Columbus murder trial cut short on first day as attorney Michael Eddings is disbarred

·5 min read
Mike Haskey/mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

Columbus defense attorney Michael Eddings was in court ready to represent a suspect in a murder trial Tuesday when the judge announced that he had been disbarred that same morning.

The trial in the 2019 slaying of Stanford Jones was postponed so Eddings’ client can hire new counsel, and Eddings was furious, blaming District Attorney Stacey Jackson for his predicament.

Jackson was a defense attorney when he and Eddings clashed over Eddings’ questioning a witness that Jackson represented. Speaking to another lawyer’s client without permission violates rules of the Georgia Bar Association, and Eddings faced disciplinary action for it, though he maintained Tuesday that he had sought Jackson’s OK at the time and that Jackson had agreed.

Eddings’ notice of disbarment, which bears Tuesday’s date, gave these reasons for the court’s action: false statements to a disciplinary tribunal; false statements to third persons in connection with the representation of a client; communications with persons already represented by counsel; false statements in connection with a disciplinary proceeding; and dishonesty in professional conduct.

The court’s decision noted Eddings was previously disciplined for questioning other attorneys’ clients without permission, once on July 19, 2013, and again on June 9, 2014. In a public reprimand, he was ordered never to violate the rule again, and he promised he would not.

Eddings’ dispute with Jackson involved Adrian Devon Patterson, who a jury in 2018 acquitted in the Nov. 5, 2014, fatal shooting of Robert Earl Bolden during an alleged drug deal in Columbus’ Oakland Park neighborhood. Patteron’s cousin Gary Lee Jones Jr. was also charged in that case, but acquitted in a separate trial in 2017.

Jackson, who represented Patterson, alleged Eddings recorded a July 22, 2017, interview with his client without Jackson’s permission. Eddings, who had represented Jones Jr., said at the time he did not need Jackson’s permission because Patterson had not yet been charged with murder. At the time, Patterson was a witness for the prosecution, expected to testify against Jones Jr..

Jones Jr. was charged with murder on Jan. 18, 2015, and acquitted of all charges on Dec. 1, 2017, after testifying that Patterson shot Bolden. Patterson was not charged with murder until Sept. 7, 2017, after he made incriminating statements to Eddings and Eddings shared that information with prosecutors.

Jackson believed Eddings got his client charged with murder, to defect blame from Jones Jr. A jury acquitted Patterson on May 22, 2018.

Jackson is no longer a defense attorney, having been sworn in as the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit district attorney in May, following his appointment by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Blaming Jackson for his disbarment, Eddings said Tuesday that he had a conference call with Jackson on June 30, 2017, in the presence of witnesses, and told Jackson then that he wanted to question Patterson. Jackson did not object, he said.

He called Jackson a liar. “He lied to the Supreme Court and put me in this position,” he told Superior Court Judge Gil McBride, after McBride told him in open court he had been disbarred. Eddings, who had not yet been notified, was caught off guard.

Outside the courtroom, Eddings gave his account of contacting Jackson in 2017.

“The truth is, he did speak with me, and I did call him, and I did ask him for his consent,” Eddings said of the conference call. “There were five witnesses to this, including my wife, Mrs. Eddings. He called her a liar. He’s called the witnesses who heard me asking for consent a liar, and he took this to the bar. And it’s malicious. It was done intentionally.”

Eddings’ wife Cynthia said she could corroborate her husband’s account.

But the Supreme Court did not accept that. It noted that Eddings, under oath at Patterson’s 2018 trial, testified that he did not believe he needed Jackson’s permission to speak with Patterson and that he was never able to reach Jackson to notify him, anyway.

“I never got a response from you one way or the other, and he was not your client for the murder charge,” Eddings testified when Jackson cross-examined him.

According to the disbarment notice and explanation of the Supreme Court decision, Eddings sent the trial judge and attorneys an email the next day, saying he’d forgotten he’d spoken with Jackson to get Jackson’s OK to question Patterson.

Eddings had his conference-call witnesses testify for his disciplinary hearings, regarding his interactions with Jackson, but they were found to be not credible. The Supreme Court found he violated a bar rule “by repeatedly making false disavowals of his sworn trial testimony and enlisting witnesses to repeat his false statements under oath.”

Jackson on Tuesday refused to address Eddings’ accusations directly.

“The only thing I’ll say is that the Supreme Court gave a very detailed opinion, and the opinion speaks for itself,” he said.

Eddings was unsure Tuesday whether he had any recourse to appeal or otherwise remedy his disbarment, which he said will affect thousands of clients who’ve engaged his services. He has been a member of the bar since 2002.

As a real estate attorney, Eddings was threatened with disbarment in 2016, after revelations that up to $2.3 million had been pilfered from an office trust account from 2007 to 2011. Instead of disbarment, he was publicly reprimanded after blaming the theft on his former wife Sonya Eddings, his office manager, who pleaded guilty.

Eddings was reprimanded for failing to properly supervise his wife and for failing to maintain the trust account.

This week he was to represent Jeffery Flakes Jr., charged with murder and other felonies in a trial that has now been postponed. Flakes told McBride that he would like to hire another private attorney.

McBride reset the case for trial on Oct. 24, with a pretrial motions hearing on Oct. 4. McBride also said he will docket Flakes’ next hearing for Sept. 9, to see if he has retained a new lawyer yet.