Legal Ethics

Ga. Supremes Want Tougher Sanction for Ex-Greenberg Traurig Associate

The Georgia Supreme Court has rejected as too light a proposed sanction of between six months and a year for a former bankruptcy and foreclosure associate at Greenberg Traurig.

One justice went further in a concurring opinion, criticizing the state bar for apparently believing that such a short break from law practice was appropriate for the lawyer, Michael J.C. Shaw, according to the Fulton County Daily Report.

Shaw had sought the voluntary suspension, retroactive from his dismissal from Greenberg Traurig, for using fake identities to bill the firm for work done for clients. The bulk of the invoices were submitted in the name of an actual investigator, although Shaw cashed the checks himself, according to the Georgia Supreme Court opinion (PDF).

Shaw collected about $493,000 for the work that included skip traces and title examinations, the opinion says. Greenberg Traurig fired Shaw in June 2009 after discovering the misconduct, and Shaw repaid the firm nearly $527,000. He cooperated in the ethics investigation and is now undergoing counseling.

The state bar agreed with Shaw’s request for a voluntary suspension and sought a suspension of at least six months to a year.

In his concurring opinion, Justice David Nahmias criticized the proposed sanction. “In my view, Michael J. C. Shaw is fortunate not to be incarcerated in a state or federal prison for the half-million-dollar fraud he perpetrated against his employer, along with related crimes such as identity theft and misuse of someone else’s social security number,” he wrote.

“I write to express how troubling I find it that Shaw and, even worse, the State Bar apparently believe that such a short ‘break’ from practicing law is appropriate discipline for his extended, extensive, and serious misconduct, notwithstanding the factors he presents in mitigation.”

Presiding Justice George Carley joined in the concurrence.

Shaw’s lawyer, Johannes Kingma, told the Daily Report that Shaw has not been charged with a crime and he is remorseful for his conduct.

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