On Wednesday, January 17, 2024, the Georgia Supreme Court disbarred attorney Derric Crowther based on misconduct found in two separate disciplinary cases involving violations of rules regulating lawyer trust accounts.
The case is entitled “In the Matter of Derric Crowther,” with case numbers. S23Y1117 and S23Y1119.
The charges cited Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.8 (e), 1.15 (I), 1.15 (II), and 8.4 (a)(4).
In its decision, the Supreme Court accepted the findings of facts and conclusions of law by Special Master Jo Carol Nesset-Sale, who had recommended disbarment after reviewing the case. However, the court rejected the State Disciplinary Review Board’s recommendation of a four-year suspension, determining that disbarment was the appropriate sanction given Crowther’s violations. The misconduct involved two grievances filed against Crowther between 2013 and 2019 regarding his handling of a 2006 medical malpractice case. Crowther represented multiple plaintiffs, including Connie Johnson individually and as administratrix of her mother’s estate, in a lawsuit against a Macon hospital alleging negligent care led to her mother’s death.
In August 2012, the case settled for $187,500. However, Crowther deposited the entire settlement check into his firm account without obtaining endorsements from all plaintiffs as required. Despite a court order that September prohibiting distribution until all plaintiffs signed releases, Crowther paid himself $46,875 in attorney fees from the funds. Over the following years, Crowther failed to obtain the necessary releases, provide Johnson with an accounting of the funds despite her requests, or distribute her portion. The court dismissed the case with prejudice in late 2012 when Crowther did not respond to a motion regarding the unsigned releases.
In its decision, the court said Crowther violated his duty to safeguard client funds by disregarding the interests of Johnson and a medical lienholder in the settlement proceeds. It said he failed to properly maintain a trust account or keep individual client ledgers, comingling client and law firm funds. The court also found Crowther violated several rules by charging Johnson excessive and unreasonable fees and costs not disclosed in their agreement. It noted line items for gifts for his law students, meals, office supplies, and high copying fees benefiting his firm rather than reimbursing costs.
While disposing of the entire settlement without authorization, Crowther failed to provide a required closing statement detailing disbursements to Johnson, the court said. It concluded he effectively abandoned the representation after ceasing communication in 2016. In disbarring Crowther, the court said his actions caused financial detriment to his client and constituted a “systematic violation” of trust accounting rules warranting the most severe sanction.
The Disposition states:
“Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that the name of Derric Crowther be removed from the rolls of persons authorized to practice law in the State of Georgia. Crowther is reminded of his duties pursuant to Bar Rule 4-219 (b).”
According to avvo.com, Mr. Crowther was a medical malpractice attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended the University of Dayton School of Law, graduating in 1996. He acquired his law license in Georgia in 2000.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.