Former Smyrna attorney Richard V. Merritt, who was disbarred Monday after admitting to settling a client’s suit for $75,000 and then pocketing the money, woke up in the Cobb County Jail Thursday after being arrested on separate felony elder abuse, theft, exploitation and check fraud charges.
The spokesperson for the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office said he had no further information on the charges, which were apparently filed by the Smyrna Police Department. The booking report includes a notation that Merritt is to be held for the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, where a press liaison said they received a bench warrant for “indirect criminal attempt.”
He provided no further information, and there was no immediate response from Smyrna police.
On Friday, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said there was little he could offer concerning Merritt’s case so far.
“We have yet to receive the complete investigative file from the Cobb Sheriff’s Department,” said Reynolds via email. “When we do, our White Collar Unit will begin the process of determining what charges we will proceed to the grand jury with. In addition, our Investigators will begin reviewing the file upon receipt to see if there are any additional victims or charges which need to be pursued.”
Merritt remained in jail on Friday afternoon.
Merritt is the subject of multiple civil suits in Cobb County, including one filed by a woman who claims he forged her name on a $150,000 settlement agreement and check without her knowledge. She claims Merritt never turned over any funds.
He also faces several legal malpractice and fraud lawsuits in Cobb County from clients claiming he agreed to handle their cases and then never filed them and never pursued any actions.
Merritt has represented himself in each of the lawsuits.
The attorney for a plaintiff in one case, Sapp & Moriarty partner Daniel Moriarty—interviewed before word of Merritt’s arrest was known—said he was surprised at the mild tone in the state Supreme Court’s disbarment opinion, which only said Merritt “settled a client’s personal injury matter for $75,000 but failed to promptly disburse those funds to his client or her medical providers and failed to render a full accounting of the funds to his client.”
“That’s a euphemism for stealing money,” said Moriarty. “I talked to an investigator who has seen his bank records and determined that he had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars. It just blows my mind what he’s gotten away with.”
According the bar complaint reviewed by the Daily Report, Merritt was retained to handle a personal injury matter in December 2016 and settled it last February, cashing the forged check Feb.7. On Feb. 10, he filed a lawsuit “and continued to lead me on until late May 2017 when I learned what he had done,” the confidential complaint said.
“I have never seen a dime of the $75,000,” said Merritt’s former client.
Another civil suit filed in Cobb County State Court last year said Merritt forged a husband and wife’s signature on a settlement and check in a medical malpractice case and never told them.
Another complaint said Merritt accepted a med-mal case and continually told his client that he was investigating it. Merritt sent emails saying “All is well and we are moving forward on your case,” and “No worries I’m on it!”
Then he stopped accepting the woman’s calls, and the filing deadline passed.
In that case, Judge Maria Golick struck Merritt’s answers and ordered a damages-only trial after finding he “willfully failed to respond” to hearing notices. Golick scheduled a show-cause criminal contempt hearing, and the decision is apparently still under advisement, according to court records.
In the case Moriarty is handling, Merritt also allegedly claimed to be conducting discovery and searching for experts, even scheduling bogus depositions for his clients, only to cancel them at the last minute.
Merritt was the principal for the Smyrna-based Merritt Firm, whose offices were the subject of several dispossessory actions between 2015 and 2017, according to court records.
Last August, Merritt sued two attorneys on behalf of spine surgeon and frequent medical expert James Chappuis. At the time, Merritt said he vice president and general counsel of Chappuis’ Orthopaedic & Spine Surgery of Atlanta.
That case settled confidentially shortly after it was filed.