Monday, April 16, 2018
The Georgia Supreme Court ordered a three-year suspension of an attorney
Iwu appeared as counsel for a client at a time when he had not paid his Bar membership fee and, as a result of this non-payment, was not eligible to practice law. This Court’s conclusion that Iwu’s earlier petition was due to be rejected for failing to admit violations of Rules 8.1 (a) and 8.4 (a) (4) arose from admissions he made in connection with that petition,specifically that statements he made in response to the formal complaint – to the effect that he was unaware of his suspension because someone else had received the notice and not transmitted it to him and that he believed that he was eligible to practice law despite his non-payment of dues – were incorrect. Although Iwu attempted to withdraw his admissions following this Court’s rejection of his petition, the special master found that his admissions were made without being conditioned on this Court’s acceptance of his petition and rejected his request to withdraw the admissions.
In considering Iwu’s statements to the Office of General Counsel – to the effect that he would check the Bar’s website from time to time during the period of time at issue and that the website never showed that he was ineligible to or suspended from practice – the special master found credible the testimonial and documentary evidence submitted by the Bar that belied Iwu’s assertion; noted that, when presented with this evidence, Iwu equivocated and became evasive; and ultimately concluded that Iwu’s statement to the Office of General Counsel was false and intentionally misleading and that he therefore violated Rules 8.1 (a) and 8.4 (a) (4).
He had no prior record in Georgia and a reprimand in Tennessee but
In aggravation, the special master notes that Iwu’s conduct involved multiple, independent offenses; that he submitted false statements during the disciplinary proceedings; that he has refused to acknowledge, and has consistently sought to diminish, the wrongful nature of his conduct; and that he possesses substantial experience in the practice of law. The special master explained that, had the matter remained merely the underlying Rule 5.5 (a) violation, he would have been (and was previously) inclined to conclude that a much less serious sanction of a public reprimand would have been appropriate, but that, given Iwu’s intentionally false and misleading statement to the Bar during these disciplinary proceedings, disbarment was the appropriate sanction here. Iwu did not file exceptions to the special master’s report to challenge his findings and conclusions.
we agree with the special master that a harsh sanction is warranted here...
Iwu’s initial violation of Rule 5.5 (a) for having filed an answer and counterclaim on behalf of a client while ineligible to practice law may have subjected him to the much less serious sanction of a public reprimand rather than a suspension or disbarment. But, through Iwu’s choice to lie to the Bar during the disciplinary proceedings in an effort to avoid taking responsibility for his actions, he only exacerbated his own problems by subjecting himself to more serious sanctions. His false statement to the Bar could have led to his disbarment, but, in light of the mitigating circumstances, we believe that a three-year suspension is the appropriate level of discipline to impose.