The accusation, filed earlier this month, charges Joseph Harden with prohibited activities or racketeering. He is set to be arraigned in January, but his attorney said the case may be resolved sooner.
Jason Swindle, Harden’s lawyer, said there will be a status hearing on the case sometime in December, at which time the case could be resolved. If not, Harden is set to be arraigned on Jan. 29.
Harden waived his right to a grand jury hearing, which could lead to an indictment. Swindle said he and his client did that for a “number of reasons,” chief of which is that they could negotiate the charge with the district attorney. Some crimes require an indictment, while some are OK with just an accusation, which is drafted and filed by a prosecutor, Swindle said.
The defense attorney said he and his client had been working with District Attorney Peter Skandalakis and Senior Assistant District Attorney Jeff Hunt for several months, going through the case documents and negotiating the charge.
“We’ve been working on this for a while,” Swindle said, “and it’s something we’re still working on.”
The case will be heard by Judge Jack Kirby. The original judge to hear the case, Dennis Blackmon, had to move the case to Kirby because of a conflict.
John Bankhead, director of the GBI’s public affairs office, said the GBI began the investigation in April at the request of Skandalakis.
“Agent Larry Duren investigated the case, and as a result he charged Harden with one count of theft by taking and one count of forgery,” Bankhead said. “What this deals with are allegations of his converting funds from a civil settlement in a case he handled to his personal and business expenses.”
Bankhead said the funds were paid to Harden on behalf of his clients and that the money was supposed to go to his clients. Bankhead said Harden is accused of forging his clients’ signatures and putting the money, estimated to be about $180,000, into his accounts.
Harden turned himself in at the Carroll County Jail in May after learning the GBI had warrants out for his arrest. At the time, he was charged with theft by taking and forgery.
The attorney voluntarily surrendered his state bar card in July.
A per curiam decision by the Georgia Supreme Court said Joseph Harden “admits that in connection with the representation of his married clients in a personal injury action, he received $180,000 on behalf of the clients and that, since that time, he has not delivered the funds to the clients or otherwise accounted for those funds.”
The state Supreme Court’s decision, on which all justices concurred, reads that Harden’s voluntary license surrender is “tantamount to disbarment,” and that he should be removed from the rolls of persons authorized to practice law in Georgia.