Attorney Mark Shelnutt is expected to plead guilty this week to reduced charges in his 2010 prescription drug case, a plea bargain that would bring a long-delayed end to his second high-profile prosecution.
Shelnutt, 49, is set to enter his plea Tuesday morning in Muscogee County Superior Court before Senior Judge Tracy Moulton Jr., according to court filings. Moulton recently was assigned to preside over the proceedings because the local judiciary recused itself.
The charges stem from an undercover investigation that involved Shelnutt's former secretary, Brandy Rivera, who worked as a confidential informant for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Agents arrested Shelnutt in September 2010 on eight felony counts of distributing a controlled substance.
Shelnutt was charged with providing Rivera with Xanax, Oxycodone and Hydrocodone tablets on seven separate occasions.
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Rivera works as an executive legal assistant to District Attorney Julia Slater, who was disqualified from prosecuting Shelnutt because she used to work for his law firm before her 2008 election.
Rivera apparently recorded the pill distributions during a series of meetings with Shelnutt at the Red Lobster on 13th Street and other locations around Columbus.
Shelnutt gave her a single pill on three occasions, two pills at three encounters, and three pills once toward the end of the investigation, according to arrest warrants.
The charges came less than a year after a federal jury here acquitted Shelnutt of a list of money laundering and attempted bribery charges.
"The idea of putting friends, family and colleagues through another ordeal like the one they had to go through last time was certainly a major consideration in wanting to resolve this," Shelnutt said in a telephone interview Friday.
"It exacted a terrible price, and people, unless you've gone through it yourself, don't really understand how much that it affects your life."
Terms of the plea agreement did not appear to be final last week, but Shelnutt is expected to plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges -- possession of prescription drugs outside their original container -- which would allow him to avoid jail time and likely continue practicing law.
"One of the things that I have wanted to ensure -- and I believe will happen -- is that my license will not be affected by this at all," Shelnutt said.
"I'm never going to give up my hard-earned degree and 25 years of working as an attorney without a big fight."
Joe W. Hendricks Jr., the special prosecutor in Shelnutt's case, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Hendricks, who is the outgoing district attorney of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit in north Georgia -- he was defeated in a runoff -- is known in Columbus for his role in a judicial misconduct investigation that hastened the retirement last year of Superior Court Judge Douglas C. Pullen.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens appointed Hendricks to that Judicial Qualifications Commission inquiry about eight months after Shelnutt's arrest.
Shelnutt has cooperated with the authorities since his arrest, and a guilty plea could open a window into the extent of his assistance after his case file becomes public record.