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King removed as attorney in Portlock case

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Michael King lost one of his clients Monday morning.

Clayton County State Court Judge Linda Cowen removed him as James Edward Portlock's attorney, citing his position of authority over some of the state's witnesses in Portlock's criminal case.

King was a Clayton County Board of Education member when he became Portlock's attorney, and it is uncertain if he will retain his seat because of a previous ethics violation. Later Monday, King was escorted out of the Clayton County Board of Education's work session by three Jonesboro Police officers, who told him he could remain in the audience, but could not participate as a board member.

Two of the state's witnesses in Portlock's case are school system employees. Two police officers involved are school resource officers, who are provided to the district through a contract with the Clayton County Police Department.

"If the court allowed Mr. King to continue representing his client, then Mr. Portlock might, and ought to, have concerns about his attorney's competing interests," Cowen said.

Portlock has been charged with obstructing an officer, public drunkenness, simple assault, and disorderly conduct, stemming from a January 2008 incident at Northcutt Elementary School, in which two school resources officers questioned students from North Clayton High School about reports that high school students planned to fight a student from North Clayton Middle School.

Portlock said he was "just trying to help the kids" when he stopped his car to tell the students to not answer questions from the officers.

On Monday, Portlock said King was his representative on the school board, so he called him in late January of this year to discuss the incident.

"He offered to represent me," Portlock said.

Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley argued Monday morning that King should not be allowed to represent Portlock because King could have access to personnel records for two of her witnesses. She also argued King could use his position to fire or demote them during contract re-appointments this spring.

King countered by arguing he had no authority as an individual board member to gather information about school system employees.

"The state has the burden to prove, not just allege, there is a conflict, and not just allege knowledge of personal information," King said.

Mosley argued, and Cowen agreed, that King's representation of Portlock opened the door for potential violations of State Bar of Georgia rule 1.11, which forbids attorneys who are also government officials, from using their elected position to help them win a legal case.

Mosley cited comments King made Feb. 21 to the Clayton News Daily, about abstaining from votes dealing with the employment of a North Clayton Middle School assistant principal this spring, because the individual is a witness in the Portlock case.

"The state contends even if he abstains, there will still be pressure on the witnesses to give testimony that is favorable to their employer," Mosley said.

Cowen decided King's position on the school board could allow him access to personnel files for the witnesses. She also said his role as a board member put him in a position to punish witnesses who worked for the school system.

Portlock, who sat at the defense table during the motion hearing, turned his chair to look away from Cowen after she announced her ruling.

"Ain't no justice," Portlock said as he faced the courtroom's gallery, which was full of people waiting to face Cowen in unrelated cases.

King later said he will appeal Cowen's decision, but he did not say when.