A disbarred Smyrna attorney has been sentenced for settling civil lawsuits without telling his clients and keeping the money for himself.
Richard Vinson Merritt, 44, pleaded guilty in Cobb County court Friday, according to prosecutors. The judge ordered he spend 15 years in prison and 15 on probation in addition to paying a restitution of $454,706.
Investigators found he used the money taken from clients, some elderly or filing medical malpractice claims, to buy a Porsche or go on vacation.
“The victims came to him for help, and he helped himself instead,” prosecutor Jason Marbutt said in a Cobb district attorney’s office news release.
Merritt would tell victims he was still pursuing legal action for them, but instead he had already closed the case without them knowing and was using the settlement money.
According to an indictment, he forged signatures on court documents and checks along with fake notary seals between 2014 and 2017. In all, 17 of his former clients were victims.
Several victims testified Friday in court, according to the news release. One called him a “scoundrel” and another said he was “ a professional con man.”
“People ought to be able to trust their lawyer,” said Marbutt, the prosecutor. “When a lawyer lies, it has ripple effects on the entire system.”
Merritt surrendered his license to practice law in January 2018, according to records from the State Bar of Georgia. He was booked into jail soon after.
The judge granted Merritt’s request for time to get his affairs in order, and he must return to custody by 5 p.m. on Feb. 1.
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