Legal woes piling up for Georgia Democratic Party chairman

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LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — Legal woes are piling up for the leader of Georgia’s Democratic Party.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a lawsuit filed in Gwinnett County this week accuses Mike Berlon of failing to distribute nearly $1 million from a trust he created for a friend and his son. Earlier this week, the Georgia Supreme Court accepted Berlon’s petition for voluntary discipline for violating legal ethics rules in a child support case.

“It’s an occupational hazard of being a lawyer,” Berlon told the newspaper. “Sometimes people aren’t going to be happy.”

The lawsuit in Gwinnett was filed by Raymond Hines. He hired Berlon to establish a trust in his wife’s name after she died in 2003. Hines and his son said they put about $960,000 into the trust but never heard back from Berlon after repeated attempts to reach him.

Berlon told the newspaper the lawsuit resulted from a miscommunication. He said he put the money in long-term investments and hopes to reach a settlement with Hines by next week. Hines’ lawyer Brian Deutsch said negotiations had been started.

The lawsuit also said “other individuals may have claims” against Berlon because his legal license was suspended. A client seeking his advice filed a complaint against him with the Georgia State Bar when he said he couldn’t represent her, he said. The Bar apparently didn’t receive the response, which led to his automatic suspension, he said.

“It had nothing to do with any ethical violations, it was procedural,” Berlon said. “Frankly, I should have been smarter than that. I’ve been practicing 22 years and don’t really get involved in many Bar complaints. I assumed if they didn’t have the paperwork they would call.”

Berlon, who’s led the state Democratic Party since 2011, is also under fire over financial reports that show the organization has about $30,000 on hand as it tries to recruit a candidate who can mount a strong fight for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. The state Republicans have about 20 times that amount.

“I’m doing the best job I can as chair of the Democratic Party, and my private practice has nothing to do with that,” Berlon said. “I still have two years on my term and I intend to serve it out.”

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