Bill Rankin's Legal Brief

The AJC's blog about the courts, crime and law

Long-time, high-profile attorney surrenders law license amid probe

Over the past four decades, Atlanta lawyer Tony Axam has been in the thick of some of the most high-profile court cases in Atlanta history. He was regarded for being a quick-thinker in the courtroom, such as when he deftly cross-examined a key witness or gave an impassioned closing argument before the jury.

Among Axam's past clients were civil rights leader and former state Sen. Julian Bond; former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis; former Atlanta City Councilman Ira Jackson; civil rights firebrand Hosea Williams; and Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown. In 2013, he defended ex-DeKalb County schools chief operating officer Pat Reid, who was convicted of corruption charges.

But Axam stopped practicing law altogether on Monday when the Georgia Supreme Court accepted his surrender of his law license -- an act tantamount to disbarment.

After obtaining his law degree from Duke University, Axam began practicing law in Georgia in 1974. His exit from the legal scene ends a State Bar of Georgia ethics investigation that began in April 2011.

The state Supreme Court's opinion issued Monday said that Axam agreed in 2010 to act as a "paymaster" for a client in which he would receive $5,000 for each transaction he facilitated. In August 2010, an individual, at the direction of Axam's client, sent a wire transfer of $100,000 to Axam's operating account.

At that time, the opinion said, Axam did not maintain a trust account, and he used his operating

account to handle both the business of his law practice and his personal funds. A few days after receiving the $100,000, Axam disbursed the funds as directed by his client and kept $5,000 for himself as a transaction fee.

"Although the individual who had directed the transfer to Axam specifically requested that he be notified of the disbursement of the funds, Axam failed to notify him," the court said. "That individual later contacted Axam and repeatedly requested documentation of the disbursement, but Axam failed to provide an accounting or otherwise to document the disbursement of the funds until after the individual filed a grievance."

The court noted that Axam admitted that he violated two State Bar ethics rules: he failed to hold client funds in an account separate from his own personal account and failed to maintain a client trust account. Both of these violations subject a lawyer to disbarment.

In May, Danielle Roberts, a Decatur lawyer representing Axam, filed a motion before the state Supreme Court that detailed Axam's admissions.

"(Axam) acknowledged that disciplinary action is warranted in this matter and respectfully requests that the voluntary surrender of his license be accepted and recommended as the appropriate resolution to this matter," Roberts' filing said.

On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court took Axam up on his offer.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Bill Rankin covers criminal justice for the Enterprise team.