Notice to 7th District: Your Representative, David Ralston, faces being disbarred.
Last Thursday the Georgia State Bar filed a formal complaint with the Georgia State Supreme Court against DAVID EDMUND RALSTON. Ralston is Georgia State House Speaker.
“ FORMAL COMPLAINT:
The State Bar of Georgia, after a probable cause investigation into the
captioned matter by the Investigative Panel of the State Disciplinary Board of the
State Bar of Georgia and a finding of probable cause by the Panel, brings this
formal complaint against attorney David Edmund Ralston, stating in detail the acts
complained of, the basis for discipline, and the identity of known witnesses, all
pursuant to Bar Rule 4-211 in Part IV (Discipline) of the Rules and Regulations for
the Organization and Government of the State Bar of Georgia. The State Bar of
Georgia respectfully submits this formal complaint to the Supreme Court of
The State Bar requested the State Supreme Court appoint a Special Master to hear the disciplinary complaint. In law, a special master is an authority appointed by a judge to make sure that judicial orders are actually followed.
“NOW COMES the State Bar of Georgia, by its Counsel, and petitions
the Court for Appointment of Special Master in the above-captioned disciplinary
The court has appointed Mark F. Dehler of Hiawassee, Special Master. Dehler is married to former Secretary of State Cathy Cox. Cox is now president of Young Harris College.
Ralston has hired James E. Spence Jr. of Decatur. Spence specializes in Bar disciplinary matters.
On November 1, 2013, the Investigative Panel of the State Disciplinary Board filed a NOTICE OF FINDING OF PROBABLE CAUSE.
“Pursuant to Bar Rule 4-204.4, the Investigative Panel of the State
Disciplinary Board hereby notifies the above-named Respondent that it has found
probable cause to charge him with a violation of Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.7, 1.8, 1.15
(II), 1.16, 3.2 and 8.4 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Panel has ordered counsel for the State Bar of Georgia to prepare a
Formal Complaint in this matter and to proceed with prosecution of these
proceedings as outlined at Bar Rule 4-204.4.
The Panel warns Respondent that successful Bar action against him in these
proceedings could result in the imposition of disciplinary sanctions as set forth in Bar Rule 4-1 02(b ). Respondent is further notified that he may hire counsel if he so
desires, and that he should take proper steps to preserve his interest in this
“Rule 4-204.4. Finding of Probable Cause; Referral to Special Master
Ethics & Discipline / Current Rules / Part IV (After January 1 / 2001) - Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (also includes Disciplinary Proceedings and Advisory Opinion rules) / CHAPTER 2 DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS
(a) In the event the Investigative Panel, or a subcommittee of the Panel, finds Probable Cause of the Respondent's violation of one or more of the provisions of Part IV, Chapter 1 of these rules it may refer the matter to the Supreme Court by directing the Office of the General Counsel to file with the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Georgia either:
(1) a formal complaint, as herein provided;
(2) a petition for the appointment of a Special Master; and
(3) a notice of its finding of Probable Cause.
The documents specified above shall be filed in duplicate within thirty (30) days of the finding of Probable Cause unless the Investigative Panel, or a subcommittee of the Panel, or its Chairperson grants an extension of time for the filing.”
Questions surround why the State Bar of Georgia waited until June 26, 2014 (almost 8 months after the Notice of Probable Cause) to file Disciplinary proceedings with the Georgia Supreme Court. They waited 37 days after the State Primary Election to ask for a Special Master. Ralston spent close to $600,000 to defend his seat in the 7th District. Ralston won re-election 65% - 35% against challenger Sam Snider.
In the formal complaint the Statement Of Facts are as follows:
“2. In 2006, Respondent's associate, attorney Amanda Harper Mercier,
undertook to represent Paul E. Chernak in a case arising out of an automobile
collision which occurred on March 20, 2006.
3. Mr. Chernak, who was seriously injured as a result of the collision,
was not at fault in the accident.
4. Respondent became involved in the representation in 2008 and
Respondent assumed sole responsibility for representing Mr. Chernak in 2010
when his associate became a Superior Court Judge.
5. On March 24, 2008, Respondent filed suit in the Superior Court of
Gilmer County on behalf of Mr. Chernak seeking damages for the injuries he
suffered in the collision.
6. The case was assigned to Judge Weaver who, since 2009, the year
after the case was filed, has had two jury trial weeks per year in Gilmer County.
7. For the period 2009 through 2013 there were a total of ten possible
jury trial weeks in Gilmer County.
8. Respondent is a member of the Georgia House of Representatives.
9. Of the ten possible weeks, Respondent requested and received
legislative leave in seven weeks.
10. In two of the remaining three weeks, Respondent was involved in
criminal cases that were specially set.
