Dehler resigns as ‘special master’ in Ralston case

The man tasked with overseeing a State Bar of Georgia complaint against Speaker David Ralston has resigned to focus on his new job as head of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, the AJC has learned.

Hiawassee attorney Mark Dehler has notified the Georgia Supreme Court of his decision and said the Ralston case would take too much time away from his new job, according to Dehler’s letter to the Court, a copy of which was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Dehler takes over at the JQC on Sept. 1.

Ralston is accused of violating nine State Bar rules and of allowing his duties as a legislator "to adversely affect his representation" of his client. The Supreme Court, which decides punishment against attorneys, appointed Dehler as "special master" of the case.

Possible outcomes range from a dismissal of the complaint to public reprimand to disbarment. In a Petition for Voluntary Discipline, filed in June, Ralston attorney James Balli of Marietta suggests that the speaker face no more than “formal admonition” or public reprimand. While Ralston acknowledges violating two State Bar rules, Balli argued they were inadvertent.

But the Bar earlier this month said in its own filing that Ralston's account was "inaccurate, incomplete or immaterial," and demanded an evidentiary hearing "where the proof of each party can be tested for accuracy."

Dehler’s resignation from the case should not cause much of a delay as his role was just coming into play. Now that both Ralston and the Bar have made their case, the special master’s job is to make a recommendation to the Supreme Court. In his resignation letter, Dehler said it appeared the Ralston case would not be finished until the fall.