Beneath the law: Attorney under siege for 'ruining lives'
Author: Brendan Keefe, Jessica Noll
Published: 2:44 AM EST February 17, 2018
Updated: 3:12 PM EST March 9, 2018
INVESTIGATIONS 9 Articles
EXPLORE

Beneath the law: Attorney under siege for 'ruining lives'

INVESTIGATIONS
Chapter 1

'I swear that I will truly and honestly, justly and uprightly conduct myself as a member of this learned profession and in accordance with the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, as an attorney'

GRIFFIN, Ga. – The phone's message light blinks red on a Tuesday afternoon in Walter Moore's law office.

Case files and stacks of law books are strewn across the floor, amid liquor and wine boxes and a wrinkled yellow tie he wore to court… when he showed up.

Behind his office building, sits a dumpster full of more client files.

And Moore is nowhere to be found.

After failing to appear in court on behalf of his clients, numerous times, the 31-year-old suspended attorney has admitted to the State Bar of Georgia, who is calling for his disbarment, that he has a substance abuse problem.

But that outcome is too little, too late, according to his hundreds of outraged clients.

Countless police responses to his office and complaints filed by both employees and clients, indicate that Moore continued taking on new clients, bilking them out of thousands, long after the bar was told that there was a problem. In fact, since the bar's investigations are kept confidential, Moore was considered an attorney in "good standing," until recently.

His clients want justice and their money back.

But for now, they're left digging through the trash for answers.

UPDATE>>> Supreme Court disbars attorney, cites ‘selfish motive’ for misconduct

Chapter 2

Clients and confrontations

Griffin Police officers' body cams rolled as officers responded to Moore's law firm time after time, showing clients confronting Moore and demanding their money back for services that they say he didn't do.

One of those calls occurred on Aug. 2, 2017.

Moore defends himself, to police, against Jerry Boyack, a client's father who, he said, assaulted him.

“He actually paid the money; he’s not the client. He paid the money. The client that I actually represent is very happy with me. She’s totally cool. But since he actually forked over the money, he feels like he as an interest in it, and he can boss me around,” Moore tells police, as recorded on their body cam.

“On Monday they hire me; you do all the work, whatever,” Moore says to the officers. “On Thursday, all of a sudden, they get back together, they have sex, they’ve getting back together, there are kids there, everything’s great. Then they call us in Friday and say, ‘Hey, look, we’re getting back together, I want my money back.’ We can’t do that. My paralegals, me, we’ve already done all the work. We can’t help.”

During another altercation recorded by police, Moore tells a client that he plans to countersue him for money that he says he owes him.

“You owe me $1,500 by the way, and I will counter claim you for $1,500,” Moore says.

The client rebuts his claims to the officers.

“I don’t owe nothing. I didn’t have a contract with you, bro. I didn’t sign nothing. You were scatter-brained and didn’t have me sign a contract,” the client says. “I’ve been chasing this man down for two and half weeks, calling and calling."

On Jan. 22, 2018, he accuses yet another client, Erin Oliver, of stalking him after she demanded he give her, her case file. He promised he would give it to her within 72 hours, but did not.

“I mean, I’ve got clients pissed off, like her, wanting their file. But you can’t try to hit me with your car. You can’t stalk me, you can’t blow up my family. They can call the State Bar of Georgia. They’re more than welcome to,” Moore argues to police.

The officer recommends to Oliver that she contact the bar.

“The last thing you want to do is get caught up in a legal battle, especially with a lawyer,” the officer explains to her.

The Griffin Police Department has taken dozens of complaints from former clients. But for now, those complaints remain civil matters.

POLICE REPORTS |

Aug. 1, 2017 | Rocky Flynn tells police that Moore repeatedly declines his phone calls and is "avoiding contact.”

According to police, Moore refuses to talk and states that this is a civil matter to be handled in court.

Aug. 2, 2017 | Deidre Pope tells police that the business has been left unlocked for an extended period of time… sensitive information laid throughout the unlocked office with no one supervising the office… his phone number has been changed or blocked.

Aug. 2, 2017 | Police arrives at the Taylor Street office location, where they’re called for a battery case. They arrests a client, Jacob Boyack's father, Jerry Boyack, for simple assault/simple battery. Jerry says Moore pushed him first and he pushed back. Jerry is hospitalized for high heart rate after the incident.

Aug. 3, 2017 | Moore states Jacob Boyack came into his office demanding his $2,000 back for services that he claimed Moore had not completed. Jacob states that this is “an ongoing problem,” and accuses Moore of being a drug addict.

Jan. 22, 2018 | Erin Oliver tells police she paid Moore $2,275 for a temporary protective order against her ex-husband. In June of 2017, according to her, Moore did not show up to court. She was served with contempt paperwork and Moore never responded.

