- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - House Speaker David Ralston would receive a minor reprimand for violating attorney rules of conduct under a proposed settlement with the State Bar of Georgia.

If the Georgia Supreme Court approves the recommendation, it will resolve a 2014 Bar complaint accusing Ralston of improperly advancing money to a client and violating other rules.

A report filed Wednesday with the State Disciplinary Board recommends that Ralston be reprimanded by a review panel. The panel reprimand would be public record but is less severe than a public reprimand by a judge in open court, according to the State Bar of Georgia’s rules.

It’s not clear when the Supreme Court would rule. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the filing.

A panel reprimand doesn’t affect Ralston’s ability to practice law. The Republican from Blue Ridge has served in the General Assembly since 2003 and as speaker since 2010.

The Bar asked the Supreme Court in 2014 to appoint a “special master” to review accusations that Ralston neglected a client’s 2008 personal injury case while serving in the legislature and improperly advanced his client $22,000 to pay personal expenses. The client filed a grievance with the Bar in October of 2012 and replaced Ralston with another attorney in 2013.

Ralston admits to violating two rules of conduct in Wednesday’s report from the special master, former DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Peters. The report says the Bar has agreed to drop other charges.

The first rule prevents attorneys from giving financial assistance to a client. Ralston acknowledges he provided payments totaling $22,000 to a man and intended to subtract the amount from any settlement in the personal injury case. The report says Ralston contends he didn’t know loaning money to a client violated rules of conduct.

The second rule prevents attorneys from placing personal funds in a trust account. Ralston admits leaving fees he earned in another case in a trust account and using it for the payments to his client.

Peters wrote in the report that Ralston’s “lengthy public service and significant position of leadership as Speaker of the House” mitigate his conduct. He also noted that Ralston has no other disciplinary record and has taken “full responsibility.” Peters agreed with the Bar that Ralston should have known the payments violated conduct rules.

“We are pleased to have made constructive progress toward resolving this matter,” Ralston’s attorney James Balli said in an email. He declined further comment.

A spokeswoman for the Georgia State Bar declined comment because the case remains pending before the Supreme Court.

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