Georgia's discipline process racially biased, suit claims; data on alleged disparity sought

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Updated: A Black lawyer has filed a proposed class action lawsuit that accuses Georgia disciplinary officials of racial discrimination in the handling of ethics complaints.

The lawyer, Marsha W. Mignott, is appealing a recommended two-year suspension for what she said is a bogus complaint by a client who presented a forged document to the state bar, Law360 reports.

She has been a member of the bar since 2005 without prior disciplinary history.

Mignott alleges violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 in the April 23 suit, filed in federal court in the Northern District of Georgia. She is pursuing a class action, the suit said, “to shine a light on the racial injustices that take place inside the State Bar of Georgia Office of General Counsel,” which pursues discipline complaints.

Mignott’s suit cited two instances in which white lawyers won dismissal of grievances filed against them. In one of the cases, a state bar investigator sent an email to the accused white lawyer that read, “As soon as I receive your response (you don’t have to go into great detail), I will draft a dismissal letter and send you a copy.” The email showed that the complaining member of the public did not get due process, Mignott’s suit said.

“Most notably,” the suit said, “African American attorneys are sanctioned for grievances filed by a member of the public, even when the African American attorney provides a plethora of evidence showing that no violations alleged occurred.”

But grievances against white attorneys “are dismissed without due process” to the complaining member of the public.

Mignott is seeking an injunction requiring “complete transparency” by the state bar, including figures on the number of African American and white lawyers who are sanctioned.

Patrick Arndt of Nall & Miller will represent the state bar in the case.

The bar released this statement on his behalf: “Ms. Mignott previously filed suit against the state bar relating to her ongoing disciplinary case. That suit was filed in state court and was dismissed as a matter of law. Having lost in state court, she has moved to federal court to again challenge her pending disciplinary action. The bar denies the allegations contained in Ms. Mignott’s latest suit. Race plays no role in state bar disciplinary matters.”

Mignott told the ABA Journal that the state court decision is on appeal, and she says it is “separate and apart” from the federal suit.

She also says she has been contacted by several attorneys since the federal case was filed, and their ethics cases illustrated the allegations in her complaint.

The case is Mignott v. State Bar of Georgia Foundation Inc.

Updated April 26 at 8:30 a.m. to include Patrick Arndt’s statement. Updated April 26 at 9:55 a.m. to add the comments by Marsha W. Mignott.

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