According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Willis was accused by the State Bar of Georgia of several ethical violations, including allegedly depositing $30,000 meant for a client in a personal injury case into his own bank account. The bar said Willis violated rules against "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." The AJC also notes that Willis failed to respond to the Georgia bar's formal complaint on Nov. 4.
According to the report written by Joseph Szczecko, the lawyer who investigated for the bar, that meant the facts alleged and the violations charged were treated as if Willis admitted them.
"There are no mitigating factors in this case," Szczecko wrote.
Willis did not get an extension of time to respond, and did not provide an explanation or evidence of mitigating circumstances, according to the report.
Several factors made the case even more serious, according to Szczecko's eight-page report. Szczecko, a Decatur attorney, said aggravating factors included multiple offenses, obstruction of the disciplinary process by not answering the formal complaint, and "indifference to making restitution."
Willis, who has not been charged with any crime, told CL yesterday that his duties as an elected official, attorney, and a father, combined with the "emotional tumult" from his divorce caused him "to miss that and a lot of things that pertain to me personally."
"Unfortunately, those administrative things that should not have fallen through the cracks, did," he said.
The complaint obtained by the AJC claims that Willis represented a minor in a 2009 personal injury lawsuit, which was filed after a fence "fell on and injured the young child." The lawsuit was reportedly settled for $30,000. But contrary to the standard practice of depositing settlement funds in an "attorney trust fund," Willis deposited them in his own bank account in July 2011.
Everything was "transparent to the client," Willis told CL. "I'm human, and we're just working to correct everything the best we can."
He added that "the insurance company that paid out the $30,000 has received its full $30,000 back, including what they paid me for my legal fees," Willis said. "That doesn't remove the violations as it relates to having made mistakes along the way. "
The recommendation must be approved by the Georgia Supreme Court.
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