Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent voluntary disbarment of a Georgia lawyer convicted of stealing thousands of dollars of client money and schedule to enter prison, who allegedly stabbed his mother to death and fled the area. The disciplinary case is: In the Matter of Richard v. Merritt, 302 Ga. 874 (1/29/18). The link to the disbarment Order is here: https://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/s18y0387.pdf
According to media reports, the Georgia lawyer was convicted of stealing thousands of dollars of client’s money and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 15 years of probation after being convicted of stealing money from his clients and elder abuse. The lawyer was found guilty on more than 30 counts of theft, forgery and elder exploitation and given until the end of the day on February 1, 2019 to surrender and begin serving the sentence.
The lawyer had admitted to settling civil lawsuits on his clients’ behalf without their knowledge, forging signatures on settlement checks and documents, and keeping money intended for his clients. As a condition of the sentencing, the lawyer was also ordered to pay $454,706.00 in restitution to clients.
The lawyer failed to surrender to enter prison on February 1, 2019 and, the day after the lawyer was required to surrender, his mother was found stabbed to death. Her car was also missing and the lawyer’s vehicle was found at the scene. According to a statement by the U.S. Marshall’s Service: “The vehicle he may be driving is a 2009 silver Lexus RX350, bearing a Georgia tag CBV 6004.” “He may have shaved his head or otherwise changed his appearance, and should be considered armed and dangerous. Do not try to engage him. If you see Merritt, please contact law enforcement immediately.”
According to the January 29, 2019 Georgia Supreme Court Order disbarring the lawyer after he filed a petition to voluntarily surrender his license, “(the lawyer) admits that in February 2017 he settled a client’s personal injury matter for $75,000, but failed to promptly disburse those funds to his client or her medical providers and failed to render a full accounting of the funds to his client. Merritt acknowledges that the above-described conduct violated Rule 1.15 (I) (c) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The maximum penalty for a single violation of Rule 1.15 (I) is disbarment.”
Bottom line: This is quite a bizarre and unsettling case where a lawyer chose to steal thousands of dollars from his clients, was then convicted of the thefts and sentenced to 15 years in prison, and apparently killed his mother and has now fled at the time that he was scheduled to surrender and enter prison.
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150
Clearwater, Florida 33761
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670