On Tuesday, February 20, 2024, the Supreme Court of Georgia disbarred Atlanta attorney Deirdre Maria Stephens for multiple violations of professional conduct rules.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Deirdre Maria Stephens,” with case numbers S24Y0049 and S24Y0050.

The disbarment stems from two disciplinary cases reviewed by a special master and the State Disciplinary Review Board. The first case involved Stephens negligently allowing her client trust account to fall below the required minimum balance, causing an overdraft in May 2018. While no clients were ultimately harmed, the special master found Stephens violated rules regarding the proper handling of client funds.

The more serious case centered around Stephens’ representation of a client and his company in the 2015 sale of business assets. According to evidence and testimony presented, $75,000 from the sale was deposited into Stephens’ trust account as a temporary escrow, though the sale agreement did not require this. Stephens stated she distributed the full amount to her client shortly after with no disputes at the time.

However, the buyers later sued Stephens’ client, alleging breach of contract. During an emergency hearing on the case, Stephens falsely told the court the $80,000 from the sale remained in her trust account when it had actually already been disbursed over a year prior. She proceeded to make additional false statements to the court and opposing counsel over the next four years, insisting the funds were safely in her account when they were not.

A jury ultimately found in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered Stephens’ client to pay $80,000 in damages. Stephens failed to comply with multiple court orders to release the nonexistent escrow funds to the plaintiffs. She only made the payment herself in mid-2019 under threat of contempt of court.

Both the special master and State Disciplinary Review Board found Stephens intentionally violated rules against false statements to a tribunal and dishonest conduct through her lies to the court. While the Review Board recommended a lighter punishment of six months suspension and public reprimand, the special master and State Bar argued disbarment was warranted given the severity and prolonged nature of Stephens’ misconduct.

In its decision, the Supreme Court sided with the special master, rejecting the Review Board’s findings on certain mitigating and aggravating factors. The Court ruled Stephens’ repeated false statements to the court over four years, initial misleading responses to the State Bar investigation, and coerced payment only after contempt threats qualified as significantly more egregious than lesser misconduct in precedent cases imposing suspensions.

Considering rules violations for dishonest conduct and intentionally false statements to a tribunal carry disbarment as the presumptive sanction, the Supreme Court officially removed Stephens from the rolls of licensed attorneys in Georgia. She is no longer permitted to practice law in the state.

According to Avvo, Ms. Stephens is a business attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. She obtained her law license in Georgia in 1997.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.