Legal Malpractice Case: Georgia attorney allegedly failed to notify his client that he had accepted a $500,000 civil settlement.
Vidalia attorney Wilson Randolph Smith on Thursday was ordered to remain in the Toombs County Detention Center pending a bond request before a Superior Court judge. Middle Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Kathy Palmer of Swainsboro informed Smith, 63, of the three felony charges against him — theft by conversion and two counts of forgery — but did not take a plea. Smith, who also has law offices in Savannah, was arrested Tuesday night after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into allegations he accepted a $500,000 civil settlement but never notified his client the case had been settled. Smith, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, did not speak during his first appearance Thursday in court. Attorney Joe McGovern of Glennville is representing Smith. Palmer said attorney Kendall Gross of Metter has been appointed special master to oversee Smith’s pending cases, and she said she would contact the State Bar of Georgia to expedite the Georgia Supreme Court appointing someone to handle those cases. Smith’s alleged misconduct came to light in a legal malpractice case filed in Chatham County State Court by attorney Bart Turner for Smith’s clients, Heather and Dewey Mallette of Kansas City, Mo. According to the suit, Smith, who represented the Mallettes in an earlier medical malpractice case in Chatham County Superior Court, did not inform them of a $500,000 settlement and forged documents as part of his concealment over a 16-month period. When the Mallettes contacted Savannah attorney William P. Franklin Jr. — who had represented the defendants in the medical malpractice case — he found the settlement materials in his files and learned they allegedly contained forged documents. Franklin then challenged Smith to “do the right thing.” “Regrettably the allegations against you, corroborated by what the Mallettes told me and the paper trail, compel me to believe they are in fact true and demand a bar complaint and warrant draconian professional sanctions and perhaps even incarceration,” Franklin wrote to Smith last month. According to the State Bar of Georgia, Smith joined the bar on June 11, 1976, and earned his law degree from Mercer law school. State Bar General Counsel Paula Frederick said Thursday that Smith remains active and in good standing with the bar and will remain so until — and if — the state Supreme Court changes that status. She said anyone can file a grievance with the bar against a lawyer that would allow the bar to begin an investigation. A lawyer convicted of a felony has an obligation to self-report to the bar. Conviction on a felony can result in disbarment and loss of license to practice law in Georgia, she said. In a civil case, someone can file a grievance and prompt a bar investigation, she said. Originally posted by Jan Skutch on savannahnow.com.