ATLANTA – The Georgia State Bar has filed a formal complaint against a man with family and work ties to a former West Virginia Supreme Court justice and former state Attorney General.
On Jan. 31, a disciplinary proceedings complaint was filed against Edward Cook, who is a nephew by marriage of former Justice Warren McGraw, who now is a circuit judge in Wyoming County. Warren McGraw is the brother of former AG Darrell McGraw.
The complaint, filed by Assistant General Counsel Rebecca A. Hall with the State Bar of Georgia’s Office of the General Counsel, said Cook improperly made withdrawals from trust accounts for personal use from his former law firm’s accounts.
The State Bar complaint lists at least 16 such incidents from March 2010 to August 2012. Those alleged withdrawals total $754,493.
“The money was trust property,” the complaint states. “The money was not (Cook’s). Clients and third parties did not authorize (Cook) to incur these expenses. (Cook) did not account to clients and third parties when he removed the money.”
Cook filed a lawsuit in 2012 in Fulton County, Ga., against former law partners Christopher Hall and Andrew Lampros, alleging they have frozen him out of the firm and are settling his cases. Hall and Lampros filed a counterclaim claiming Cook, who had exclusive control of the firm’s finances over nine years, filed his complaint as a preemptive move in the face of evidence of his misconduct.
That case was settled in September, according to documents filed with Fulton County Superior Court. Terms were not disclosed.
The State Bar complaint alleges Cook charged one client $1,819 “regarding a golf course at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi.” Another was charged nearly $2,000 “for travel and entertainment,” more than $4,000 “for a private jet fee” and almost $1,400 for a charge at the Wine Cellar in Jacksonville, Fla.
It also says Cook charged one client $10,000 for expenses, yet the firm had only incurred about $6,500 in expenses on his case.
The Bar’s complaint says Cook didn’t inform his law partners of the personal use of firm funds.
Cook “directed the firm to play (his) personal, non-business related charges to his credit card,” the complaint states. “(Cook) directed the firm to pay him directly for personal, non-business related expenses.
“(Cook) took partnership distributions without the knowledge of his law partners. (Cook) took payments of attorneys’ fees and expenses that were intended for the law firm.”
It also says the law firm paid expenses for a baseball team.
“(Cook) collected payments from the members of the baseball team,” the complaint states. “Instead of providing this money to his law firm, (Cook) kept this money.”
It makes a similar allegation regarding an annual golf trip.
The State Bar complaint also says Cook made false statements about the money during an investigation.
Cook declined comment on State Bar petition. But one of his attorneys said it arises from the grievance filed by Hall and Lampros after Cook filed the lawsuit against them to sever his partnership ties and the law firm with them.
“This grievance was part of a litigation strategy,” wrote Kim M. Jackson, an attorney with Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young in Atlanta. “Now that the Bar is involved, it has filed the grievance accepting as true the allegations of Mr. Hall and Mr. Lampros.
“We have reviewed the allegations carefully, and they are without merit. The Bar has conducted no formal discovery into these allegations, and we are confident that once the allegations are vetted, the Bar will agree.
“Not one of Mr.Cook’s clients has filed a bar complaint against him, and Mr. Hall and Mr. Lampros have confirmed in writing that not one of the firm’s clients was ever denied any money to which he or she was entitled.”
Darrell McGraw hired Cook’s firm at least twice while he served as West Virginia’s Attorney General. The first was in 2001 on a case involving the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson when Cook was working at Provost Umphrey. The second time, McGraw hired Cook, Hall & Lampros for a case against Bank of America.
In McGraw’s last three election years, members of that firm donated a total of $28,000 — $8,000 in 2012, $16,000 on in 2008 and $4,000 in 2004.
McGraw’s lawsuit against Bank of America names 24 other defendants and alleges a bid-rigging scheme in the municipal bond market. It is still pending in a multidistrict litigation proceeding.
Also representing the state are Charleston’s Berthold Tiano & O’Dell and DiTrapano Barrett & DiPiero, Philadelphia’s Spector, Roseman & Kodroff Will and Washington, D.C’s Heinrichson Siegel.
The lawsuit filed by Cook alleged that Hall and Lampros had barred him from the office and disparaged him to his clients.
Hall and Lampros alleged they discovered a check issued from the firm’s operating account, controlled by Cook, to the firm’s IOLTA, that was intended to replenish the IOLTA.
In their claim, Hall and Lampros said they became suspicious of other operating account transactions and decided they should limit Cook’s access to firm and client accounts.
The two opened a new operating account and IOLTA and told PNC Bank on Aug. 15 to freeze firm accounts. Cook then admitted the firm’s IOLTA was underfunded, the counterclaim said.
A subsequent audit revealed that Cook was transferring firm funds to the IOLTA, the counterclaim said. Those transfers included more than $288,000 in 2010.
In 2012, the counterclaim said, in additions to transfers to the IOLTA, Cook transferred $135,000 from the operating account to himself. On Aug. 15, after Cook disclosed the IOLTA underfunding, he refunded that amount.
The counterclaim said Cook spent hundreds of thousands of firm money to cover credit card charges. They include $289,642 to Bank of America, $180,528 to RBC, $173,297 to RBC and $289,273 to Advanta.
It also alleges he spent $147,630 of firm money for personal charges such as vacations, clothing and dinners.
“Hall and Lampros discovered that Cook directed that certain attorneys fees and expenses that were owed to CHL were to be paid to Cook personally or to Cook PC in order to avoid sharing said fees and/or expenses with (Hall and Lampros),” the counterclaim said.
Some of those instances, the counterclaim said, occurred in a West Virginia flood case and West Virginia asbestos cases.
Warren McGraw’s son Warren “Randolph” McGraw II, serving as local counsel on the flood case, paid the fees to Cook instead of the firm, the counterclaim said.
Cook then told his partners that the flood case would not result in any attorneys fees or expenses paid, Hall and Lampros claimed.