Georgia high court reinstates disbarred lawyer

Saying he’d served his time and paid his debt, the Georgia Supreme Court this week welcomed back a lawyer who lost his license and went to federal prison in a drug case.

In 1998, Atlanta attorney Alvin Kendall was sentenced to five years and fined $12,500 for conspiring to give his client, a member of a drug ring, advance warning of upcoming law enforcement searches and seizures.

He was also disbarred from practicing law. He's since served his time, paid his fine and, in 2012, had his civil rights restored.

Two years ago, Kendall applied for reinstatement to practice law. On Monday, the state Supreme Court unanimously said yes.

"The record exhibits that Kendall has accepted responsibility for his actions, has committed himself to making amends ... and has volunteered extensively in his community," the court said. "We are convinced of his candor, credibility and rehabilitation and conclude that Kendall has demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that he is entitled to be certified as fit to practice law in Georgia."

Almost 20 years ago, Kendall’s criminal case was big news in Atlanta legal circles. In a federal indictment, he was charged with Drug Enforcement Administration agent Regina Bledsoe in the tip-off conspiracy.

Federal prosecutors said Bledsoe alerted Kendall that federal agents had obtained warrants to search drug dealer Sam Carroll’s homes in July 1994. Kendall allegedly told Carroll, his client at the time, about what was going to happen.

On the night before the searches, Carroll frantically removed records, $20,000 in cash and luxury cars from his home. As a result, it took agents almost three more years to make their case against Carroll.

Carroll wound up pleading guilty and turning on his lawyer. Testifying for the government, Carroll said Kendall had told him the day before the search what items DEA agents had planned to seize.

Kendall was convicted of the conspiracy during a 1998 trial, but the same jury acquitted Bledsoe of all charges.

“Honey, you need to find better friends,” a juror told Bledsoe, embracing her after the trial.

In Monday’s opinion, the state Supreme Court noted that Kendall, who could not be reached for comment, had accepted responsibility for his convictions. And while his record looks troubling on its face, Kendall has said most of his issues stemmed from his past immaturity.

“He indicated that his experience has taught him a valuable lesson and created a resolve in him to never put himself, his family or his community through such an ordeal again,” the court’s opinion said.

In past years, Kendall has performed legal research for various attorneys as a paralegal and founded with his wife a nonprofit organization to increase awareness of childhood obesity. He also submitted 29 letters of support from friends, family members, prior clients, federal and state court judges, a former U.S. attorney and a police chief.

“They all support his readmission and many suggest that they would hire him or work with him if he is reinstated,” the court said.

While Kendall received good news on Monday, more than half a dozen other attorneys lost their licenses. Among them:

  • Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, who was convicted of attempted extortion and perjury after a month-long trial. The court said Ellis, who is incarcerated and appealing his convictions, cannot practice law "until further order of this court."
  • Atlanta attorney William Charles Lea, who was found to have abandoned a number of his clients. The court said one client hired Lea to represent him in two DUI cases and when a hearing was scheduled, Lea told his client he didn't need to show up in court because Lea would appear for him. But Lea did not go to the hearing and his client was arrested on a bench warrant. A second client hired Lea to file a habeas corpus petition, but Lea never filed it and failed to refund his fee, the court said.
  • Marietta lawyer Joel David Myers, who also was found to have abandoned his clients. Myers, paid "substantial fees" by one client, failed to file the necessary court motions, misrepresented the work he'd actually performed and failed to refund the client's fees, the court said. In another case, Myers was retained by a client to file design and patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But Myers failed to file the necessary applications, fees and declarations that were required by the office and the client had to hire another lawyer to make up for the lapse, the court said.
  • Norcross lawyer Jin Choi, who asked the court to accept his voluntary surrender of his law license. The court said Choi, who became a member of the State Bar in 1984, admitted that he failed to properly manage substantial funds entrusted to him in three different matters – two of which involved business ventures and one of which involved his law practice. The court granted Choi's request.