In Fulton County, Georgia, the Daily Report
- Many lawyers and law firms have encountered situations where a litigant is unwilling or unable to pay a judgment, but a recent filing in Fulton County portrays different scenario: a law firm that spent more than two years unsuccessfully trying to convince a man who lost his house to foreclosure to accept more than $76,000 in excess proceeds.
Last week the firm, JF Legal (formerly known as Johnson & Freedman), filed an appeal in superior court seeking to have the Georgia revenue commissioner disburse the excess proceeds from the state's Unclaimed Funds Division to the law firm.
Managing partner Larry Johnson, who filed the action, said he has resolved his difficulties with the state and expects to dismiss the appeal soon.
But Johnson said he is still baffled by former Fayetteville resident Luther Murray's refusal to accept the money.
"I spoke to him and his mom many times, and his basic stance was that he felt like it was blood money," said Johnson, who was unable to further explain Murray's reluctance to accept the funds.
Johnson said much of his firm's business involves real estate transactions and that he had never before encountered such a situation.
"Can you imagine?" he asked. The telephone number listed for Murray was disconnected, and there was no response to a message left for him at another.
According to Johnson's filings, a house Murray owned in Fayetteville was sold at foreclosure, and Johnson & Freedman handled the sale on behalf of the bank.
Afterward, the firm was left holding $76,602 in excess funds. Unable to locate Murray, the firm hired a private investigator who located him in Appling.
The investigator went to Appling with a check and spoke to Murray and his mother. Murray told the investigator he did not want the money and the firm could "do whatever [it] wanted to do" with it.
In July 2014, the firm sent Murray a letter containing a check for the funds, which was signed for. The check was never cashed.
In March 2016, the firm sent Murray another letter confirming his earlier assertion that the firm or a personal representative could keep the funds and informed him it intended to file a claim for the money with the state.
Murray never responded to dispute the letter's contents, and letters attached to the complaint indicate that the state Department of Revenue had requested something from Murray confirming his decision to eschew the money.
The firm "tried to contact him subsequently to get him to sign something indicating his position, and we were unsuccessful," according to a letter from Johnson to a DOR employee dated July 22, 2014.
The firm filed a declaratory judgment action against Murray in Columbia County Superior Court, and in October Judge Wade Padgett signed a default judgment allowing the firm to receive the money from the Unclaimed Funds Division.
The firm's Dec. 19 appeal in Fulton Superior Court named DOR Commissioner Lynne Riley as the defendant and said the agency had failed to respond to multiple messages and letters in October and November.
In addition to including a demand for the money, the petition also seeks attorney fees and expenses for the "unnecessary trouble and expense" the firm incurred filing the litigation.