, the record of the disciplinary proceedings and Levine’s filings in this Court strongly support the special master’s belief that Levine is not emotionally or mentally fit for the practice of law. Levine persistently ignored Bar Rules that provide an orderly process for contesting allegations of disciplinary violations and instead made multi-pronged, unauthorized attacks on the disciplinary process. For example, rather than responding to the Bar’s discovery, Levine filed Bar complaints against the Investigative Panel member assigned to investigate the grievances against him and against Bar counsel. After the special master issued the sanctions order finding Levine in default, Levine filed a motion to stay discovery, a motion to dismiss the disciplinary proceedings, and a notice of appeal of the sanctions order, directed to the Georgia Court of Appeals because the appeal “stems from a trial court’s Order on a Motion.” After the special master issued his report and recommendation, Levine filed a motion to disqualify Bar counsel; a motion to recuse the special master based in large part on the special master’s prior service as a district attorney;3 and objections to the report and recommendation, attaching thousands of pages of exhibits that were never made a part of the disciplinary record. Before the Review Panel, Levine submitted voluminous pleadings, including a motion to dismiss and a motion to add his ex-wife, his brother, his mother, and one of the judges who presided over the divorce proceedings as parties in the disciplinary proceeding.
We conclude, as did the special master and Review Panel, that Levine’s misconduct in client matters and his extraordinary pattern of abuse of the judicial system and disciplinary process authorizes the sanction of disbarment. This resolution is consistent with sanctions imposed in similar cases. See In the Matter of Nicholson, 299 Ga. 737, 740 (791 SE2d 776) (2016) (disbarment where attorney filed false affidavit in court and then engaged in pattern of bizarre, disrespectful and outrageous conduct throughout the disciplinary process”); In the Matter of Koehler, 297 SE2d 794 (778 Ga. 218) (2015) (disbarment where lawyer repeatedly asserted meritless claims in multiple tribunals and made materially deceitful and misleading statements in court filings); In the Matter of Minsk, 296 Ga. 152 (765 SE2d 361) (2014) (disbarment where lawyer had pattern of making knowingly false statements to his client, the court, and third parties); In the Matter of Rolleston, 282 Ga. 513, 513 (651 SE2d 739) (2007) (disbarment where lawyer repeatedly asserted meritless claims in multiple tribunals, showed no remorse for actions, and “continued to plague the judicial system with untenable claims for purposes unbefitting of any member of this State’s Bar”).
Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that the name of Sam Louis Levine be removed from the rolls of persons authorized to practice law in the State of Georgia. Levine is reminded of his duties pursuant to Bar Rule 4-219 (c).
Disbarred. All the Justices concur.
1 We have not previously considered whether the Uniform Superior Court Rules apply in Bar disciplinary proceedings and find no need to consider the issue in this case. 2 These latter motions were denied by separate order entered January 30, 2018. 3 Levine also filed wholly meritless motions to recuse the members of the Review Panel and the members of this Court, which motions were denied.
In the Supreme Court of Georgia
Decided: March 5, 2018
S18Y0350. IN THE MATTER OF CHRISTOPHER AARON CORLEY.
This disciplinary matter is before the Court on the petition for voluntary discipline filed on October 23, 2017 by Christopher Aaron Corley (State Bar No. 940383), before the filing of a formal complaint by the State Bar. See Bar Rule 4-227 (b) (2). Corley, who became a member of the State Bar in 2009, admits that he violated Rule 8.4 (a) (2) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, see Bar Rule 4-102 (d), after entering a plea of guilty in August 2017 to Domestic Violence First Degree, in violation of South Carolina Code § 16-25-20 (A) (2015), related to an incident of domestic violence against his wife.1 Corley was sentenced to six years, with the balance suspended on probation for five years. Although Corley recognizes that the maximum sanction for a violation of Rule 8.4 (a) (2) is disbarment, he seeks the suspension of his license for the greater of 24 months or the term of his probation for the underlying felony conviction.
In his petition, Corley admits that on December 26, 2016, he was arrested for domestic violence in Aiken County, South Carolina, where he, his wife, and their three children reside; he was subsequently indicted for domestic violence; and the indictment alleged that he caused physical harm or injury to his wife by beating her about the face, head, and body with a closed fist, while in the presence of a minor and holding a gun.
In mitigation, Corley contends that he has a documented history of mental health issues, which contributed in part to his out-of-character behavior in December 2016. He adds that his recognition and treatment of his mental health issues are mitigating factors. In particular, he states that in 2012, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and depression and began receiving treatment; in January 2016, he began seeing a different doctor for issues related to his depression, which resulted in changes in his medication; and following the incident in December 2016, he sought help through the State Bar and was ultimately diagnosed as having Bipolar II disorder, resulting in a new daily prescription. He asserts that the doctor he sought treatment from through the State Bar informed him that the medication he was previously prescribed exacerbated the symptoms of his Bipolar II disorder and that, while certainly not an excuse for his conduct, his inability to have his mental health condition properly diagnosed and medicated was a contributing factor to his conduct in December 2016.