Jan. 23, 2018 | Eugene Baldwin tells police that he retained Moore in December 2016, but that Moore did not do any of the legal work for him.

Jan. 24, 2018 | Erin Oliver states that Moore had legal paperwork that she wants returned. Moore states that he did have the items, but was in the process of moving from his space. Moore says he would have the items ready for her in the next 72 hours.

Jan. 24, 2018 | Katrina Steward files a complaint at Griffin Police headquarters, stating that she paid Moore $3,500 but that he never filed her paperwork with the courts as promised. Moore told her that she would not get her money back.

Jan. 25, 2018 | Glenda Wright says that Moore has not rendered any legal services to her and that she has paid him more than $2,500.

Jan. 25, 2018 | Eloise Shackelford states that she gave Moore $3,600 but that he “failed to complete any task.”

The Bar’s Arbitration Committee awards her a reimbursement from Moore in the sum of $3,600. He does not pay.

Jan. 25, 2018 | Christopher Waldrip tells police that on April 6, 2017, he paid Moore $2,762, with receipts to prove so. To date, no paperwork has been filed on his behalf by Moore.

Jan. 25, 2018 | Gloria Skinner Russell tells police that “Moore has not fulfilled any of his contract,” after she paid him $962.50.

Documents also detail that Moore has two arrests for failure to appear in court for traffic violations, in Butts and Spalding counties.

Over the past several months, 911 calls poured into the Spalding County dispatch center about the attorney “robbing” them—and at least one call with Moore alleging assault by one of his disgruntled clients.

Dispatcher: “Spalding County 911, what’s your emergency?”

Caller No. 1: “He took my money… He robbed me.”

“Oh my God, I cannot believe this. And he’s a lawyer.”

_________________________________________________________________________________

Caller No. 2: “We’re at the Walter Moore attorney’s office.”

“There’s an office full of people, and he’s done run off with everybody’s money, and we would like the police to come up here.”

Dispatcher: “And you said he left with your money?”

“He took off, and evidently just took off with everybody’s money, including not paying the employees,” the caller says.

But, his clients were not the only ones calling 911. Moore, himself, called 911 on his clients as well.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Moore: “It’s my office, I’m a lawyer,” he says to the dispatch operator.

“He’s crazy, like, ‘Be careful, go get your son, protect him.’ He’s nuts and he just assaulted me and 10 people saw it.”

Dispatcher: “And you’re a lawyer?”

Moore: “Yeah, I’m a lawyer at the Moore Law Firm.”

When police arrive, Moore tells them that he wants to press charges.

Inside his cruiser, Lt. Jett gets on his phone.

“Yeah, he’s a victim,” Jett is overheard saying on his body cam's recording.

“Victim my ass!” the man on the other end of the line can be heard saying.

“You know, he’s saying he paid Walter $2,000 to do something and Walter didn’t do it. You know that’s all civil. You can’t put your hands on somebody,” Jett says on the phone.

Responding to something the person on the other line says, he retorts, “Oh yeah… He’s probably drunker than hell and high as a kite right now. You can kind of tell.”

“He’s got a suspended license already if you see him rolling,” Jett continues. “I understand the man’s an idiot. He’s a drunk. He’s a dope head, but he’s still a victim on this case.”

________________________________________________________________________________

Another caller arrives at the law firm on Dec. 7, 2017, to find the door unlocked, and the office vacant. Police are dispatched to the scene.

Griffin Police officers’ body cams capture an abandoned scene—Moore is nowhere to be found.

“The doors to the law firm are just wide open and nobody’s in here,” one officer says to the other as they enter the office. “It’s almost like somebody came in here and up and left.”

The phone rings.

Officer Stephany Allen answers the law firm's landline.

“Hello?”

“No ma’am, this is Officer Allen; they’re currently out of the office right now.”

It’s a client.

“Yes ma’am, we’re actually in the process of trying to figure out where he’s at, so that’s why I’m here answering the phone,” Allen relayed to the caller.

Hanging up the phone, the she looks over at the other officer and says, “Oh, Lordy... He’s in some trouble. He’s supposed to be at a plea thing today.”

“He’s got one at 1:30, too, he missed. The judge is waiting on him,” the officer continues relaying the phone call.

They marvel at the oddity of the empty office.

“The secretary, the lawyer, everything kind of just up and disappeared, randomly, like there’s keys to the building sitting on the desk. There’s personal paperwork everywhere.”

Chapter 3

Austin’s story

Moore's client, Austin Lemieux said that the attorney took advantage of him.

“We were totally taken advantage of from the beginning, needing this man’s help, playing him a flat rate retainer fee, and getting nothing in return. Just a disaster for us from the beginning.”

Lemieux hired Moore for his legal battles pertaining to custody of his children—paying him $2,500.

