Paula J. Frederick, General Counsel State Bar, Jenny K. Mittelman, Assistant General Counsel State Bar, for State Bar of Georgia.
Rosalind A. Rubens-Newell, Hunton & Williams, Matthew J. Calvert, Douglass P. Selby, amici curiae.
All the Justices concur, except Benham and Hunstein, JJ., who dissent.
This disciplinary matter arises from bond validation proceedings in which attorney John Floyd Woodham (State Bar No. 775066) intervened on behalf of himself and Citizens for Ethics in Government, LLC, filed objections to the validation of the bonds, and later offered to withdraw the objections if developers concerned in the bonds paid a substantial
amount of money. Following the filing of a grievance, the Investigative Panel of the State Bar of Georgia found probable cause to charge Woodham with violations of Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct 3.1, 3.5 (c), 4.2 (a), and 8.4 (a) (4). Woodham then filed a petition for voluntary discipline, in which he agreed to a Review Panel reprimand for violations of only Rules 3.5 (c) and 4.2 (a). Although the State Bar made no objection to the petition, we rejected it, noting that the petition did not address the alleged violations of Rules 3.1 and 8.4 (a) (4), the latter of which concerns " professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" and is, therefore, among the most serious violations with which a lawyer can be charged. See In the Matter of Woodham, 291 Ga. 255 (728 S.E.2d 659) (2012).
[296 Ga. 619] After we rejected the petition for voluntary discipline, the State Bar filed a formal complaint, charging Woodham with violations of Rules 3.1, 3.5 (c), 4.2 (a), and 8.4 (a) (4). The State Bar, however, subsequently abandoned the charges for violations of Rules 3.1 and 3.5 (c). A special master heard evidence on the remaining charges, and in his report and recommendation, the special master found that Woodham violated Rules 4.2 (a) and 8.4 (a) (4), and he recommended that Woodham be suspended for three months and receive a public reprimand. Both Woodham and the State Bar sought further review before the Review Panel, and in its report and recommendation, the Review Panel found only a violation of Rule 8.4 (a) (4), but it recommended that Woodham be suspended for six months and receive a Review Panel reprimand. The matter is now before this Court on the report and recommendation of the Review Panel. For the reasons that follow, we agree with the Review Panel that the evidentiary record shows no violation of Rule 4.2 (a), and we conclude that the record also fails to show clearly and convincingly a violation of Rule 8.4 (a) (4). Because those were the only charges with which the State Bar proceeded before the special master, we dismiss these disciplinary proceedings.
1. According to the report and recommendation of the special master, the circumstances that led to this disciplinary matter are as follows:
On October 29, 2008, District Attorney Paul Howard filed two bond validation proceedings in the Superior Court of Fulton County to confirm the issuance of alleged bonds by the Atlanta Development Authority. The first proceeding alleged the issuance of an amount not to exceed $70,000,000 for a project by 13th Street Holdings, LLC. The second alleged the issuance of an amount not to exceed $60,000,000 for a project by Mezzo Development, LLC.
Both 13th Street Holdings, LLC and Mezzo Development, LLC (" Developers" ) are managed by Tivoli Properties, Inc. Scott Leventhal is the CEO of Tivoli Properties. Michelle Barnett and Daniel McRae were bond counsel for the Developers in those transactions.
[296 Ga. 620] On November 17, 2008, [Woodham] filed complaints in intervention in each of the bond cases, objecting to the issuance of the proposed bonds. [Woodham] filed on his own behalf and on behalf of Citizens for Ethics in Government, LLC. [Woodham] did not file any claims against the Developers, but did raise relevant questions which related to whether the bonds in question should be validated. [Woodham]'s purpose in intervening was to defeat the [p]etitions for bond validation based upon his opinion that the proceedings involved bond transactions known as phantom bonds. [Woodham] opined that the overall result of such a phantom bond is an illegal and unconstitutional tax abatement in favor of the Developers.
Two days after filing the complaints in intervention, [Woodham] telephoned the offices of Tivoli Properties and asked to speak to the company's in-house counsel. When [Woodham] was told that the company no longer employed ...