In addition, Corley asserts in mitigation that he is still married to and living with his wife, who was the victim of his domestic violence; they have known each other all of their lives, attending school and church together since a young age; his wife is a 38-year-old, stay-at-home mother of their three children; his oldest child is on the Autism Spectrum, with a form of Asperger’s Syndrome, and both parents spend a substantial amount of time taking care of him; and his wife and children rely solely upon him to make a living and provide for their family. In addition, he asserts that his wife has forgiven him, that she is truly the innocent party in this case, and that she stands to continue to suffer financially as a result of his loss of income as a lawyer due to his conduct.
Corley further asserts in mitigation that prior to this incident, he had an unmarred public and professional reputation, including no prior disciplinary or criminal history, and that he served his community as a state legislator from 2014-2017 as the 84th District Representative in the South Carolina House of Representatives. He asserts that, although convicted of a felony with a potential sentence of incarceration for many years, he received a probated sentence; this isolated incident caused no harm to any of his clients, see In the Matter of Ortman, 289 Ga. 130, 131 (709 SE2d 784) (2011); he has made every effort to complete the terms and conditions of his probation, including paying all fines imposed, completing all community service, and currently being in the process of completing anger management courses; and based upon his compliance credits, he has been informed that he may have his probation terminated as early as August 16, 2020.
In his initial petition, Corley requested that this Court simply impose a suspension nunc pro tunc to the date he filed the petition for a term of 24 months or the term of his underlying felony probation, whichever is greater. He also noted that he was voluntarily shutting down his practice to ensure that his clients would be minimally impacted by whatever discipline this Court imposes upon him. The State Bar responded, requesting that this Court reject Corley’s petition. Specifically, the Bar objected to Corley’s failure to request conditions on any reinstatement after suspension, given his assertion of mental health problems as a major mitigating factor, and to Corley’s request that the suspension be imposed nunc pro tunc, in the absence of evidence that he has actually stopped practicing law. See In the Matter of Onipede, 288 Ga. 156, 157 (702 SE2d 136) (2010).
This Court invited Corley to file a reply to the Bar’s objections. In his reply, Corley asserts that it has always been his intention to remain under the care of a mental health professional and to continuously monitor the treatment of his underlying mental health conditions, and that he is willing to submit, in connection with any future reinstatement to the practice of law, proof of the completion and termination of his probation for the underlying South Carolina criminal conviction, proof of continued mental health treatment from his treating mental health provider, and an evaluation by a licensed mental health doctor certifying his mental competency and fitness to return to the practice of law. Corley also attached an affidavit to his reply brief attesting that as of September 11, 2017, he ceased the practice of law and outlining the actions he took to do so.
The State Bar then filed a response recommending that, based upon this Court’s ruling in prior cases and the circumstances of the underlying criminal case, Corley’s suspension should be at least 24 to 36 months and include the mental health conditions he described. See In the Matter of Richbourg, 295 Ga. 356, 356-357 (759 SE2d 865) (2014); In the Matter of Paine, 280 Ga. 208, 210 (625 SE2d 768) (2006). The Bar also withdrew its objection to the suspension being imposed nunc pro tunc.
Although Corley was convicted of a serious and dangerous felony offense, having considered the petition for voluntary discipline and the additional pleadings by the parties, and in particular the mitigating factors discussed therein, we agree that a suspension for the greater of two years or the length of Corley’s probation is the appropriate sanction in this case. See Paine, 280 Ga. at 210. Accordingly, we hereby order that Christopher Aaron Corley is suspended from the practice of law in the State of Georgia for a period of time to end at the expiration of two years or at the termination of his criminal probation, whichever is longer, nunc pro tunc to the date of the filing of his petition for voluntary discipline on October 23, 2017. See Onipede, 288 Ga. at 157. Before being reinstated, Corley must demonstrate that he has completed his probation, that a board-certified and licensed mental health professional has certified that he is fit to return to the practice of law, and that he is continuing to receive mental health treatment by a board-certified and licensed mental health professional. When Corley believes that the conditions of his reinstatement have been met, he may submit a petition for reinstatement to the State Disciplinary Review Board, which will then issue a report and recommendation to this Court. Corley shall not engage in the practice of law until this Court issues an opinion granting his petition for reinstatement. See In the Matter of Fair, 292 Ga. 308 (736 SE2d 430) (2013). Corley is reminded of his duties under State Bar Rule 4–219 (c).
