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Supreme Court of Georgia Disbars 1, Suspends 1, Accepts 1 License

[caption id="attachment_2102" align="alignleft" width="620"] Georgia Supreme Court building. (Photo: John Disney / ALM)[/caption] The Supreme Court of Georgia on Monday issued the following attorney discipline opinions: In the Supreme Court of Georgia Decided: May 21, 2018 S18Y0680. IN THE MATTER OF JERRY RICARDO CALDWELL. PER CURIAM. This disciplinary matter is before the Court on a Notice of Discipline seeking the disbarment of Jerry Ricardo Caldwell (State Bar No. 125403). The State Bar attempted to serve Caldwell personally at the address he listed with the StateBar’s Membership Department, but the sheriff filed a return of service non est inventus. The State Bar then properly served Caldwell by publication pursuant to Bar Rule 4-203.1 (b) (3) (ii). Caldwell failed to file a Notice of Rejection, and the State Bar filed a Motion for Default. Caldwell is in default. Therefore, he has waived his right to an evidentiary hearing, and he is subject to such discipline and further proceedings as may be determined by this Court. See Bar Rule 4-208.1 (b). The facts, as deemed admitted by Caldwell’s default, are as follows. Caldwell agreed to represent a friend from law school and her mother in connection with a car accident. Caldwell filed a lawsuit against the driver of the other car, who was at fault. On the eve of trial, Caldwell voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit without discussing the matter with his clients or obtaining their authorization. Caldwell then filed a timely renewal action. In the meantime, he settled with GEICO, the liability carrier for the other driver, for the policy limit of $25,000. In the renewal action, Caldwell named State Farm, the mother’s underinsured motorist carrier, as a defendant, but he failed to serve State Farm. State Farm filed a motion to dismiss, and the trial court dismissed the renewal action with prejudice. Caldwell did not tell his clients about the voluntary dismissal, the filing of the renewal action, State Farm’s motion to dismiss, or the order dismissing the renewal action with prejudice. In the meantime, the clients had tried to contact Caldwell by telephone and email about his progress in handling their claims, but he never responded. The clients later independently learned about these developments and sent Caldwell a certified letter complaining about them and about his lack of communication. He responded and pledged to file a claim with his professional liability carrier for $25,000, the amount of the underinsured motorist coverage. The clients later learned that Caldwell had no malpractice insurance and confronted him. He then entered into a written settlement agreement with the clients promising to pay them $25,000 plus interest, and he gave them $2,500 in cash and a promissory note for $22,500. He did not first advise them in writing that independent representation in connection with the settlement agreement would be appropriate. Caldwell made no payments on the note, which was unsecured. The mother filed a grievance with the State Bar. Caldwell responded, admitting that he owed the clients $22,500 and attributing his mishandling of the case to his “inexperience as an attorney and based upon a personal relationship.” The Investigative Panel offered Caldwell confidential discipline if he would pay the clients $22,500 plus interest by December 15, 2017. Caldwell agreed in writing to this proposed resolution, but he failed to make the required payment and presented no satisfactory explanation for his failure to do so. Instead, he misled the Investigative Panel and his clients into believing that he would honor his promise to pay, and he did so solely to delay resolution of this disciplinary matter.1 The Investigative Panel found that by this conduct Caldwell violated Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.8 (h), 8.1, and 8.4 (a) (4). See Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The maximum sanction for a single violation of Rule 1.2, 1.3, 8.1, or 8.4 (a) (4) is disbarment, and the maximum sanction for a single violation of Rule 1.4 or 1.8 (h) is a public reprimand. In aggravation of discipline,the Investigative Panel considered Caldwell’s dishonesty with his clients and with the panel and his intentional effort to delay resolution of this disciplinary matter. See ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, Standard 9.22 (b), (e). In mitigation of discipline, the Investigative Panel noted the absence of a prior disciplinary record. See ABA Standard 9.32 (a). Having reviewed the record, we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction in this matter. Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that the name of Jerry Ricardo Caldwell be removed from the rolls of persons authorized to practice law in the State of Georgia. Caldwell is reminded of his duties pursuant to Bar Rule 4-219 (c). Disbarred. All the Justices concur. 1 After the Notice of Discipline was filed, Caldwell sent the friend’s mother a money order in the amount of $11,000.

