ATLANTA – An Atlanta law firm that is representing state Attorney General Darrell McGraw’s office in litigation is experiencing a nasty breakup.
Partners in the firm Cook, Hall & Lampros are fighting it out in a lawsuit filed in Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court by Edward Cook, who is the nephew by marriage of Warren McGraw. McGraw is a former state Supreme Court justice and the brother of Darrell McGraw, the state’s outgoing attorney general.
Cook’s complaint says Christopher Hall and Andrew Lampros have frozen him out of the firm and are settling his cases. Hall and Lampros filed a counterclaim on Nov. 6.
They claim Cook, who had exclusive control of the firm’s finances over the past nine years, filed his complaint as a preemptive move in the face of evidence of his misconduct.
“Contrary to the conclusory assertions in the complaint, (Hall and Lampros) have never misappropriated funds or taken firm distributions since confronting Cook with his misdeeds,” the answer/counterclaim of Hall and Lampros says.
“Instead, (Hall and Lampros), after discovering Cook’s and Cook PC’s misconduct described herein, took action to protect CHL and its clients by expelling Cook from the firm; investigating Cook’s misconduct; hiring a CPA to audit CHL’s (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts) account; foregoing distributions to ensure the firm’s IOLTA is fully funded; and taking other appropriate action.”
Darrell McGraw hired Cook’s firm at least twice while in office. The first was in 2001, when Cook was working at Provost Umphrey, for a case involving the law firm Steptoe & Johnson.
The second time, McGraw hired Cook, Hall & Lampros for a case against Bank of America.
In McGraw’s last three election years, members of the firm donated a total of $28,000 -- $8,000 this year, $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 alleges that Hall and Lampros have barred him from the office and disparaged him to his clients.
Hall and Lampros allege in August that 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.
Hall and Lampros say 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 says.
A subsequent audit revealed that Cook was transferring firm funds to the IOLTA, the counterclaim says. Those transfers included more than $288,000 in 2010.
In 2012, the counterclaim says, 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 says 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 like 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 says.
Some of those instances, the counterclaim says, 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 says.
Cook then told his partners that the flood case would not result in any attorneys fees or expenses paid, Hall and Lampros claim.
Darrell McGraw lost his bid for a sixth term on Nov. 6. Republican Patrick Morrisey will take over in January.