11. Respondent did not consult with Mr. Chernak about seeking or
obtaining delays in placing the case, or asking for the case, to be placed on the trial
calendar, nor did Respondent explain to Mr. Chernak the status or progress in the
case, including plans to schedule the case, or request that the case be scheduled, for
12. Respondent did not make reasonable efforts to expedite the litigation
consistent with Mr. Chernak's interests.
13. Respondent allowed his interest in being, and his duties as, a member
of the Georgia Legislature to adversely affect his representation of Mr. Chernak.
14. Because he did not make reasonable efforts to expedite the litigation
consistent with Mr. Chemak's interests, Respondent should have withdrawn from
representing Mr. Chernak, but did not.
15. In the meantime, while periodically asking Respondent about the
status of or any progress in his case, Mr. Chernak told Respondent about his unpaid
rent and other outstanding living expenses.
16. In response to Mr. Chernak's description of his financial difficulties,
Respondent advanced to Mr. Chernak for living expenses a total of $22,000 in
twelve checks written by Respondent on his attorney trust account.
17. The eleven checks were written between May 24, 2010 and
October 11, 2011.
18. Respondent told Mr. Chernak the advances would be deducted from
his portion of the settlement proceeds upon completion of the case.
19. At the times Respondent wrote the eleven trust account checks, there
were no funds belonging to Mr. Chernak in Respondent's trust account.
20. To make the advances to Mr. Chernak, Respondent used funds
belonging to his other clients or third persons, or out of his personal funds
comingled in his trust account with those belonging to his other clients or third
21. In a letter dated October 11, 2011, Respondent wrote to Mr. Chernak' s
new counsel and told her that Mr. Chernak owed him $22,000 for the funds he had
advanced to Mr. Chernak for his rent and other living expenses.
22. Respondent agreed to represent Mr. Chernak on a contingency fee
basis, but did not have a written fee agreement with Mr. Chernak.
23. Because Mr. Chernak had been a law enforcement officer, Respondent
as a courtesy had agreed to represent Mr. Chernak for a contingency fee of 25% of
a recovery, but later insisted on a 30% contingency fee.
24. After Mr. Chernak filed a grievance against Respondent with the State
Bar of Georgia, Respondent in his letter to Ms. Chernak dated January 28, 2013,
agreed to a 25% rate, but still without mentioning the method by which the fee
would otherwise be determined, or obtaining a written fee agreement.
25. In addition, in his letter dated January 7, 2013, in response to Mr.
Chernak's grievance, Respondent outlined actions he could take in the future to
advance Mr. Chernak's case.
26. Respondent took none of those proposed actions, nor had he
attempted them previous to Mr. Chernak's grievance.
27. With still no action by Respondent on his case, Mr. Chernak
discharged Respondent, and hired new counsel.
28. On July 15, 2013, Mr. Chernak's new attorney wrote to Respondent
and requested Mr. Chernak's file.
29. On July 24, 2013, Respondent sent Mr. Chernak's new attorney a
letter acknowledging receipt of the file request letter of July 15, 2013.
30. Respondent's letter of July 24, 2013 also indicated the Respondent
would contact Ms. Chernak during the week of July 29, 2013 to "let her know
when the file will be ready to pick up."
31. Respondent's letter of July 24, 2013, also contained a request to
discuss with the Chernak' s new attorney the "matter of repayment of sums owing
[sic] to this office by the Chernaks."
32. On August 13, 2013, Mr. Chernak's new attorney wrote a second
letter to Respondent again requesting Mr. Chernak's file and furnishing
Respondent her FedEx account number so that the file could be sent to her by
33. Mr. Chernak's new attorney finally received the file on or about
September 6, 2013.”
Click here to view the complete complaint and the nine counts of misconduct against David Ralston.
There are two major things that stand out in the complaint. One is the payments to Chernak for expenses in the amount of $22,000 in several checks. There are strict rules against advancing a client money on a future settlement out of a trust account. A trust account is set up to hold someone else’s money and is not to be used by an attorney for payment to another client in advance of a settlement. Second, that Chernak’s new attorney had to make multiple requests for the case file. From the first request for the file on July 15th it took till September 6th for Chernak’s new counsel to receive the case file.
Debbie Dooley Co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party and also involved with the Georgia Integrity Project worked hard to prevent Ralston’s re-election in the primary. Georgia Integrity Project ran commercials featuring Amanda Mosher. Mosher lost her husband and daughter in a horrible wreck. Ralston defended the man who killed them and it took over seven years for the case to come to court. The Georgia Integrity Project claimed that Ralston abused his ability to use legislative leave to delay the case.
Dooley posted on her facebook page Sunday,
“If you know of anyone that has had bad legal experiences with David Ralston, please have them contact me.”
Ralston has one more election to win, he will seek another term as Speaker of the House in the next session. The way this story has been presented in some media outlets Ralston is pronounced guilty in the court of public opinion but Ralston is presumed innocent until found guilty.
FYN has requested an in-depth interview with Speaker Ralston.
Below are the commercials run by the Georgia Integrity Project.