Eddings fails to attend contempt of court hearing

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 23, 2013 

Embattled Columbus attorney Michael Eddings, already held in contempt by a Superior Court judge for witness tampering, failed to appear for a hearing Friday afternoon to explain why he had not paid a fine associated with the contempt.

Superior Court Judge William C. Rumer started the hearing on time, despite Eddings absence.

Rumer found Eddings in civil contempt of court July 15 for witness tampering in a pending criminal case and fined him $500 for obstructing the administration of justice. The fine was due at the conclusion of Gordon's case.

On July 29, Gordon, whom Eddings represented, was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison on three counts of armed robbery and one of using a firearm to commit a crime in the Aug. 22, 2012, robbery of La Mexicana restaurant and grocery at 3305 Victory Drive.

According to testimony in Friday's 20-minute hearing, Eddings paid the fine at 12:30 p.m. Friday, about three hours after being served notice by a District Attorney's office investigator to appear in Rumer's court.

Rumer scheduled another hearing for 4 p.m. Tuesday and stated from the bench that Eddings faced arrest if he failed to appear.

Because Eddings paid the fine after being served with notice of the hearing, Rumer said the matter of Eddings being in contempt is still before the court.

"He will appear or I will issue an order, have him arrested and brought before me," Rumer said.

The judge said he wanted to know if Eddings had an excuse for not paying the fine.

Chris Samra, an investigator for the District Attorney's office, served Eddings at Columbus Recorder's Court Friday morning.

Samra testified that Eddings told him he would not appear in court and called it "bulls---." A video of the conversation between Eddings and Samra was entered into evidence.

Eddings did not answer calls to his cellphone Friday.

Eddings legal troubles extend beyond the criminal contempt matter.

Once a high-profile real estate closing attorney, Eddings is the subject of an FBI investigation into a more than $1 million shortfall in his real estate closing account. The FBI has declined to comment on the investigation, but Lachon Trice, a former client who lost more than $50,000 after Eddings' trust account was frozen, said she has been cooperating with the federal authorities.

There was $472,949.34 in Eddings' trust account when Columbus Bank & Trust Company raised a legal red flag and asked for help from Muscogee County Superior Court on Oct. 27, 2011, when it appeared the account was going to be overdrawn. The case was sent to the federal courts.

Since then, there have been more than $1.5 million in claims from large banks, mortgage companies, individuals and real estate agents saying Eddings owes them money related to real estate transactions.

Eddings has repeatedly blamed his office manager and ex-wife, Sonya Eddings, for the issues with the trust account.

The State Bar of Georgia is moving forward with complaints against Eddings, said bar attorney William J. Cobb a week ago. Ten complaints alleging 34 violations of state bar rules have been filed against Eddings, and all of them stem from Eddings' real estate closing business.

Late last year, the Supreme Court appointed a special master to serve as judge, and the case against Eddings is still in litigation and entitled to due process, Cobb said.

But the contempt matter is the only time Eddings has been sanctioned by a court.

Eddings represented Gordon, 25, in the armed robbery case. The district attorney's office accused the attorney of trying to convince Gordon's codefendant Jamar Warner, who is represented by criminal defense attorney Susan Henderson, to go to trial rather than take a plea deal and testify against Gordon.

During the first contempt hearing in July, Eddings said he ended the conversation with Warner when Warner informed him Henderson was his lawyer.

"There was no intent on my part to corrupt a witness or turn a witness' testimony around," Eddings said at the time. "It is not in my interest to corrupt a witness. … He (Gordon) is a paying client, but he can't pay me that kind of money."

Warner testified that he had a 20 to 25 minute conversation with Eddings.

"He said, 'I want to talk to you off the record, man to man,'" Warner told the court. "He told me 'I feel like you should go to trial. We could put something together and both of you could walk out scot-free.'"

Gordon, Warner and Michael Johnson faced armed robbery charges in connection with the robbery of the La Mexicana. Johnson, 29, entered a guilty plea May 30. Rumer sentenced him to 20 years, 15 for the armed robbery and five for possession of a firearm while committing a felony. The sentences run consecutive.

Days after the Eddings contempt hearing, Johnson was charged in the high-profile November 2011 homicide of Columbus jewelry store manager Steve Toms.

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