COVINGTON, Ga. — A Newton County resident says she was glad to hear about the state Supreme Court's ruling today, June 22, that a Rockdale County commissioner can no longer practice law in Georgia because she "failed to act diligently" for clients in time-sensitive cases.
Tracy Belcher told The Covington News Wednesday she hoped the Georgia Supreme Court's ruling that Commissioner Sherri Lin Washington be disbarred and surrender her law license will lead to her being removed from the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners.
Belcher said Washington never paid her after a Rockdale County court ruled in August 2021 after the Covington resident sued the commissioner for return of the $3,000 fee Washington charged her for a case on which she took almost no action.
"I am so happy," Belcher said.
Belcher said she hired Washington after she successfully represented her in a previous, separate case. She also was told any other attorney would have needed only a few months to do what it had taken Washington five years to complete.
Then in 2019, neighbors repeatedly complained to police that Belcher's mother and father — who both suffered from dementia — often roamed their neighborhood and sought entrance to others' houses. She was forced to quit her job as a medical assistant and move in with her parents to take care of them.
Belcher also said she needed an attorney quickly to avoid the courts taking action to take custody of her parents. She paid Washington in 2019 to do the legal work needed to become her parents' guardians and was told it would take about 30 days to complete.
Washington then never returned calls or communicated about the status of the case and Belcher ultimately was unable to be appointed as custodian, she said. Luckily, her parents stopped leaving their house and it eventually was not an issue.
She later sued Washington's Conyers law firm, The Washington Law Group, for return of her fee. A judge ordered her to pay Belcher $3,096 in August 2021 during a hearing at which Washington failed to appear, according to court records.
Washington, however, did not pay as ordered and Belcher said she filed a complaint with the Bar Association.
Her interactions with her clients — detailed in the Supreme Court's ruling — correspond to actions Belcher said Washington took in her case.
The Supreme Court's unanimous ruling upheld a State Disciplinary Review Board recommendation that Washington be disbarred "for her multiple violations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct in connection with three separate client matters."
The Court said Washington "failed to abide by her clients’ decisions, desires and directions regarding the scope and objectives of the representations; she failed to act diligently in filing, pursuing or responding in any of these clients’ matters; she failed to communicate or consult with these clients (or respond to their inquiries) about matters of importance in, or even the status of, their cases; and she failed to properly and timely respond to the personally served notices of investigation relating to each of these matters."
Among the claims cited by the Disciplinary Review Board in its recommendation was one from March 2017 in which a woman hired Washington to represent her in a divorce case. Washington did not file it quickly as requested, did not file a protective order, failed to keep the client advised about the case, and other items associated with the case.
The client said she ultimately lost her health insurance coverage on her husband’s policy, was denied an equitable division of marital assets, denied alimony and required to pay her former husband $5,000 in attorney fees.
Other instances included Washington accepting a $515 fee to appeal a child molestation case, missing the appeal deadline and not returning the fee; and the attorney taking a $3,000 fee for a lawsuit against a building contractor, taking no action and not returning the fee until a Bar Association investigation began.
Washington finally was served with a formal complaint and "failed to timely answer or otherwise respond." That led to the Board's appointed special master finding the county commissioner was "in default such that the factual allegations and the disciplinary violations charged in the formal complaint were deemed admitted," the ruling stated.
Washington was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 2007. She was elected to an at-large seat on the three-member Rockdale County Commission in 2016 and reelected in 2020.