Mike Berlon’s legal career is over. His legal issues are not.
The Georgia Supreme Court accepted Monday a voluntary surrender of license from Berlon, a former chairman of Georgia’s Democratic party who practiced law out of Gwinnett. The move is tantamount to disbarment.
Though several separate issues — including a possible federal investigation — remain in play, the end of Berlon’s career as an attorney is based on his alleged mishandling of a medical malpractice case that began in June 2010. The opinion released Monday by the Supreme Court said that, in addition to the original offenses involving the malpractice case, Berlon’s responses to the complaint with the state bar “contained factual misrepresentations.”
“Although Berlon was concerned that the statute of limitations had expired (in the malpractice case), he did not inform the client of his concern,” the opinion said. “Instead he told her he believed there was sufficient time in which to file an action and falsely led her to believe that he was actively working on the case by sending a demand letter, contacting expert witnesses, and preparing to file an action.”
“Berlon did not accurately advise the client of the status of her case through early 2012 and never filed an action on her behalf.”
Berlon had been chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party until last summer, when he received an original reprimand from the supreme court and was pressured to resign by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Reached Monday, Berlon called the surrender of his license “the right thing to do.”
“There’s really no other side of the story to tell,” he said. “My office was hired to handle a malpractice case for somebody and basically we didn’t get it right. I’m ultimately responsible for that.”
“We just missed it,” he added. “There were some errors that were made.”
Several weeks after allegations in that case became public, Berlon reached an unrelated settlement to reimburse two former clients just over $1 million that he reportedly received in order to establish an estate trust. Berlon is accused of using the money for personal use.
The Daily Report, a Fulton County-based legal publication, reported in April that the funds had not yet been returned. Berlon declined to comment specifically on that case but referenced his firm’s bankruptcy and said he and the plaintiff, a former employee of his law firm, were friends.
“There’s a lot more to it,” Berlon said. “I’m confident that once we get through the entire process that this is all going to work out.”
The Daily Report also reported in April that Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter was investigating Berlon based on unspecified criminal allegations. The now-former attorney said he’s never been contacted by the district attorney’s office, and the Daily Post has learned one possible explanation — any probe underway would likely be happening on a federal level.
“The (state bar) also contacted the U.S. Attorney so when they started, we stepped aside,” Porter said in an email Tuesday.
Attempts to confirm that the U.S. Attorneys Office in Atlanta is — or was — investigating Berlon were unsuccessful. A Department of Justice spokesman did not respond to inquiries Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Berlon said he will likely petition to be readmitted to the state bar at “some point in the future” but, in the meantime, he’s received “offers to do a lot of different things.”