A Muscogee County Superior Court Judge found attorney Michael Eddings in civil contempt of court Monday for witness tampering in a pending criminal case and fined him $500 for obstructing the administration of justice.
Eddings is representing Dimitris Gordon, 25, in an armed robbery case scheduled for trial later this month. The district attorney’s office accused Eddings of trying to convince Gordon’s co-defendent 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.
“Mr. Eddings was trying to persuade Mr. Warner to go against the advice of Mrs. Henderson and to persuade him to do what was in the best interest of Mr. Gordon,” prosecutor Wesley Lambertus told the court. “We can’t have that your honor.”
On June 17 during a docket call in front of Judge William Rumer, Eddings said Gordon was prepared for trial. Henderson told the court that Warner expected to enter a guilty plea and testify as a witness for the state at trial, which is now scheduled for July 29 . Last Tuesday, Eddings visited with Warner in the Muscogee County Jail.
“At the time of the visit, I didn’t know Mrs. Henderson was his attorney,” Eddings told the court Monday. Eddings said he thought Warner might be represented by a public defender.
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. “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.’”
On his cross examination of Warner, Eddings pointed out that Warner was a convicted felon in a previous case.
“You have just told a bundle of lies,” Eddings said to Warner, 23. Warner countered, “You knew I had a lawyer when you came to see me.” Henderson told the court that she had been working on a plea deal for Warner since the end of May.
Later the same day Eddings met with Warner, he saw Henderson at the Government Center, told her he had met with Warner and she needed to go talk to him. Eddings told Henderson he cut off the conversation with Warner when he was informed he had an attorney.
Henderson said when she met with Warner last Wednesday, it was a difficult meeting.
“His intent had changed,” she told the court.
At the end of the hour and 15 minute hearing, Rumer found Eddings in contempt, reprimanded him and ordered him to let the district attorney’s office know when he is interviewing witnesses in this case.
Rumer then took an additional step by ordering the fine, which Lambertus had not asked for. The fine is due the day after the case is resolved.
Gordon, Warner and Michael Johnson faced armed robbery charges in connection with the Aug. 22, 2012, robbery of the La Mexicana de Columbus store on Victory Drive. 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.
Gordon and Warner are facing similar charges.
Eddings, who was a prominent real estate closing attorney, is facing allegations that more than $2 million from his firm’s escrow account was misappropriated. A number of federal civil suits are pending by parties claiming to have lost money when his escrow account was frozen.
No criminal charges have been filed, but during Monday’s Superior Court hearing, an FBI agent sat in the rear of the courtroom.
Eddings blamed his wife, Sonya L. Eddings, for his firm’s legal issues, portraying himself as a victim and accusing her of converting the funds. The couple owned at least three restaurants in Columbus.
A spokesperson for the State Bar of Georgia said Monday that it has nine complaints filed against Eddings in the Supreme Court. Those complaints are awaiting a hearing.
Unable to do real estate closings any more, Eddings has turned to criminal defense work. Last month, Eddings and attorney Stacey Jackson successfully defended Ron Blair, who was facing murder charges. Blair was acquitted by a Superior Court jury.