Home Local News N.C. State Bar: Rockingham lawyer disbarred for embezzlement

N.C. State Bar: Rockingham lawyer disbarred for embezzlement

Exterior of J. Brent Garner's law office in downtown Rockingham. Photo by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — A Richmond County lawyer was disbarred earlier this summer for embezzling entrusted funds, according to an order of discipline from the N.C. State Bar.

Jonathan Brent Garner, who was admitted to the Bar in 2003, was ordered to surrender his law license and bar card within 30 days of an order dated June 7 and filed in Wake County in July.

According to the “Findings of Fact” portion of the order, Garner embezzled from a trust account:

  • $4,200 attributed to seven clients between Dec. 13 and 14 of 2017;
  • $400 attributed to a client on our about Dec. 13, 2017 and March 16, 2018;
  • $100 attributed to a client (which appears to be one included in previous actions) on or about July 20 and Aug. 21, 2018
  • $1,000 attributed to a client on or about Aug. 21-24

The order shows Garner also transferred $200 from the trust account to his operating account on or about Dec. 24, 2018.

The order states that in December 2018, Garner was assisting in administering the estate of Sarah Branham.

On Dec. 24, Garner wrote a check for $6,763.52 — made payable to his law office — from the estate account and deposited it into the trust account, according to the order.

The order states that Garner was not entitled to those funds and had “no purpose beneficial to the estate” from transferring those funds from the estate account to the trust account.

On that same date, there was a deficit of at least $8,000 in the trust account Garner should have been maintaining for his clients, according to the order.

Ten days earlier, the order states that checks for three clients — $263 each — were issued to the Clerk of Court in Anson County to cover court costs and fines in traffic cases for the defendants.

On Dec. 27, when the clerk’s office tendered the checks, the order states there was $138.82 in the trust account — after the chargeback from the account — and there were insufficient funds for those checks.

If the checks had been paid, the trust account would have had a negative balance of -$650.18, according to the order.

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“Garner attempted to embezzle $6,763.52 from the Estate by issuing the check from the Estate Account and depositing it into TA x4231,” the order reads.

During a grievance investigation in 2019, Garner wrote a letter saying he “was intending to place an asset into the estate account that [he] believed was not there yet” and that he “did not pay attention to the deposit slip [he] was using,” according to the order.

“These statements were directly contradictory to the information Garner wrote on the check Gamer issued from the Estate Account for $6,763.52 and were false statements of material facts,” the order reads.

The order goes on to list other misconduct that was found from an examination of the trust account.

A hearing panel had considered other forms of punishment, but the order states:

“A censure, reprimand, admonition, or suspension would be insufficient discipline because of the gravity of the significant harm and the potential significant harm caused by Defendant’s conduct to the profession and the public.

“Discipline short of disbarment would not be sufficient to adequately protect the public from future misconduct …”

Although the order states that Garner “committed criminal acts,” online court records did not reflect any criminal charges as of 4 p.m. Sept. 8.

However, Garner does have several pending traffic violations, including driving with a revoked license and having an expired registration.

Garner is the second Richmond County attorney to be disbarred within the past two years.

Former attorney H. Bright Lindler was disbarred in late 2021. Click here to read that story.