Atlanta City Councilman H. Lamar Willis admitted wrongdoing and said he has paid back the aggrieved former client who the Georgia Supreme Court found he defrauded of $30,000 when it ordered Willis' right to practice law in the state be revoked on Monday.
The high court issued an opinion finding that Councilman Wills violated a number of rules contained in the code of professional conduct, most notably that the Post 3 At-Large Councilman put a $30,000 settlement check for a client he represented into his personal or business bank account.
The ruling also found that the councilman failed to answer the formal complaint filed against him by the State Bar of Georgia and the group's review panel recommended Willis' disbarment. Willis argued that his depression was the reason for his failure to counter the formal complaint against him.
"Two years ago, during a time when I was facing tremendous personal challenges, I made a grievous professional error," Willis said in a statement. "I acknowledge it, apologize for it and I accept the repercussions of it. Although the Supreme Court's ruling comes down today, that time has passed. The defendants have been repaid contrary to the language in the Court's opinion. ... I am moving on with my life and my re-election to the Atlanta City Council."
The complaint from the Supreme Court directly contradicts that claim, saying that despite formal requests to do so, "Willis has not reimbursed the defendants."
The ruling goes on to state that Willis converted the funds to his own use, and when he failed to distribute the money, a judge ordered the defendants pay the plaintiff directly, thus requiring the defendants to pay twice, and to seek reimbursement from Willis.
Willis held a press conference on the steps of Atlanta City Hall Monday and has insisted he will remain in the race for his Post 3 At Large position.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in a statement, backed Willis' character, but also acknowledged that he would not challenge the findings of the Court.
"Lamar Willis has been a strong and capable member of the Atlanta City Council for more than a decade," Reed said. "It is unfortunate that he has made significant mistakes in his private law practice during a very difficult time in his personal life. While I have not reviewed the decision, I respect the ruling of the Georgia Supreme Court on this matter."
Reed has long been a supporter of Willis, most recently inviting the councilman to be present and speak to the media during press conferences regarding developments on the new downtown Atlanta Falcons stadium.
Andre Dickens, who is currently running against Willis for his Council seat, issued a statement Monday calling for Willis to be disqualified from holding public office.
"It is abundantly clear that Mr. Willis operates without any ethical boundaries or even the bare minimum of care or concern for others," read the statement. "...We believe that people who have been barred from practicing law in the State of Georgia for unethical and immoral behavior should not be allowed to serve in a lawmaking capacity."
The State Bar review panel also found Willis' assertion that depression left him unable to respond not credible and found no factors in mitigation of discipline and multiple offenses in aggravation, including obstructing the disciplinary process and indifference to making restitution, the ruling said.