Suspension with conditions. All the Justices concur.
1 Rule 8.4 (a) (2) says that a lawyer may not be convicted of a felony.
In the Supreme Court of Georgia
Decided: March 5, 2018
S18Y0383. IN THE MATTER OF ANDRE KEITH SANDERS.
This disciplinary matter is before the Court on the report and recommendation of the Review Panel, which recommends that this Court impose upon Andre Keith Sanders (State Bar No. 625241) a five-year suspension, with conditions on reinstatement, as reciprocal discipline following the imposition of a “Disciplinary Revocation of Admission” to practice in Florida. As recounted by the Review Panel, Sanders, who has been a member of the Georgia Bar since 1972, was the subject of numerous disciplinary matters in Florida, principally but not exclusively related to fraudulent debt collection practices. In response, Sanders filed a Petition for Disciplinary Revocation with Leave to Apply for Readmission, pursuant to Rule 3-7.12 of the rules regulating the Florida Bar. The Florida Supreme Court accepted Sanders’s petition, imposing the disciplinary revocation, which it noted is tantamount to disbarment, with leave to seek readmission after five years. As a result of the imposition of this sanction by the Florida courts, the Georgia Bar initiated reciprocal discipline proceedings against Sanders; although Sanders acknowledged service of the reciprocal disciplinary matter, he has not filed a responsive pleading either below or before this Court, rendering him in default.
Given Sanders’s default, the sole question before this Court in evaluating this matter is, as it was in the proceedings before the Review Panel, the appropriateness of the imposition of reciprocal discipline here. In addressing this question, the Review Panel noted that Florida’s Rule 3-7.12 does not require an admission of misconduct but does require an acknowledgment by the respondent of a pending investigation, and moreover that the Florida Supreme Court has held that disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment. The Review Panel acknowledged that Georgia’s Rules do not have a provision allowing for an attorney with a pending disciplinary matter to resign his license without a finding or admission of misconduct, and further noted that several provisions of the Georgia Rules seem to point to the importance of a finding or admission of misconduct to the resolution of the disciplinary matter—namely Rules 4-227 (a), 9.4 (b) (5), and 9.4 (b) (3). The Review Panel concluded, however, that Florida’s disciplinary revocation procedure was otherwise “essentially identical to a petition for voluntary discipline in Georgia requesting either disbarment or a lengthy suspension with readmission based on compliance with rules regulating admission to the bar.” Based on these considerations, the Review Panel concluded that the disciplinary revocation procedure was sufficient to warrant the imposition of reciprocal discipline and recommended as sufficiently similar reciprocal discipline a five-year suspension, with reinstatement in Georgia conditioned on proof of compliance with the Florida Rules relating to admission to the Bar and reinstatement to practice in Florida.
Our review of the record and the relevant law reveals that the Review Panel was correct in reaching its conclusion regarding the applicability of the reciprocal discipline procedure to the discipline imposed on Sanders by the Florida court. This Court has previously recognized that “a ‘Disciplinary Resignation’ in Florida—which included some admission of ‘guilt’ with regard to alleged disciplinary rules violations—is the substantial equivalent to Georgia’s voluntary surrender of license.” In the Matter of Fry, 300 Ga. 862, 865 (800 SE2d 514) (2017), citing In the Matter of Davidson, 269 Ga. 901 (506 SE2d 869) (1998). According to the official comment to Rule 3-7.12 of the Florida Rules, the disciplinary revocation rule under which Sanders proceeded in the Florida matter giving rise to this case replaced the earlier “disciplinary resignation” rule, but nonetheless is “tantamount to disbarment.” In rejecting the “Petition for Voluntary Resolution,” filed by the respondent in Fry in order to resign his license to practice law in Georgia, this Court noted Fry’s intention to resign without admitting his violation of the disciplinary rules of the Georgia Bar, contrasting this with its prior acceptance of the Florida “disciplinary resignation” procedure, which “included some admission of ‘guilt’ with regard to alleged disciplinary rules violations,” as the substantial equivalent to Georgia’s voluntary surrender of license procedure. Fry, 300 Ga. at 865.
Our acceptance of a resignation procedure in Davidson, together with our rejection of a resignation procedure in Fry, could be read to suggest that the presence (Davidson) or absence (Fry) of an admission of guilt as part of the resignation procedure is determinative of whether that procedure is sufficiently similar to discipline available under the Georgia Rules. However, the circumstances in Fry differed materially from those present in this case, as to the purpose and effect of the resignation of license.1 In Fry, we noted that “Fry is not requesting permission to voluntarily surrender his license in the face of pending disciplinary matters … [i]nstead, he appears to be requesting that his professional record be scrubbed of any indications of disciplinary problems and that he be allowed to resign with a clear disciplinary record.” Id. We further noted that, should Fry have “chose[n] to apply for admission in other jurisdictions in future years, he would be able to truthfully report that he has no disciplinary record in Georgia.” Id. By contrast, the acceptance of this petition for reciprocal discipline would not result in any such “scrubbing,” as Sanders’s Georgia disciplinary record would reflect his suspension for this matter. Thus, as the procedure under which Sanders was sanctioned in Florida is tantamount to disbarment, and as the considerations motivating this Court’s rejection of the petition in Fry because of the lack of an admission of guilt are not present here, the imposition of reciprocal discipline is appropriate in this matter.