Georgia Supreme Court building. John Disney / ALM

In the Supreme Court of Georgia Decided: May 21, 2018 S18Y0794. IN THE MATTER OF SHANNON DEWAYNE PATTERSON. PER CURIAM. In November 2017, Shannon DeWayne Patterson (State Bar No. 173418) pled guilty in federal district court to one count of willfully aiding and assisting in the preparation and presentation of a false tax return, in violation of 26 USC § 7206 (2). See United States v. Patterson, No. 1:17-CR-00413-WO (M.D.N.C. Nov. 13, 2017). Although he has not yet been sentenced, he admits that he is in violation of Rule 8.4 (a) (2) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, which makes it a disciplinary violation “for a lawyer to . . . be convicted of a felony.” See Rule 8.4 (b) (1) (i) (stating that, for purposes of Rule 8.4, the acceptance of a guilty plea by a court constitutes a conviction, regardless of whether a sentence has been imposed). Patterson contends that he will not be able to present this Court with all the relevant facts and mitigating circumstances pertaining to his disciplinary violation until the conclusion of his sentencing, and he requests an interim suspension of his license to practice law until then and until further order of this Court. The State Bar filed a response opposing the petition, arguing that an interim suspension will not adequately serve to protect the public, that “[t]he Bar Rules do not contemplate such delay,” and that “the case is ripe to be adjudicated now.” The State Bar requests that this Court deny Patterson’s petition “and authorize the State Bar to proceed with a Petition for Appointment of Special Master Pursuant to Bar Rule 4-106.” Contrary to the State Bar’s arguments, Patterson’s petition for voluntary discipline seeking an interim suspension is the only issue that is ripe for this Court’s consideration, and an interim suspension will serve to protect the public better than what the State Bar proposes, which is to allow him to continue practicing law for the time being despite the federal district court’s acceptance of his guilty plea to a felony. The State Bar does not need any additional authorization from this Court to file a petition for the appointment of a special master pursuant to Bar Rule 4-106 (a). Having reviewed Patterson’s petition and the State Bar’s response, we agree that the petition should be granted. See In the Matter of Swank, 288 Ga. 479, 479-480 (704 SE2d 807) (2011) (accepting petition for voluntary discipline pending the resolution of felony charges and suspending attorney’s license to practice law until further order of this Court). Accord In the Matter of Miller, 300 Ga. 139, 139 (793 SE2d 376) (2016); In the Matter of Galette, 292 Ga. 341, 341-342 (737 SE2d 691) (2013). Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that Shannon DeWayne Patterson be suspended from the practice of law in this State until his sentencing by the federal district court and until further order of this Court. He is also ordered to notify the State Bar’s Office of General Counsel in writing within seven days of his sentencing, and he is further ordered to comply with the notification and other requirements of Bar Rule 4-219 (c). Petition for voluntary discipline accepted. Suspension until further order of this Court. All the Justices concur.

In the Supreme Court of Georgia Decided: May 21, 2018 S18Y1037. IN THE MATTER OF RAYMOND JUIWEN HO. PER CURIAM. This disciplinary matter is before the Court on the petition for voluntary surrender of license filed by Raymond Juiwen Ho (State Bar No. 358112), pursuant to Bar Rules 4-110 (f) and 4-227 (b) (2). In his petition, Ho, who was a member of the Bar beginning in 1994 but purportedly resigned effective July 25, 2017, admits that he was a participant in a money laundering conspiracy, which began in March 2013 and ended in February 2017, and that in October 2017, he pled guilty to felony money laundering, 18 U.S.C. § 1956 (a) (3), and money laundering conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 1956 (h), and was subsequently sentenced to 84 months confinement in the federal Bureau of Prisons, 3 years supervised release, $2,046,518.48 in restitution, and a $200 special assessment. He admits in accordance with his written plea agreement that he “controlled and utilized in the offense conduct, among other bank accounts, two of his Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Accounts (IOLTA),” that he deposited certain funds in and disbursed funds from those IOLTA accounts, and that the funds were not client funds or funds he held in any fiduciary capacity, but funds laundered using the IOLTA accounts as part of the criminal conspiracy. Ho acknowledges that the above-described conduct violated Rules 1.15 (I) (a), 1.15 (II) (b), and 8.4 (a) (4) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The maximum penalty for a single violation of any of these rules is disbarment. Given his admissions, and in spite of his earlier resignation, Ho requests that the Court accept his petition for the voluntary surrender of his license, which is tantamount to disbarment. The State Bar recommends that this Court accept Ho’s petition for voluntary surrender of license, and based upon our review of the petition, we agree that acceptance of Ho’s petition is in the best interests of the Bar and the public. See In the Matter of McKanders, 254 Ga. 636 (332 SE2d 292) (1985) (conviction on 12 counts of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States warranted acceptance of voluntary surrender of license); In the Matter of Calhoun, 268 Ga. 675 (492 SE2d 514) (1997) (convictions for money laundering and aiding and abetting warranted disbarment). Accordingly, the name of Raymond Juiwen Ho is hereby removed from the rolls of persons entitled to practice law in the State of Georgia. Ho is reminded of his duties under Bar Rule 4-219 (c). Voluntary surrender of license accepted. All the Justices concur.