A state review board within the Georgia State Bar recommended that a former district attorney be suspended from practicing law for a period of six months.
The Georgia State Bar has filed a formal complaint against the former Augusta Judicial Circuit prosecutor Nathalie Paine for his handling of a three-defendant murder case several years ago. Paine, a Republican, was ousted from political office in 2020 by Democrat Jared Williams, but continues to work as a prosecutor in the new Columbia County Judiciary Circuit.
The allegations against her argue that she violated procedural and criminal laws in her handling of the case, which involved recorded conversations of the defendants with their attorney. In early 2022, a special master released a report finding no wrongdoing on Paine’s part, but an eight-person appellate review instead said she should be punished. This body recommended the suspension of Paine’s law license for six months.
Paine “made inconsistent and contradictory statements regarding her knowledge of the unconstitutional tactics used against those she prosecuted.”
The complaint stems from the way Paine treated Georgia State vs. William Krepps, Vaughn Austin Verdi and Emily Stephens in the Richmond County Superior Court.
According to documents filed in the Georgia Supreme Court, Paine advised the defendant’s attorney to let him know that the defendant would be transferred from the jail to the sheriff’s office for questioning. The attorney told Paine the transportation was not necessary because his client was not interested in speaking with the police. Paine then texted to let him know that the accused had been transported for questioning anyway. The attorney quickly drove to the sheriff’s office to intervene where she was met by Paine and an investigator. She asked to speak with her client and verified that the conversation would not be recorded. The conversation between the lawyer and the defendant, however, was recorded and then sent to Paine.
On the same day, another lawyer for a co-accused met his client at the office, at which time their conversation was also recorded.
In the criminal case against the defendants, the trial court judge deleted the recordings on the grounds that they were the product of “scandalous abuse of statutory and constitutional law”. The judge concluded that the recordings:
- violated the Sixth Amendment;
- violated attorney-client privilege; and
- were made in violation of OCGA § 16-11-62, a criminal offense statute that specifically prohibits the recording of conversations between a defendant and his attorney in a facility in which persons accused of a crime are incarcerated.
The Georgia State Bar alleges Paine violated:
- Rule 3.4(g) — the lawyer must not use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the rights of the opposing party or of the lawyer;
- Rule 4.2 — the lawyer must not communicate with the represented person without the consent of another lawyer;
- Rule 8.1 — the lawyer must not make a false statement in the context of a disciplinary case; and
- Rule 8.4(a)(l) — the lawyer must not attempt to break a Rule, help another to break a Rule, induce another to break a Rule or break a Rule by the acts of another.
Paine is represented by Atlanta attorney Brian Steelwhich also represents Young thug in a Fulton county and Nathan Weekes, the GDC inmate charged for his role in the botched murder of a prison officer in Tattnall County.
In response to the allegations, Paine’s attorney claimed that Paine was not present for the alleged misconduct and was unaware of any statement that the defendants should not be transported. He also said the investigator was “unaware” that the technology was still collecting video and sound recordings of interrogation rooms when the volume was turned down for someone observing in real time. Steel said Paine had no knowledge of the recordings, their existence or their distribution.
Steel wrote in his brief that Paine was unaware that attorney-client conversations were recorded and shared and that Paine allocated $40,000.00 from the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office budget to acquire and implement a new system at the sheriff’s office.
He said she was not guilty because the sheriff’s office provided her with the discs and she copied them for others without ever seeing them again.
Timeline of lawsuits against Paine
February 21, 2020 –The State Disciplinary Board has found probable cause that Natalie Paine violated 4 rules of Georgia’s Rules of Professional Conduct.
January 14, 2021 –Georgia State Bar attorney William Van Hearnburg Jr. requests that a special master be appointed by the Georgia Supreme Court to handle Paine’s disciplinary case. State Bar is also filing a 12-page formal complaint against Paine. Read the complaint here.
January 15, 2021 — SCOGA appoints Patrick Head as Special Master. Head, a Republican, served as a district attorney in Cobb County until 2012, when he retired.
January 28, 2021 – Paine is informed of the appointment of a special master, the official complaint of the State Bar of Georgia and the intention to prosecute under the rules of the bar of Georgia.