Therefore, this Court agrees with the Review Panel’s recommendation that a five-year suspension with conditions on readmission is the appropriate sanction in this reciprocal discipline matter. Accordingly, we direct that Andre Keith Sanders be suspended from the practice of law in the State of Georgia for five years. At the conclusion of the suspension imposed in this matter, if Sanders wishes to seek reinstatement, he must offer proof to the State Bar’s Office of General Counsel that he is eligible to be or has been reinstated to the practice of law in Florida. If the State Bar agrees that this condition has been met, the State Bar will submit a notice of compliance to this Court, and this Court will issue an order granting or denying reinstatement.
Sanders is reminded of his duties under Bar Rule 4-219 (c).
Five-year suspension with conditions for reinstatement. All the Justices concur.
1 One of the other differences between Fry and Davidson is that Davidson arose, a does this case, from a petition for reciprocal discipline, whereas Fry involved the question of whether this Court should adopt a resignation procedure for a violation of the Georgia Disciplinary Rules. However, that difference was not dispositive of the result in Fry, and the different inquiries are actually relevantly similar insofar as both concerned whether the resignation procedure at issue was consonant with general principles of Georgia’s disciplinary law.
In the Supreme Court of Georgia
Decided: March 5, 2018
S18Y0559. IN THE MATTER OF WALTER LINTON MOORE.
This disciplinary matter is before the Court on a Notice of Discipline seeking the disbarment of Walter Linton Moore (State Bar No. 693277) based on grievances filed by six clients. The State Bar served Moore personally, but he failed to file a Notice of Rejection. Therefore, he is in default, has waived his right to an evidentiary hearing, and is subject to such discipline and further proceedings as may be determined by this Court. See Bar Rule 4-208.1 (b). Moore is currently under interim suspension based on his failure to adequately respond to a separate Notice of Investigation. See In the Matter of Moore, S18Y0668 (Jan. 10, 2018). He is also under emergency suspension.1
The facts, as deemed admitted by virtue of Moore’s default, show Moore’s abandonment of six different clients, each of whom had retained Moore to represent him or her in a domestic relations proceeding. In these proceedings, Moore failed to pursue the clients’ matters diligently, failed to properly communicate with the clients, misled the clients, failed to respond to discovery, failed to appear at scheduled hearings, failed to refund unearned fees, and abandoned the clients to the clients’ detriment. Additionally, Moore improperly conditioned the refund of an unearned fee to one client on the client’s dismissal of the Bar grievance. Finally, in the Fee Arbitration proceedings related to one client, the fee arbitrators concluded that the evidence showed that Moore was impaired.
Based on these facts, the Investigative Panel found probable cause to believe that Moore violated Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16, 3.2, 8.4 (a) (4), and 9.2 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The maximum sanction for a violation of Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 8.4 (a) (4), and 9.2 is disbarment, and the maximum sanction for a violation of Rules 1.4, 1.5, 1.16, and 3.2 is a public reprimand.
In aggravation of discipline, the Investigative Panel found that Moore acted willfully and with a selfish motive; his actions demonstrate a pattern of misconduct and involve multiple offenses; and he has refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct.
Having reviewed the record, we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction in this matter. See In the Matter of Brown, 294 Ga. 722 (755 SE2d 742) (2014) (disbarment for lawyer’s violation of Rules 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16, 3.2, and 9.3 in connection with abandonment of multiple clients); In the Matter of Roberts, 288 Ga. 478 (704 SE2d 805) (2011) (disbarment for lawyer’s multiple violations of Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.16, and 9.3 in connection with abandonment of clients). Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that the name of Walter Linton Moore be removed from the rolls of persons authorized to practice law in the State of Georgia. Moore is reminded of his duties pursuant to Bar Rule 4-219 (c).
Disbarred. All the Justices concur.
1 In response to the State Bar’s Petition for Emergency Suspension, Moore filed a Voluntary Petition for Emergency Suspension, in which he acknowledged impairment and requested suspension pending resolution of this and another disciplinary proceeding involving grievances filed by other clients. This Court granted the petition on February 8, 2018. See In the Matter of Moore, S18Y0683 and S18Y0698.