Saturday, December 31, 2016

Georgia Supremes Stiff State Bar On Disbarment Request For Real Estate Closing Attorney Over Missing $2.3 Million In Client Escrow Funds; Issues Public Reprimand Instead, Calling Lawyer A Victim Of "Elaborate Con" Pulled Off By His Then-Office Manager/Wife Who Stole The Cash

In Columbus, Georgia, the Ledger-Enquirer reports:
  • Facing disbarment, attorney Michael A. Eddings instead received the lightest possible punishment from the Georgia Supreme Court [], more than five years after $2.3 million was discovered missing from his legal trust account.

    The high court called Eddings “the victim of an elaborate con perpetrated by his (then) wife, Sonya,” and ordered that he receive a public reprimand instead of stiffer penalties recommended by a special master assigned to handle Eddings’ case and a bar review panel. The special master had recommended a one-year suspension, while the review panel had suggested Eddings lose his law license.

    The ruling allows Eddings to continue to practice law, which he has done since the funds were discovered missing in October 2011.

    Sonya Eddings, who was also his office manager, has accepted full responsibility for the missing funds. Sonya Eddings pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Georgia in August. She faces up to 20 years in prison, but has not been sentenced by Judge Clay Land.
    Michael Eddings faced 10 complaints alleging 34 violations of state bar rules. They all stem from his firm’s real estate business, in which he was handling as many as 80 closings a month. During an April 2014 hearing in front of Special Master Katherine L. McArthur, Eddings fought to save his license to practice law while the State Bar of Georgia was pushing for him to lose it.

    In October 2014, the special master recommended that Eddings’ law license be suspended for one year and he have a plan in place to repay 10 percent of the nearly $2 million stolen from his law firm’s trust account. Both Eddings and the State Bar of Georgia appealed that decision.
    In October 2011, the scheme fell apart when Sonya Eddings was out of town and the law office received a call from a client complaining that a payoff of a mortgage had not been made. Sonya Eddings immediately transferred the money, but by the time she did, First American Title Insurance, which insured their closings, became involved.

    Auditors were brought into the office, and Sonya Eddings confessed in a written statement.

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