Georgia’s highest court ruled Tuesday that Lee County attorney Craig Mathis may no longer practice law because he stole money from a client.
Mathis is not charged with theft in the case, but is facing an upcoming criminal trial in an unrelated drug case.
The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the State Bar of Georgia’s disbarment request, ruling that Mathis is removed from the legal profession because he kept $29,785 from a client’s 2007 personal-injury settlement. Georgia lawyers who receive money or property on behalf of a client must maintain or have available a trust account, and all funds held by a lawyer for a client shall be deposited in and
administered from a trust account.
After admitting he violated state bar rules in the matter, Mathis did not show up for a required panel review in March. In doing so, he waived his right to a hearing, the State Bar and Supreme Court said.
A former prosecutor and Congressional candidate, Mathis is awaiting trial on charges stemming from his March 2010 arrest for allegedly possessing Alprazolam and destroamphetamine without prescriptions.
Mathis was suspended by the State Bar in November 2010 for failing to attend a reprimand hearing for his allegedly improper handling of an unrelated child-custody case.
Following is the text of Tuesday’s Georgia Supreme Court decision:
“The facts in the disciplinary action before us are deemed admitted by virtue of Mathis’s default and show that a client hired Mathis to represent her in a personal injury action and Mathis filed a lawsuit which eventually settled for $60,000. Mathis received the settlement funds and, despite his client’s direction to pay $29,785 to satisfy outstanding medical expenses relating to her injury and treatment, he never did so. Instead, he promised to pay the providers and noted the payment on a settlement statement he furnished to his client, but kept the money for his own personal use despite having already received $12,000 in attorney fees from the settlement. The client, upon learning that the medical bills had not been paid when the providers began dunning her for payment, attempted to contact Mathis about his failure to pay the bills, but he failed to return her calls or otherwise explain why he had not paid the medical providers or what had happened to the portion of settlement funds meant for those providers. By these actions, Mathis violated Rules 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.15 (I) and (II), and 8.4(a)(4)9 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d). Violation of most of these Rules allows for disbarment.
The Investigative Panel found no factors in mitigation of discipline and noted in aggravation that Mathis stole funds belonging to his client that were meant to satisfy the client’s outstanding medical bills, and that Mathis had a prior disciplinary history that reflected he had been issued a formal letter of admonition in June 2008 as well as the 2010 Review Panel reprimand that led to his indefinite suspension in 2010.
Having reviewed the record, we agree that disbarment is the appropriate sanction in this matter. Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that the name of Craig Steven Mathis be removed from the rolls of persons authorized to practice law in the State of Georgia.”