The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday was given 14 days to create a document specifying why Joe Neal Jr. should remain suspended from practicing law in the Southern District of Georgia.
The order from U.S. District Judges Dudley Bowen and Randal Hall followed an hourlong hearing in which Neal’s attorney, Tom Withers, argued his client was not granted certain privileges under the rules governing court procedure in the district.
“When we take action depriving a man of his livelihood, is it too much to ask to give him due notice and a list of charges?” Withers asked the court.
The federal judges had issued an order June 22 suspending Neal’s ability to represent clients in the Southern District.
Neal started serving three years’ probation in June after he accepted a plea bargain that reduced a felony rape charge to two misdemeanors: disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana. His guilty plea to the latter charge was recently changed to “no contest” after Neal said he was unaware his driver’s license would be suspended as a result.
He also pleaded guilty to furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of 21.
Neal and his ex-wife, Caroline Neal, were indicted on a charge of rape after a teenage baby sitter accused them of sexually assaulting her in December. Caroline Neal’s rape charge was dropped after she pleaded guilty to the alcohol charge for a sentence of one year of probation.
The judges said Wednesday that it was not the misdemeanors or probation that concerned them, but the underlying conduct.
Bowen said his concern is whether Neal followed his oath to conduct himself properly and whether the public and members of the federal bar were proud to identify Neal as an officer of the court.
The reason for suspending Neal is not a typical matter of conduct, such as dishonest dealings with a client or a personal matter such as alcoholism affecting the quality of a lawyer’s representation, Bowen said.
“Instead we are dealing with character,” he said.
The judges disagreed with Withers’ contention that Neal was not provided due notice and said his suspension should come as no surprise to someone familiar with the ethical standards expected of attorneys permitted to practice in federal court.
They said, however, that they wanted there to be no question about the fairness of the proceedings, either in the public’s eye or among attorneys of the federal bar, so they gave the U.S. Attorney’s Office two weeks to produce specific allegations of misconduct to which Neal could respond.
A hearing then will be scheduled to reconsider the suspension, which remains in place until then.