“We’re talking about people’s lives. Some people have lost custody of their children because of this,” he said. “We’re not talking about a lawyer who made some bad decisions. We’re talking about a lawyer who in some cases didn’t even show up.”

According to him, Moore did not show up for his hearing, nor did he file documents to the court on Lemieux’s behalf.

And because of his attorney’s no-show, his case was dismissed for failure to appear.

Lemieux said he has filed several complaints with the bar, but the result—until recently—had always been the same.

“They give excuses, 'Oh well, we’re investigating this situation.' 'Sir, you’re gonna have to wait 90 days… 30 days so we can investigative the situation.' All the while, all this time is going on, this man is out here, on a daily basis, scamming people,” he said.

“[Moore] needs to be stopped. He’s taken advantage of too many people. He’s ruined too many lives,” Lemieux argued. “This whole case needs to be brought to light. And he needs to be brought to justice.”

Aside from Moore, Lemieux blames the system for what happened to him. He didn’t just lose a couple thousand dollars, he said, he lost faith in the system.

“I feel betrayed. I feel disgusted…entrusting the legal system to do its job, from the attorney to the state bar, has failed us so many times,” he said.

Chapter 4

Former intern files complaint, alleges substance abuse

One of Moore’s former clients, Tonya Scruggs, also interned for him between August-November 2017—giving her a front-row seat to Moore's “very chaotic and dysfunctional environment that consisted of patterns of unprofessionalism, dishonesty, rudeness.”

On Jan. 8, 2018, she filed a request to the bar, for an audit for cause, because of his actions. According to her, Moore had more than 210 clients and collected over $365,000 for unfinished cases.

“He is constantly impaired, stealing money from families and ruining their lives,” she wrote in her request to the bar. “Mr. Moore appears to be embezzling money from his clients and has an addiction to purchasing and consuming alcohol and drugs. Mr. Moore would hire clients and demand full payments, then there would be nothing further done with the cases.”

Walter Moore in court. (Brendan Keefe / WXIA)
Walter Moore in court. (Brendan Keefe / WXIA)

Moore, she said, would purchase little bottles of alcohol from the liquor store down the road all throughout the day, stash them in his pockets and consume them, and often appearing in court impaired.

Walter Moore in court. (Brendan Keefe / WXIA)
Walter Moore in court. (Brendan Keefe / WXIA)
Walter Moore's office
Walter Moore's office

Scruggs also said that he alternated between three different phone numbers, making it hard to reach him. He did not pay the bills, according to her, and therefore the electricity was turned off in the office.

Furthermore, she observed him, on a daily basis, arriving late to the office or court, or not showing up at all. And his appearance was in disarray most days.

“He would come into the office with his shirt halfway tucked in, pants undone, wearing shoes with holes in them and did not comb his hair,” she told the bar.

Walter Moore in court. (Brendan Keefe / WXIA)
Walter Moore in court. (Brendan Keefe / WXIA)
Chapter 5

A son behind bars

Because of Moore, Heather O’Pry said, her 21-year-old son, Austin O’Pry, is behind bars, serving a 15-year sentence for burglary–a first offense that could have resulted in probation or time served.

“Walter wouldn’t show up for appointments; he wouldn’t return phone calls; he wouldn’t return text messages or emails,” Heather recalled. “Walter’s negligence is what got Austin the huge sentence.”

On a 15-year sentence, Austin will have to serve at least five of those, because he took a blind plea.

“He had taken off work to meet with Walter to go over the plea deal that Walter had going on. Walter never showed up, wouldn’t return Austin phone calls, so the day comes for court, and…” he was not prepared, she said.

Her son, who was 19 when he committed the crime, had no idea what to expect at that point because he never met with his attorney, she argued.

“Walter was a no-show, and the judge had gotten very angry… Walter comes stumbling in a couple of hours later, just oblivious to everything. Like it was just nonchalantly… just comes into like it was OK,” Heather remembered.

“We’re not saying Austin is innocent. He admitted to his guilt," she disclosed.

However, if Moore would have prepared her son more for his case, "Austin wouldn’t have gotten the stiff sentence that he was given,” she insisted.

To her, it was like he didn’t have an attorney at all.

“I would love to see him in a cell right beside my son, serving the same sentence if not harsher. Because he’s taken away from so many people. And I think Walter should pay for what he’s done.”

“We’ve lost our son. We’ve lost him,” she said.

And Austin has lost his own child.

He has never met his son, who turned 1 in November. Now, he’s watching his son grow up in photographs and from behind bars.

“Austin was let down by Walter Moore—his own attorney, that he paid for.”

It’s not just what Moore has done to her family, she said. It’s what the bar had failed to do for all of Moore’s clients—keeping him in “good standing” for so long, allowing him to take on new clients and billing them for services, he was allegedly not providing.

