Esther Panitch, The Panitch Law Group P.C., Atlanta. (Photo: John Disney/ALM) Esther Panitch, The Panitch Law Group P.C., Atlanta. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

It’s been well over a year since formerly high-flying contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell reported to federal prison to serve a five-year sentence after pleading guilty in the ongoing Atlanta City Hall corruption scandal.

But Mitchell’s wife Marjorie Mitchell, who filed for divorce shortly after Mitchell entered his guilty plea in early 2017, is still dealing with the fallout from the collapse of her husband’s career and their 28-year marriage.

Panitch Law Group principal Esther Panitch, who represented Marjorie Mitchell in the divorce and was her frequent spokeswoman until withdrawing from the case last month, filed a complaint seeking $191,679 in unpaid legal fees in Fulton County State Court on Jan. 3; the suit said Mitchell has already paid $73,500 for Panitch’s services.

Panitch wrote that she billed Mitchell at an hourly rate of $337.50 for attorney services and $150 for paralegal work, plus expenses. Panitch and firm colleague Victoria Brunner were allowed to withdraw from the case Dec. 28, according to an order entered by Judge Christopher Brasher.  

Panitch declined to discuss the case, saying the lawsuit “speaks for itself.”

According to the complaint, Panitch began representing Mitchell on Jan. 1, 2017. The divorce was finalized and assorted properties, bank accounts and other assets were divided last summer, but litigation continued.  

In December, Marjorie Mitchell filed an appeal of an order in which Brasher turned down the bulk of her request for more that $270,000 in attorney fees. That appeal was filed by Bell & Washington partner Celeste Findlay Brewer.

Brewer said Panitch’s fee demand was “outrageous.”

“Marjorie has already paid out more than $73,000,” said Brewer. “I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, and I’ve never seen legal fees like this in a divorce case. [Mitchell] will be filing an answer and counterclaim, of course.”

“This divorce was a disaster for Marjorie,” Brewer said.

E.R. Mitchell pleaded guilty to paying more than $1 million in bribes to obtain city contracts. Another contractor, Charles Richards, Jr. and the city’s former purchasing officer, Adam Smith, have also pleaded guilty in the federal investigation.

A co-defendant in the federal case, political consultant Rev. Mitzi Bickers, also was named in the divorce action as someone who might hold interests that Marjorie Mitchell would have a claim to. A criminal case against Bickers continues. 

According to her divorce suit, Mitchell’s husband mortgaged two homes belonging to the couple and raided their children’s’ trust funds prior to his indictment on bribery charges.