John Michael Spainpleaded receives harsh reprimand for harassing communications with opposing counsel in divorce battle.
Divorce battles are often heated, and it can be difficult for the parties to stay cool, calm and collected as important decisions regarding either’s livelihood are being made, particularly if there are numerous assets on the line or the once-couple is fighting over custody of minor children. The court can be harsh at times. At each turn, when one wins, the other loses. It’s all give and take. An attorney should know that better than anyone. However, it’s hard even for lawyers to reject the urge to lash out at their opponents sometimes.
An Atlanta bankruptcy attorney, John Michael Spain, has pleaded non contest to misdemeanor charges of stalking and harassing communications in connection with emails sent to his opposing counsel in a divorce battle. Spain sent the emails over two days during the divorce. The attorney “admits that the emails included inappropriate threatening language, intimidation and personal attacks directed at opposing counsel, including inappropriate remarks about counsel and members of her family, and ad hominem statements about his wife”. Spain initially decided to represent himself in the matter, but has since retained an attorney.
Spain’s ex-wife’s lawyer, Catherine Sanderson, stated of law enforcement’s reaction to reading the emails, “They were definitely beyond pale. I’ve been practicing law a long time. I’ve never had anybody behave the way he behaved.” The exact comments they claim to have been so harsh were not disclosed.
Spain became a member of the Georgia Bar in 1999, the same Bar that ultimately recommended a reprimand for his actions to include one year of probation on each count, to be served consecutively. He has no prior disciplinary actions on his record, and stated that he has sought professional help for his emotional distress. He was acting on pure emotion as a result of an especially traumatic situation.
Spain stated he wishes he could take everything back, and he would be willing to accept a public reprimand. The court said Spain “is deeply remorseful and recognizes that his conduct was contrary to his professional obligations and longstanding personal values, and he wishes he could reverse his actions.” The final decision was made primarily based on Spain’s long career in law. A harsher verdict would have a severely negative impact on his livelihood. Given this, the court believed it entered a fair and just decision.
The Georgia Supreme Court has rejected the Bar’s reprimand request, however, citing that never was there such a lenient solution to such serious allegations, even if the offender is an attorney. The Court felt that Spain should receive just as harsh of a punishment as anyone else. The Supreme Court specifically cited, “Having reviewed the record as a whole, we disagree with Spain’s and the State Bar’s recommendation that a Review Panel or public reprimand is an appropriate sanction for his Rule 8.4 (a) (3) violation. Accordingly, this Court rejects Spain’s petition for voluntary discipline.” The Supreme Court will need to determine a more appropriate route to take.