“The bar has not done its job—not done its job correctly.”

Chapter 6

Lying to the bar

Meg Shackelford believed that the green lettering on his page, reading, “In Good Standing,” meant that he was a good attorney.

“There was his name on his door, and an office, and a paralegal sitting there. I mean, I didn’t know that I was handing over my money and walking out like I just gave it to them,” she remembered.

But when he didn’t show up for her mediation, she knew something was wrong.

Shackelford filed a bar grievance in 2016 with the bar, however, it was closed and rejected when Moore told the bar that he had showed up to mediation and refunded her money–but, according to her, he did not.

During the bar’s fee arbitration panel hearing in February 2017, the panel asked Shackelford, she said, if she believed that Moore was on drugs.

“They asked me in my opinion as a nurse, did I think he could possibly be on drugs and if so what would it be?”

That panel hearing spurred the bar’s investigation into Moore beginning in March 2017. However, his status would remain in "good standing" during the bar's investigation.

“I would like to see him disbarred. And I would like to see the court hold him accountable just as if he was anybody else who’s done it,” Shackelford said.

Chapter 7

Moore suspended, admits to substance abuse

According to the bar documents, on Dec. 4, 2017, Moore’s notice of discipline for disbarment by the bar was filed. He had 30 days to respond, but did not.

The notice documented his failures to appear and failure to refund fees for not doing the work promised on numerous occasions. On March 31, 2017, Moore was turned over to the bar’s investigative panel, who determined that the appropriate disciplinary action should be disbarment.

The panel cited the following reasons:

  • Respondent acted willfully in collecting a free from the complainants then abandoned their legal matters.
  • Respondent acted with a selfish motive.
  • Respondent demonstrated a pattern of misconduct.
  • Respondent has multiple offenses.
  • Respondent has refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct.

State Bar of Georgia requests Walter Moore's disbarment

On Jan. 5, 2018, the General Counsel filed a petition for an emergency suspension.

Three weeks later, on Jan. 26, Moore agreed to a voluntary suspension, admitting to a substance abuse issue to the bar, stating, “I am requesting a suspension pending the resolution of the disciplinary matters pending against me and understand that I may not return to the practice of law until further order of this court.”

“My competency as an attorney is currently impaired due to substance abuse,” Moore stated in the voluntary petition.

He continued, “I will cease the practice of law and notify my clients how they can obtain their files… I will see assistance for my addiction problems immediately.”

Voluntary Suspension: Moore admits addiction

Walter Moore Suspension

Georgia Supreme Court File

Chapter 8

Showing up for court

Moore, who has been sued by two landlords, multiple clients, three former employees and his own father, who foreclosed on his house, did show up in court in Spalding County as a defendant after his landlord evicted him from the office in December 2017.

Walter Moore in court. (Brendan Keefe / WXIA)
Walter Moore in court. (Brendan Keefe / WXIA)

On Jan. 11, 2018, the court magistrate ordered a now-suspended Moore to pay $1,882 to his landlord, Burkhalter Fordham Properties. Moore mentions that had nearly 200 case files left behind at his office and needs to recover them.

“I would not put myself in jeopardy by leaving that on the street,” he said to the magistrate, who agreed that they should not be left curbside and abandoned.

At that time, the landlord argued that he wanted to hold those files until he was paid in full.

Moore argued that doing so would jeopardize his business his clients’ confidentiality.

“If I don’t have my files, I can’t work. So, it wouldn’t matter where I go, they have to come with me. Also, every client could sue me for breaching their confidentiality,” he said. “That puts me out of business. And I’m not going to be put out, whether you put me out because I don’t pay or whatever, I’m not going to be put out of business.”

Moore suggests that the landlord leave his files with his parents who reside nearby the office. But the magistrate doesn’t go for that haphazard suggestion.

But after being evicted and not paying his rent as ordered, he abandoned his office, leaving files unattended and scattered on the office floor, located at 605 W. Solomon St., in Griffin, Ga.; some were thrown in the trash behind the office and others somehow ended up with his parents.

Chapter 9

Where it stands

The now-suspended attorney's parents have started the process of returning case files to former clients. Some have lost their cases already, and one man had to represent himself in his divorce this week, because he could not afford another attorney. The bar has a security fund to reimburse clients, if Moore is disbarred by the State Supreme Court.

On Jan. 25, Chong Joo Kim was appointed as the bar’s special master to specifically look at Moore’s case.

11Alive’s Brendan Keefe attempted to interview Moore at the Spalding County courthouse earlier this year, but he refused to talk on the record at the courthouse, and ultimately referred him to his office. (Watch video below.)

When 11Alive went to his office at the time he suggested, he did not show.