Speaker Ralston faces the possibility of being disbarred. Ralston is facing 10 counts of violating Georgia State Bar Rules. These rules are considered the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. The alleged misconduct stems from the personal injury case of Paul E. Chernak. Ralston’s law office represented Chernak. Chernak was injured in an automobile accident in March 2006. Click to read the full story explaining the Chernak case and the alleged rules violated.
Speaker David Ralston’s attorney, Robert D. Ingram, has filed an answer concerning the formal complaint filed against Ralston by the Georgia State Bar Association. After filing a Notice of Probable Cause with the Georgia Supreme Court in November 2013, the State Bar of Georgia finally filed a petition on June 26th requesting a Special Master be appointed to hear the case. Georgia Supreme Court appointed Attorney Mark Dehler from Hiawassee as the Special Master.
Even before filing his response to the complaint, Ralston immediately began damage control starting with his colleagues at the State House. FYN obtained an email sent by Ralston to his Caucus Members Wednesday afternoon letting them know he was filing an answer and what to expect. He told them to “expect another round of media coverage.” Here is the full text of that email:
From: LAW OFFICES OF DAVID E RALSTON
Date: August 6, 2014 at 3:24:43 PM EDT
Subject: MESSAGE FOR CAUCUS MEMBERS
August 6, 2014
First, I want to thank all of you who have reached out for your support, encouragement, friendship and prayers. You have lifted me up and reminded me once again of how special our caucus family really is.
As you all are aware, on June 26th a complaint was filed against me arising out of my representation of a client in a private legal matter. To start the process of resolving this issue, I will file an answer and response to this complaint later today. Once the response is filed, you can expect another round of media attention. Despite the news coverage and speculation, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss these allegations in detail.
But know this: I am vigorously defending my professional reputation built over 34 years against these allegations. My actions were open, honest and sincere regarding my representation of this client and my efforts to help his family.
Regarding the answer and response, it will be presented in a form that is similar to pleadings used in civil cases. It is a first step in resolving this matter. It may even look confusing to a casual reader and it will certainly be a matter of public record. And while my answer will not fully detail all the facts of the case, it’s the beginning of that process.
I am proud to say that while this issue is getting resolved, the business of the House GOP Caucus continues apace. Thank you very much for your strong efforts on behalf of our colleagues during this campaign season. I am excited about our team and I look forward to being in the districts of many of you between now and November and working hard to make sure that our entire caucus has the resources necessary to be victorious on November 4th.
I love this caucus and I am proud of the accomplishments we have made together. I am optimistic and excited as I anticipate a great 2015 session.
At the caucus retreat in Macon on August 23, I look forward to visiting with each of you and I also look forward to discussing our general election efforts and our goals for the next session.
Please do not hesitate to let me know any time I may be of service to you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the friendship I cherish with each of you.
Very truly yours,
David Ralston, Speaker
Georgia House of Representatives
Ralston’s attorney, Ingram released the following statement. In the statement you will read that after 34 years of practice Ralston simply made “unintentional mistakes”.
“Speaker Ralston has practiced law in North Georgia for over 34 years and during that time has developed a thriving law practice where most of his clients are friends and neighbors. This is the first time in those 34 years of practicing law that the State Bar has filed a formal Bar complaint against him. Mr. Ralston has acknowledged unintentional mistakes to the State Bar and has cooperated with its investigation. All of Mr. Ralston’s actions have been open, honest, and sincere regarding his representation of his client. Furthermore, his motivation was to assist a client who was in financial need by advancing his client Mr. Ralston’s earned but previously undisbursed legal fees from an unrelated case. Any suggestions to the contrary will be vigorously defended by Mr. Ralston. Mr. Ralston has spent more than three decades building his professional reputation and he is disappointed that the State Bar chose to bring formal public charges rather than work to resolve the matter informally as is customary.”
Count Five, Georgia State Bar Rule 1.8 clearly states under CONFLICT OF INTEREST that this is a prohibited transaction. Read the full rule below.
COUNT FIVE-RULE 1.8
46. The allegations contained in paragraphs 1 through 33 are realleged
and incorporated here by reference.
47. Rule 1.8 (e) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, part of Bar
Rule 4-102 (d), provides as follows:
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: PROHIBITED
(e) A lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a
client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation,
(1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of
litigation, the repayment of which may be contingent on the
outcome of the matter; or
(2) a lawyer representing a client unable to pay court
costs and expenses of litigation may pay those costs and expenses on behalf of the client.
The maximum penalty for a violation of Rule 1.8 (b) is
disbarment. The maximum penalty for a violation of Rule
1.8(a) and 1.8(c)-G) is a public reprimand.
48. Respondent violated Rule 1.8 (e) when he provided financial
assistance to Mr. Chernak for his rent and other living expenses.
Ralston answer claims that as a member of the state bar he should have been aware of rule 1.8 but was not aware of the rule. His conduct was of unfamiliarity rather than a conscious deliberate decision to violate the rule. His answer reads like he was just doing a good deed. Has ralston just pled ignorance of the law after practicing law for 34 years?
Ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law does not excuse” or “ignorance of the law excuses no one”) is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content.
If a defendant could simply use as his defense that he should not be found guilty because he was unaware of the law, it seems there would be no need for laws.
Ralston’s full answer to rule 1.8 below.
Obviously Ralston’s attorney is asking for the complaint to be dismissed. One would wonder how Special Master Delher could possibly dismiss this complaint. Allegations are that Ralston misused his trust fund account by issuing his client checks on a case that had yet to be settled and from a trust account that contained no funds held on behalf of this client. This is a serious violation for the use of a trust fund and violates the most basic premise of trust fund accounting. If Ralston’s defense, I made a mistake, I was just trying to help the family, it was the humane thing to do, I was unfamiliar with the rule and so on, holds up then every attorney, real estate broker, bank trust accounts in the state could use their trust fund the same way which would destroy the entire meaning of an escrow or trust account.
The same would apply to the use of “ignorance” as a valid defense. The entire basic premise of law school is defending the laws, so if it were permissible to use the defense I didn’t know it was against the law, we wouldn’t need lawyers or courts since everyone would just say, Sorry, I didn’t know that was illegal. When things are at one’s discretion there is no longer rule of law. The accusation is the top lawmaker in the state may have broken the rules. One would think after 34 years of practicing law AND being Speaker of the House (the legislative body that makes the laws) he would know the rules.
Below is Ralston’s attorney’s full request to dismiss the complaint.
Sources tell FYN that the Special Master will meet with the attorneys in the next couple of weeks to set the hearing schedule.