Legal Ethics

GA Suspends Lawyer for Drug Conviction

A divided Georgia Supreme Court decided yesterday to suspend a 20-year practitioner for two years because of his guilty plea earlier this year to a charge of cocaine possession.

Two justices wanted attorney John M.B. Lewis IV disbarred, reports the Augusta Chronicle (reg. req.). One of them, Justice Carol Hunstein, said in her dissent that Lewis, as the newspaper puts it, “admitted to having used drugs throughout his legal career and that after his conviction he had not regularly attended treatment sessions for his addiction.”

However, the majority said in an unsigned opinion (PDF) that “disbarment is an unduly harsh sanction in this matter,” noting that Lewis has been a member in good standing of the Georgia bar over 20 years and has no prior disciplinary history or criminal record. “In addition, Lewis is correct that his conduct did not relate directly to his work for his clients, nor did it involve dishonesty,” the opinion states.

Lewis was sentenced to five years of probation in the criminal case.

The court also unanimously agreed to disbar another Georgia attorney, Paul Walter David. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to tax evasion, for which he was sentenced to restitution and community service, and also, the court wrote in its opinion (PDF), abandoned 15 clients. It noted that he lacked any selfish motive for the worry he caused these clients and had expressed remorse.

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