Originally created 05/04/04

Court votes to disbar attorney



ATLANTA - The Georgia Supreme Court disbarred an Augusta attorney Monday for improperly borrowing $120,000 a client was managing to help finance an emu farm, which failed.

Dietrich W. Oellerich Jr., a former municipal judge in Hephzibah and Blythe, will ask the state's highest court to reconsider his disbarment, said Mr. Oellerich's lawyer, Victor Hawk.

The state's highest court voted unanimously to withdraw the law license from Mr. Oellerich for borrowing money from an estate a client managed without a written disclosure of the conflict of interest.

Mr. Hawk said Monday that Mr. Oellerich did disclose the conflict more than once but not on a special form. He said the Supreme Court had never before required a specific form for disclosure.

"Previous decisions of the Supreme Court said it should be in writing but not that it must be in writing," Mr. Hawk said.

Mr. Oellerich agreed to interest 3 percent above the prime rate on the loan that amounted to about a third of the estate his client was executor of. But he said it didn't need to be secured by collateral, according to the court.

A year later, changes in federal regulations knocked the bottom out of emu prices, Mr. Hawk said, forcing Mr. Oellerich to sell all of his belongings except his house and to eventually file for bankruptcy.

He didn't repay the unsecured loan.

Mr. Oellerich's wife, Donna, said he hasn't practiced law in about five years other than for some clients he helped for free as part of his ministry, Pebbles in the Sea Ministry.

The University of Georgia graduate has long been active in community affairs. In 1990, he was a charter member of the Hephzibah Lions Club.

In 1997, he was appointed to the Augusta Riverfront Development Review Council. That same year, he sued the Richmond County Board of Education over records relating to the construction of Cross Creek High School in south Augusta, which he believed was to be too close to chemical plants, according to published reports.

The court noted that there were no previous complaints about his professionalism.

"With regard to the appropriate sanction, the mitigating factors include the fact that Mr. Oellerich has no prior disciplinary record, that he has been cooperative in this disciplinary proceeding, and that he has a good character and reputation," the court writes.

"The aggravating factors are that he refuses to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct and that he has been indifferent about making restitution to the estate."

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.