Is in Atlanta Law Firm committing retaliation for a father and his attorney speaking out against corruption? You be the judge….
The law firm Meriwether & Tharp seeking more than $54,000 from a court order that was vacated two-and-a-half years ago and there has been no further activity in the case since that time.
On Tuesday, April 24, 2018, I held a press conference on behalf of “Justice for Fulton Families” to address what appears to be possible widespread corruption and unethical behavior by judges and attorneys in the Fulton County Family Court division. Attorney Amy McDougal, who represents Joel Dallow, cellist with the Atlanta Symphony, spoke out about the concerns he had in finding justice in the courtroom of now Retired Judge Bensonetta Lane, and the major challenges arising from Meriwether & Tharp who represents Mr. Dallow’s former spouse, Mary Ellen Dallow, an ER nurse at Northside Hospital.
McDougal spoke specifically about the challenge of confronting unethical and dysfunctional litigation issues in a manner that avoids retaliation from the court and opposing counsel: “Typical with whistle blowers, there’s a fear. There’s a fear of retaliation — Of what may come in the case. So there was real fear, at least on my client’s part. I can’t speak for anyone else on stepping forward and bringing some of these complaints, because the lawyers do get threatened too. I was threatened through the course of my representation of Mr. Dallow. They threaten your bar license,” Amy McDougal.
On May 4, 2018, just ten days after the above was aired on Fox5 Atlanta, Todd Orston and Lisa Chambers of Meriwether & Tharp, filed an affidavit with the court (now Judge Belinda Edwards) in an attempt to pressure Mr. Dallow into paying over $46,000 in attorneys fees he does not owe. The defective order Meriwether & Tharp seeks to enforce was so fraught with errors that Judge Lane subsequently entered an order vacating the award just 30 days after it was issued. Her law clerk, Shatorree Bates was personally involved with both orders.
Meriwether & Tharp hired Bates in January 2017 right after her term as law clerk. Based off new evidence and information, it appears that Meriwether & Tharp, counsel to Joel Dallow’s ex-wife, and Shatorree Bates, former staff attorney to Judge Lane of Fulton County, have broken Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.12(c)(1) and (2), by failing to implement screening mechanisms and failing to notify the Court of the conflict, so it can supervise compliance with these rules.
The Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct govern the conduct of all licensed attorneys, including specific rules that prohibit attorneys from continuing representation of their clients if their firm hires a law clerk who was personally involved in the client’s case. In that situation, all law firm attorneys are disqualified from acting in the case. This rule does not appear to have prevented Orston and Chambers from writing letters to Dallow threatening contempt and pursuing an order to seize Dallow’s property to satisfy a fees order that was so defective, the court had vacated it.
Dallow’s attorney declined to comment on the case, citing the GA Rules of Professional Conduct limit her ability to comment, but she has filed a motion to disqualify the firm and a motion to strike the affidavit based on the fact that Meriwether & Tharp hired Bates and may not have complied with court and bar ethics rules.
There had been no activity in the trial court on this case for two and half years until McDougal spoke out about what she observed in Judge Lane’s courtroom, including Orston’s ex-parte communication with Judge Lane on two separate occasions.
Bates’ involvement in the recent filing is unknown. In a “divorce radio” podcast “7 Tips from Behind the Bench,” available publicly on the Meriwether & Tharp website, Leh Meriwether and Orston introduce Bates and announce she joined their firm in January 2017. Bates was also listed as an attorney with Meriwether & Tharp at a Georgia State Bar presentation in October 2017.
Bates maintains a website for “Bates Law Firm LLC.” Fulton County online court filings show she has handled cases as “Bates Law Firm LLC.” However, the Georgia corporations division shows that firm was involuntarily dissolved in December 2016 and its certificate of authority revoked. The full extent and nature of the relationship Bates has had or currently has with Meriwether & Tharp remains unclear.
Background on Dallow v Dallow:
In April of 2014, the parties divorced and mediated their parenting plan and settlement agreement. Mr. Dallow’s former spouse immediately began a campaign of contempt of various portions of the court’s final decree of divorce including property division and Mr. Dallow’s parenting time. The parties had agreed to share joint custody of their 14 year old child, with an equal visitation schedule. After several frustrating months of interference with his visitation, in August, 2014, Mr. Dallow filed a motion in court for contempt of the divorce decree. His former spouse evaded process of service for nearly three months, thereby missing the originally scheduled court date. In the interim, she filed a motion to eliminate the parenting schedule entirely, requiring the parties’ child sign an affidavit that she wanted a different schedule even though neither the child nor her mother had never complied with the agreed upon schedule. Dallow believed this was in retaliation for his contempt action.
In two hearings held 5 months apart in 2015, Ms. Dallow was found in contempt for eight violations of the final decree of divorce, including locking Mr. Dallow out of his home without authority, failing to give him access to his property, failing to confer on major issues regarding the parties’ children, trespassing in his home, and repeated instances where she withheld and interfered with Mr. Dallow’s parenting time such as picking the child up from Mr. Dallow’s house before dawn so that when he awoke, she was gone, and refusing to provide the address after dropping the child off at a friend’s house.
Even after finding Ms. Dallow in chronic contempt of the decree, Judge Lane eliminated the entire parenting schedule for Mr. Dallow and his youngest child and then ordered Mr. Dallow to pay all of Ms. Dallow’s attorney’s fees. Because of the many legal errors in the order that were identified by McDougal, Judge Lane subsequently vacated the order with Bates assistance and support. This vacated order is the order Chambers and Orston seek to enforce, even after their association with Bates.