Nahmias chides State Bar — again — for flimsy discipline
The Georgia Supreme Court, for the second time in two months, has told the State Bar to get tougher with lawyers who break the rules.
In a unanimous decision, the high court today rejected a reprimand for a lawyer who used falsified documents in a personal injury case. The bar and a special master had both recommended that punishment as part of Nerrylle Manning-Wallace’s voluntary petition for discipline.
Justice David Nahmias, in a 17-page concurring opinion, picked apart Manning-Wallace’s account of her actions and the bar’s rationale for going along with a reprimand for her.
Manning-Wallace, injured in a 2003 automobile accident, sued the other driver and submitted falsified bills for10 weeks of physical therapy in the court case. Opposing attorneys presented evidence at trial that the clinic named on those bills had not treated her and did not use bills that looked like that.
Manning-Wallace later acknowledged that she knew or should have known that the invoices were not legitimate, but she denied creating them. Without proof of their origin, the Bar concluded, it did not have enough evidence to recommend tougher discipline.
That, Nahmias wrote, is bullshit. (OK, maybe he didn’t use that word). But, he said, the mere fact that Manning-Wallace knew the documents were falsified and did nothing about it was sufficient to come down harder on her.
Attorneys who knowingly offer false evidence in a court of law have engaged not only in the worst kind of professional misconduct but also in conduct that severely undermines the public’s confidence in our profession. It diminishes the protection offered to the public and the profession … to suggest the requirement that an attorney also create the false document before serious discipline may be imposed.
In mitigation, the Bar contended that Manning-Wallace’s deception “was not directed at a client or in her professional capacity.” Nahmias responded:
I suppose one could say it is better that Manning-Wallace only harmed her adversary, the justice system and the legal profession, and did not also harm a client. However, I consider it an aggravating factor that Manning-Wallace did not submit the fabricated documents in a misguided effort to help someone else (a client), but rather with the intent to profit directly because she was the plaintiff in the lawsuit. …
More fundamentally, to say that “the public was not harmed” when a lawyer (or anyone else) knowingly presented false evidence during a trial cannot be squared with the truth-seeking function that is the heart of the public’s justice system. It is remarkable that the State Bar, which has as a principal function the protection of the public from the misconduct of its members, would assert otherwise.
Nahmias used similarly tough language in March, when he wrote a concurring opinion in the court’s rejection of a recommended 6- to 12-month suspension for a lawyer who stole $493,000 from his employer.