Noted Atlanta civil rights lawyer disbarred for ethics violations

Noted Atlanta civil rights lawyer disbarred for ethics violations

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday disbarred an Atlanta civil rights lawyer known for his outspoken opposition to capital punishment and racial bias in the criminal justice system.

In banning Millard Farmer from practicing law, the court cited several ethical violations committed by Farmer during scorched-earth litigation in a divorce and child custody case in Coweta County.

“Sometimes when you call it like it is, you get punished,” the 85-year-old Farmer said. “There’s no doubt that’s exactly what happened here.”

Farmer began practicing law in Georgia in 1967. He represented numerous death-row inmates, at times getting their sentences overturned. The gravely voiced litigator from Newnan began his career representing bootleggers but later took on a number of high-profile cases. This included helping overturn the murder conviction of Wayne Carr, who ran Hastings Nature and Garden Center and had been accused of killing his wife.

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Over his career, Farmer has been a lightning-rod for controversy. In 1991, a federal judge accused him of making “scandalous statements” in a civil rights lawsuit filed against Macon’s police chief. The suit was filed on behalf of a widow whose husband had been shot and killed by police the previous year. (The city later settled.) A year later, Farmer was accused of tampering with evidence in a case in Texas.

The case which cost Farmer to lose his law license began in 2008 when Michelle Murphy retained him to file a legal malpractice suit against the lawyer who handled her divorce. She claimed the lawyer’s negligence caused her ex-husband to be denied $50,000 that should have been hers when the marital property was divided.

When the ex-husband offered to pay up the full $50,000, Farmer threatened to make the case “expensive and painful” unless he paid $150,000, the Supreme Court order said, noting the ex-husband, John Murphy, acceded to the demand.

Three years later, when John Murphy sought to change the couple’s child custody arrangement, Michelle Murphy hired Farmer once again. From then on, Farmer employed litigation tactics “to disrupt the judicial process to the point that either the court or the opposing party would capitulate for the sake of restoring order,” the court said.

Over the course of the litigation, Farmer “filed repeated frivolous motions and pursued baseless appeals, ultimately yielding more than 500 filings in the case,” the court said.

On Monday, Farmer said most of the motions were filed because he was trying to disqualify the trial judge from the case. When the judge refused to hold the required hearing, Farmer said he had no choice but to file repeated motions to try and force the issue.

At one point, Farmer was ordered to appear before the judge at a contempt hearing. When he refused to do so, he was found in contempt, the court said. Farmer also threatened witnesses on at least two occasions, including threatening to destroy one witness’s professional reputation if she testified against his client, the court said.

After a judge awarded temporary custody of the children to John Murphy, Farmer then directed Michelle Murphy to encourage her children to run away from her ex-husband’s home, the court said. Farmer also orchestrated “an elaborate scheme to manufacture evidence of child abuse and negligence” by John Murphy, the ruling said.

Those allegations, Farmer said Monday, “are completely false.”

In January 2018, a federal judge found Farmer liable for $242,835 in damages from a racketeering lawsuit brought against him by John Murphy. That judgment, Farmer said, led to him losing his house and his law office.

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