House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and the State Bar of Georgia have agreed to a settlement in the complaint filed against him more than two years ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.
Ralston’s attorneys filed paperwork Wednesday with the State Disciplinary Board at the State Bar to accept a minor reprimand along with an admission that he inadvertently violated two State Bar rules.
The Bar, meanwhile, also filed paperwork today to drop more serious charges that Ralston misused client funds and intermingled clients’ money with his own.
Finally, the “special master” the Supreme Court appointed to oversee the case also filed an order accepting the settlement.
The agreement, and Special Master Jonathan Peter’s recommendation, will next be sent to the Georgia Supreme Court, which has final say in cases of attorney discipline. There is no timetable for the court to rule.
If approved, the settlement would end a nearly four-year saga and end with a Bar review panel issuing a reprimand.
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.
In the settlement, Ralston will admit he loaned a client money for living expenses and that he was tardy in moving payment from a previous case out of his firm’s escrow account and into his personal account.
Ralston faced a range of outcomes from a dismissal of the complaint to public reprimand to disbarment. While Ralston acknowledged violating two State Bar rules, Balli argued they were inadvertent. In a Petition for Voluntary Discipline, filed in June 2015, Ralston attorney James Balli of Marietta said the speaker should face no more than “formal admonition,” the lowest level of punishment, or a public reprimand. The review panel reprimand is considered more serious than an admonitition, but less serious than a public reprimand.
The Bar originally disagreed, but over the past year apparently came to accept Ralston’s explanation.
The complaint against Ralston stems from 2006, when Paul E. Chernak hired Ralston’s law firm after he was injured in a car accident. Chernak was not at fault.
According to Chernak’s complaint with the State Bar, Ralston became involved in the case in 2008. Chernak filed a lawsuit in 2008 claiming injury and damages from the accident. Chernak accused Ralston of dragging his feet on his lawsuit
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