Wednesday, May 31, 2023
An attorney has been suspended for three months by the Georgia Supreme Court based on a petition for voluntary discipline.
According to the report and recommendation, Whiteside had a career in law enforcement prior to becoming a member of the Bar in 1996, at which point he engaged in private practice, primarily representing defendants charged in criminal cases. In 2018, he was elected as the Solicitor General for Gwinnett County—a position he held through January 1, 2023. Prior to his election, in January 2015, Whiteside agreed to represent a friend who was in law enforcement in a medical malpractice case that arose from the client’s December 2014 visit to the emergency room at Piedmont Newnan Hospital. In February 2015, Whiteside sent a one-paragraph letter with the salutation: “Piedmont Legal Staff,” demanding, on the client’s behalf, five million dollars for “Grave Damage, Physical Harm, Mental Harm, Sexual Dysfunction,” but including no date of medical treatment, no information about the diagnosis or treatment, no names of the treating professionals, and no explanation of how the client’s treatment at the hospital caused the various general harms described. As noted, the letter was not directed to any individual, and, although it stated that it had been delivered by electronic mail “and/or” hand delivery, it bore no email address or physical address to which it was purportedly sent. Whiteside did not charge the client for this work. After sending the letter, Whiteside told the client that he had met with the hospital’s lawyers over multiple days regarding the client’s claims, but he later admitted to the client that the statement was untrue. Over the ensuing months and years, the client made numerous requests for information about his legal matter but his requests went unanswered, and, finally, in late 2018, he checked the court’s electronic docket and discovered that no case had been filed on his behalf. He contacted Whiteside, who responded by attempting to file a medical malpractice complaint in Fulton County in December 2018, but Whiteside named the defendant incorrectly and failed to include the expert affidavit required by OCGA § 9-11-9.1 (a). And, more importantly, the statute of limitations already had expired on the client’s claims. Ultimately, the case was dismissed in February 2019, but Whiteside did not advise the client of the dismissal. Instead, the client only learned that his case had been dismissed when he contacted the court and made an inquiry. The special master noted Whiteside’s claim that he sent the names of potential experts to the client so that he could hire one for the case, but noted that there was no correspondence from Whiteside to the client notifying him about the date that the statute of limitations would expire or clearly advising him that his malpractice case depended upon his obtaining an expert who could make the averments required by OCGA § 9-11-9.1 (a). These failures, the special master concluded, were the result of Whiteside not having an adequate understanding of how to prosecute a medical malpractice claim.
He also had mishandled a divorce case.
Having reviewed the record in this case, this Court agrees that a three-month suspension is appropriate in this matter, given Whiteside’s lack of any prior discipline, his full cooperation in these disciplinary proceedings, and the other mitigating factors identified by the special master.