0

Riverdale files complaint against school board's King

By Joel Hall and

Curt Yeomans

jhall@news-daily.com

Riverdale city officials say they have filed a formal complaint with the State Bar of Georgia against embattled school board member and attorney Michael King, accusing him of filing frivolous lawsuits against the city. City officials claim that in the past five years, the city has spent $150,000 defending itself from King and his clients.

The complaint, which city officials say was sent to the State Bar of Georgia's Attorney Discipline Section last week, states that King has represented clients in eight separate lawsuits against Riverdale since 2003. King acknowledged representing former city employees in some of those cases.

Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie said she believes the lawsuits were brought because King was turned down for a municipal court judgeship in 2004.

"Someone had prepared a resolution for him to become city judge and the council did not approve it," Jessie said. "Shortly after, the lawsuits started ... to spend over $150,000 to defend yourself from frivolous lawsuits, it would not seem like it's a good use of taxpayer money. Not only does it cost the taxpayers money, but it also makes it more expensive for the city to get insurance."

The complaint says that "King became affiliated with the city of Riverdale in 2003 when he acted as 'informal advisor' to [former Riverdale Mayor] Phaedra Graham while she was a candidate," and that since then, judges have ruled against King in all eight of his lawsuits.

The city said in the complaint it could've used the money it spent defending itself for other city projects and programs.

Bill Smith, general counsel of the State Bar of Georgia, said he "cannot confirm or deny" whether the complaint against King was filed. However, he said "if somebody files a grievance against an attorney ... the first thing we'll do is send a copy of the complaint to the lawyers and see what they have to say about it."

Smith added that the State Bar "may ask for additional information from the lawyer or filer [of a complaint]," to determine "whether the nature of the complaint meets one of our disciplinary rules."

As of Wednesday, King said he had not received a copy of the complaint from the State Bar or the city of Riverdale.

He said the city's allegations are "false and malicious" and said that his connection with former mayor Graham is irrelevant.

"That has nothing to do with any of the lawsuits," King said. "The claims would have been filed regardless of who became city attorney."

This is not the first time in the last six months someone has said they filed a complaint with the Bar against King. In October of 2008, Ethics in Government Group Executive Director George Anderson said he filed a complaint against King because King was representing a teacher in a lawsuit against the school system while he was sitting on the board.

The bar's web site lists no public disciplinary action that has been taken against King.

Because of King's action in the lawsuit against the school board, the board's ethics commission recommended his removal from office in February, and the school board upheld that order March 23. King has two legal cases in Clayton County Superior Court dealing with his removal from the school board.

On April 14, King is scheduled to appear in Superior Court to ask a judge to declare last year's House Bill 1302, which established the ethics commission, and the school board's code of ethics, unconstitutional. King argues the bill violated the Article III of the state constitution, which states special laws cannot conflict with general laws.

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated lays out a general ethics code for public officials, so the state General Assembly could not approve a specific ethics code for the Clayton County school board, King has argued in petitions to the court, and in several interviews.

King has also filed a petition for judicial review of the board's decision to uphold the ethics commission's ruling, but no court date has been set in that case. King is allowed to remain on the school board until he has exhausted his appeals.

King believes the complaints of his clients against the city of Riverdale have been "legitimate" and said he will "respond accordingly" if the State Bar goes forward with an investigation.

"I believe they [the city of Riverdale] have tried to do this in the past," he said. "I'm pretty sure that it will be dismissed because it has no merit."

Jessie said the city will pursue the complaint with the State Bar in order to protect the city and its residents.

"A lot of [the lawsuits are] covered by deductibles ... but like car insurance, if you have too many accidents, it is going to go up," Jessie said. "Maybe they will do something, maybe they won't, but on behalf of the taxpaying public, we have to do something."