More and more both here in Atlanta and around the country we see news stories about bankers getting indicted, financial professionals being accused of fraud, and other white collar criminal actions brought against people working in the financial sector. Also, in a recent post, I wrote about a federal criminal case where the indictment did not even charge a federal crime, yet none of the lawyers nor judges noticed the problems until the judges on the Court of Appeals brought up the issue after the case was on appeal. The combination of these two stories reminded me of how important it is for lawyers to carefully scrutinize the charging documents when the attorney is defending a person in the financial industry against criminal charges.
This also reminded me about a case we had a couple of years ago where we represented a young banker here in Georgia. Back when the real estate market was flying high, he was a superstar, bringing in millions of dollars in loans to developers who were fueling the Atlanta housing boom. When the market began getting soft, he was dismayed by how his bosses were treating him, so he took his book of business to another local bank. The bosses at the first bank did an “investigation”, and turned over to the authorities the dirt they had supposedly uncovered on this young banker. The local District Attorney thought he’d be a star also, and could get his name in the papers by indicting a banker just as the housing market was collapsing. They accused our client of claiming in memos to the loan committee that his developer/clients were putting 10% into the deals, when in fact they were not. The DA then got an indictment that charged our client with making “false entries” in the “books reports or statements” of a financial institution.
We were hired, and, like attorneys should do in every case, we went over everything with a fine-toothed comb. We discovered that the law they charged in the indictment had not been used for over 50 years! Next, we compared this old law, and the few cases interpreting it, to the actual language in the indictment. We came to the conclusion that the memos to the loan committee were not “false entries”, and even if they were, a memo to the loan committee is not a “book, report or statement” of a financial institution.
We took the unusual step of filing what is called a “demurrer” in Georgia. By this step, we basically argued that even if we admitted to the facts in the indictment, those facts did not constitute a crime. The judge was convinced we were right. He had us write up an order, which he then signed, and the judge then dismissed all the charges. This young banker got his life and career back, and we occasionally hear of how well he is doing.
None of us are perfect. But when as lawyers we are asked to defend another human being, that enormous responsibility requires that we look at every possibility when defending our clients. I know that most lawyers representing the growing number of indicted bankers face many of the same challenges.