Minister settles lawsuit with Johnston family, takes on lawyers

Markel Hutchins

Credit: AJC file photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Markel Hutchins

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

The Atlanta activist suing Kathryn Johnston’s family has reached a settlement with them.

The Rev. Markel Hutchins is now going after the family’s lawyers.

Johnston, 92, was shot and killed on the night of Nov. 21, 2006, when a group of undercover Atlanta police detectives on an illegal drug raid forced their way into her home and she fired a warning shot at them.

After claiming to have helped the family win their multi-million-dollar wrongful death settlement from the Atlanta Police Department, Hutchins filed a

breach of contract lawsuit claiming that the late Sarah Dozier, Johnston’s niece and the administrator of her estate, failed to pay him a 10-percent consulting fee after the City of Atlanta paid Dozier and the Johnston family $4.9 million over its role in Johnston’s death.

When Dozier died in December, Fulton Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter appointed Ray Persons to stand in for her.

Persons confirmed the settlement, but could not discuss the terms of the agreement because of a confidentiality clause that bound all parties to silence.

Reached by phone, Hutchins declined to comment, but referred to a statement released by his attorneys.

“My lawsuit was not precipitated by any ill intent of Ms. Dozier or any other member of Ms. Johnston’s family,” Hutchins said in the statement. “This dispute arose primarily because of actions by some of the attorneys representing Ms. Johnston’s family and the estate in their lawsuit against the City of Atlanta.”

But William B. Hill, Jr., one of the attorneys who represented Dozier up to and beyond her death, claims that Hutchins’ lawsuit has no basis and amounts to him seeking a “nuisance” payment.

“Sarah Dozier has always claimed to her grave that Markel Hutchins was lying,” Hill told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There never existed such an agreement between him and her.”

Johnston was shot and killed when undercover detectives on an illegal drug raid forced their way into her home and she fired a warning shot at them.

The officers responded with a barrage of gunfire that killed her, then they planted drugs in the home from another raid to cover their tracks. Three former APD officers were sent to prison in 2009 for their roles in the incident.

Hutchins claims that he was instrumental in helping Johnston’s family draw attention to the illegal drug raid by arranging meetings with lawyers, police and city officials, subsequently garnering the hefty settlement.

He said he had an agreement with Dozier to pay him 10 percent of whatever the city paid to her family and the Johnston estate.

Hutchins’ attorneys on Wednesday dropped Dozier, who died in December, from the complaint in Fulton County Superior Court choosing, instead, to focus on the lawyers who represented her, her family and Johnston’s estate.

“Those lawyers and their law firms caused Ms.Dozier, the Johnston family and me to be placed in this most unfortunate quandary,” Hutchins said in his statement.

The amendment to the lawsuit keeps Johnston’s estate and the law firm of Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Sistrunk, P.C., as a defendant, and added the firm’s partner Hezekiah Sistrunk, as well as Shean Williams, William T. Mitchell and his firm, Cruser & Mitchell, LLP, Nicholas Moraitakis and his firm, Moraitakis & Kushel, Roger A. Kirschenbaum and his firm, Mistrodda Green-Leverett, and James Green.

Hill said Hutchins added nothing to the legal process that won the family the wrongful death suit.

“Maybe before litigations, he thought as spokesman for the family he was bringing some value to the family,” he said. “After the lawsuit was filed, he was an absolute hindrance to the legal resolution of that lawsuit.

“He wants to add all of the other lawyers who performed other functions and represented other next-of-kin in the underlying wrongful death action … to pay him a combined nuisance fee to go away,” he said.

Hutchins, an ordained Baptist minister, runs a public affairs consulting firm for labor unions, individuals, churches and other entities.

His attorney, Lacrecia Cade, said that Hutchins typically expects some form of payment for his consulting services.

“In terms of his consulting business, he sometimes operates off of contracts, and he sometimes sends an invoice,” Cade said.

Dozier’s three sons have remained silent, although lawyers on both sides of the issue claim to speak for them.

“Her sons want absolutely nothing to do with this lawsuit,” Hill said, claiming that they believe the stress from the continued litigation contributed to her failing health and eventual demise.

Cade, however, said Dozier’s sons initiated an agreement.

“We had some depositions and got to the point where her sons wanted to reach a resolution,” she said.

A statement released Thursday by Hutchins’ attorney Foy Devine attributed “the Dozier family” with ceding compensation to Hutchins.

“Rev. Hutchins served as our spokesperson with distinction and professionally managed various aspects of the Neal Street shooting with poise, diligence and much success,” reads the statement that Devine said in an email to the AJC represent the feelings of Reginald, Everett and Tommy Dozier. “All parties involved understood he would be and deserved to be compensated for his work.”

Neither of Dozier’s three sons could be reached for comment.

In November, the Georgia Court of Appeals ordered a hearing to determine whether Dozier was a creditor of the Johnston estate, which is being managed by the Cochran Firm. A separate ruling allowed Hutchins’ complaint to continue.

“Now, we are waiting for Judge Baxter to approve the new parties (added to the complaint),” Cade said.

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