January 29, 2021 — Paine retains Atlanta attorney Brian Steel to represent her.
March 26, 2021 — Head enters a planning order with a number of deadlines for both parties. He schedules an evidentiary hearing at the Georgia State Bar at the end of all other proceedings in 10 months – February 1, 2022.
January 19, 2022 –Steel files a motion to exclude any evidence of alleged communication with a party represented by a non-attorney without the knowledge of former district attorney Natalie Paine. Steel argues that the state bar need not consider whether law enforcement officers had contact with a represented party unless the law enforcement officer has was ordered by Paine to do so.
February 14, 2022 – The Georgia State Bar opposes the motion to exclude evidence, saying it is all relevant and should be heard at trial.
March 6, 2022 — Special Master Patrick Head publishes his report and recommendations. Its report says the audio and video recording of attorney-client conversations that took place in this case was “reprehensible, outrageous, and all the other adjectives that can define such egregious conduct.”
But it concludes that Paine “did not violate any of Georgia’s ethics rules, as alleged in the formal complaint” and recommended that the formal complaint against Natalie Spiers Paine be dismissed. Read the Special Master’s report here.
April 5, 2022 – The Georgia State Bar files a request for review and exceptions to the report and recommendation of the Georgia State Bar Review Board. Under state bar rules, the Review Board “may overrule the Special Master’s findings of fact if they are clearly or manifestly in error.”
Attorney Van Hearnburg alleges that Paine “lied twice during the disciplinary process. The brief specifically states that Paine knew the exhibits were being taped because, by her own account, she was in the CID unit of the office of the sheriff almost daily and had watched “thousands of hours” of interrogations.
Additionally, on several occasions, Paine said she personally copied the videos to distribute to other parties in the case, the brief states. Van Hearnburg contends that the attorney-client meetings would not have taken place, been recorded, copied and distributed without Paine’s participation.
He demanded that Paine be publicly reprimanded for his actions.
May 5, 2022 – Paine’s lawyer files a statement opposing the appeal against the decision of the special prothonotary. He maintains that Paine was not the one who made copies of the videos. He argued that the decision of the special master “must stand”.
Read Georgia State Bar Review Application + Steel’s Response
August 5, 2022 – The State Disciplinary Review Board files a report with recommendations contrary to those of Special Master Patrick Head by means of an outright dismissal.
The conclusions of the report
Rule 3.4(g) — the lawyer must not use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the rights of the opposing party or the lawyer
- The review board wrote that it “refuses to adopt” the Special Master’s conclusion because it was “clearly erroneous”.
- They also wrote that “if the district attorney chose to rely on the sheriff’s office to redact [unconstitutional communication]and other similar conversations, she had a duty to confirm that they followed or, as here, to be held responsible for their failures.
Rule 4.2 — the lawyer must not communicate with the represented person without the consent of the other lawyer
- The review board agreed that the state bar had failed to prove a violation.
Rule 8.1 — the lawyer must not make a false statement in the context of a disciplinary case
- The review board, again, found that the Special Master’s conclusion was clearly erroneous because Paine had made multiple contradictory statements.
Rule 8.4(a)(l) — the lawyer must not attempt to break a Rule, help another to break a Rule, induce another to break a Rule or break a Rule by the acts of another.
- The review board agreed that the state bar had failed to prove a violation.
The Council later recommended a suspension of Paine’s attorney’s license for a period of six months. The vote was unanimous minus one abstention.
Read the full report here
However, the Council does not have the final say and the case will now go to the Supreme Court of Georgia for review.
paine Political links
Paine won the endorsement by Governor Brian Kemp weeks before the elections two years ago. After Paine’s defeat in November 2020, the Georgia Legislature created a new judicial circuit for Columbia County. The measure passed with an overwhelming majority despite allegations of fiscal irresponsibility, community opposition and the late introduction of the bill for the legislative session.
In April 2021, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Bobby Christine, a Republican and former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, to serve as district attorney for the new circuit. Paine was quickly hired to work for Christine and serves as his leader ADA. Kemp, in October 2021, nominated Paine to serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission.
Georgia State Bar Official Complaint
Special main report and recommendations
Request for Review (Special Main Report Appeal) + Paine Response
Report and Recommendation of the State Review Commission