LaFayette, Ga., attorney Larry Bush Hill sent letters to his clients Monday, right before turning himself in at the Walker County Jail.
Hill had just pleaded guilty to influencing a witness and criminal attempt to suborn perjury, he explained. These were felony charges. And as a result, he had to surrender his law license. He could no longer represent them.
"As a result of my actions my family is slowly in the process of losing everything," he wrote. "I'm sure that may not be your concern right now. I'm sure many of my clients [probably you] are extremely angry at me. I understand these feelings. Despite all of this, I would ask you to pray for my family during this extremely difficult time."
When attorneys drop their practices, they leave a void for their clients. They have grown used to the legal professional. And the lawyer, in turn, understands the subtle ins and outs of the case. And all of a sudden, that relationship is over — no matter the money fronted at the beginning of the case.
Typically, the end comes when lawyers switch roles. A governor appoints them as judges, or they move from the public defender's office to the district attorney's.
More rarely, though, are cases like Hill's. In early May, Walker County Sheriff's Office detective Billy Davis said, Hill met with the woman who accused his client of child molestation. The woman happened to be in jail in a separate drug case. And, through a friend on the outside, the woman happened to know Hill was going to ask her to recant her story.
With tapes and audio recorders rolling, the woman told Hill she had, in fact, seen his client receive oral sex from a 12-year-old boy. Hill said his client could hire her an attorney for her drug case. Then, according to an incident report, he returned to the jail with an affidavit — supposedly written by the woman, saying that she never saw the crime.
Since Hill's guilty plea, his clients are trying to start over with their cases. For criminal proceedings, Summerville, Ga., attorney Steve Miller has taken over. He said he and Hill agreed before the plea that Miller would take over.
He said there are about 20 criminal cases in total. Already, he has brokered plea agreements on a couple of them this week.
"I don't know what Larry told them," Miller said. "I don't know what the clients knew. But they all seem to be very accepting of me."
Civil cases aren't as simple. The clients aren't guaranteed a lawyer, as they are when they are facing time behind bars.
In a letter provided to the Times Free Press, Hill told clients they could pick up their case files at the office of attorney Keith Edwards, located on North Duke Street in LaFayette. On Thursday, an assistant in the office told the Times Free Press that they did not have every case file. She wasn't sure how the files had been sorted exactly — their office has some civil files and some criminal files.
One woman in Edwards' office that morning said she wasn't sure what she was going to do now. Hill had filed a claim to modify the child custody plan with her former husband this spring, and the case was pending. She paid Hill about $4,000, including half that money last month.
She thought the case was going to reach a conclusion in August, but someone pushed the court hearing back. She said Hill told her they would need several hours in front of a judge, which they wouldn't get on the date they had set. (The woman requested anonymity, fearing her ex-husband's attorney will somehow take advantage of her time without a lawyer.)
Meanwhile, the criminal proceedings against Hill were brewing. A grand jury indicted him Aug. 8, and the woman read about it in the newspaper. She didn't want to ask Hill about his legal problems, believing that was a private matter. The last time they spoke, she said Hill told her he was trying to pick the right court date for their hearing.
Now, she's out $4,000, and she's not sure what to do. The mother of several children, she said she lives paycheck to paycheck. She will either need to borrow money or go into debt to finish the case.
In theory, the woman could try to get her money back. The State Bar of Georgia has a method of retrieving payments to a lawyer through the Client Security Fund. The woman would need to file a claim with a board, consisting of six lawyers and one non-lawyer appointed by the president of the bar.
Typically, the board awards money only when a lawyer acts dishonestly, such as when he or she is convicted of theft or embezzlement. However, the board can make exceptions in cases of "extreme hardship."
"It's not just affecting me," the woman told the Times Free Press. "It's affecting the whole area. This is a big issue that, unfortunately, we're all having to deal with together. I just pray that something does get done so we can move on with our lives. Unfortunately, [Hill] can't move on with his right now."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.