State Board recommends Fmr.  District Attorney Suspended From Law Practice • The Georgia Virtue

A state review panel within the State Bar of Georgia has recommended that a former district attorney be suspended from practicing law for a six-month period.

The Georgia Attorney’s Office several years ago filed a formal complaint against former District Attorney for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, Natalie Paine, for her handling of a murder case involving three defendants. Paine, a Republican, was ousted from political office by Democrat Jared Williams in 2020 but continues to serve as a prosecutor in the newly created Columbia County Judicial Circuit.


She is accused of violating procedural and criminal law in her handling of the case, which involved recorded conversations between defendants and their lawyers. In early 2022, a Special Master released a report finding no wrongdoing by Paine, but an eight-person review of the appeal said instead that she should be punished. That body recommended the six-month suspension of Paine’s approval.

The complaint

Paine “has made inconsistent and conflicting testimonies regarding her knowledge of unconstitutional tactics used against those she pursues.”

The lawsuit stems from Paine’s dealings with the state of Georgia against William Krepps, Vaughn Austin Verdi and Emily Stephens in Richmond County Superior Court.

According to documents filed with the Georgia Superior Court, Paine notified the defendant’s attorney to let her know that the defendant was being transferred from prison to the sheriff’s office for questioning. The attorney informed Paine that transportation was not necessary as her client was not interested in speaking to the police. Paine later informed her that the defendant had been transported for questioning anyway. The attorney immediately went to the sheriff’s office to intervene, where she was met by Paine and an investigator. She asked to speak to her client and confirmed that the conversation would not be recorded. However, the conversation between the lawyer and the accused was recorded and later sent to Paine.

On the same day, another attorney for a co-defendant met with his client at the office, at which point their conversation was also recorded.

In the criminal trial of the defendants, the trial court judge suppressed the recordings on the grounds that they were the product of “outrageous abuses of statute and constitutional law.” The judge found that the recordings:

  • violate the Sixth Amendment;
  • violates attorney-client privilege; and
  • were made in violation of OCGA § 16-11-62, a criminal felony statute that specifically prohibits the recording of conversations between a defendant and his or her attorney at a facility where persons charged with a crime are incarcerated.

The State Bar of Georgia alleges that Paine violated:

  1. Rule 3.4(g) — The lawyer must not use any methods of gathering evidence that violate the rights of the opposing party or the lawyer;
  2. Rule 4.2 — The lawyer must not communicate with the represented person without the consent of the other lawyer;
  3. Rule 8.1 — The lawyer must not make false statements in connection with a disciplinary matter; and
  4. Rule 8.4(a)(l) — The Attorney shall not attempt to break a Rule, assist another in breaking a Rule, induce another to break a Rule, or violate a Rule through the actions of another.
Paine’s answer

Paine is represented by Atlanta’s attorney Brian Steel, who is also representing Young Thug in a Fulton County case, and Nathan Weekes, the GDC inmate charged with his role in a botched murder of a Tattnall County correctional officer for hire.

In response to the allegations, Paine’s attorney claimed that Paine was not present because of the alleged wrongdoing and was not aware of any explanations that the accused should not be transported. He also said the investigator “didn’t know” the technology was still collecting video and audio of the interrogation rooms when the volume was turned down for one person watching in real time. Steel said Paine had no knowledge of the recordings, their existence or distribution.

Steel wrote in his brief that Paine was unaware that attorney-client conversations were being recorded and shared, and that Paine had allocated $40,000.00 from the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office budget to upgrade a new system in the sheriff’s office to acquire and implement.

He said she was not guilty because the sheriff’s office provided her with the disks and she copied them for others without ever checking them.

Paine law enforcement schedule

February 21, 2020 – The State Disciplinary Committee determined a probable cause that Natalie Paine violated 4 rules of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.

January 14, 2021 – Attorney William Van Hearnburg Jr., Attorney for the State Bar of Georgia, is seeking the appointment of a Special Master by the Georgia Supreme Court to handle Paine’s disciplinary matter. State Bar is also filing a 12-page formal complaint against Paine. Read the complaint here.

January 15, 2021 — SCOGA appoints Patrick Head as Special Master. Head, a Republican, was the district attorney for Cobb County until his retirement in 2012.

January 28, 2021 – Paine is informed of the appointment of the special master, the formal complaint by the Georgia Attorney’s Office and the intention to pursue the indictment under the rules of the Georgia Bar.

January 29, 2021 – Paine hires Atlanta attorney Brian Steel to represent her.

March 26, 2021 — Head enters a forward order with a range of dates for both parties. He schedules an evidence hearing before the State Bar of Georgia after all other trials are completed in 10 months – on February 1, 2022.

January 19, 2022 – Steel is seeking to bar all evidence of alleged communication with a represented party by a non-attorney without the knowledge of former District Attorney Natalie Paine. Steel argues that the state bar association is not required to investigate whether law enforcement officers have had contact with a represented party unless the law enforcement officer is directed to do so by Paine.

February 14, 2022 – The State Bar of Georgia denies motion to bar evidence, saying everything is relevant and should be heard in court.

March 6, 2022 — Special Master Patrick Head issues his report and recommendations. His report said the audio and video recordings of counsel-client conversations that took place regarding the matter were “reprehensible, outrageous and all the other adjectives that can define such egregious conduct.”

However, he notes that Paine “did not violate any of the Georgia professional rules alleged in the formal complaint” and recommended that the formal complaint against Natalie Spiers Paine be dismissed. Read the report of the Special Masters here.

April 5, 2022 — The State Bar of Georgia is submitting a request for review and exemptions from the report and recommendation of the State Bar of Georgia Review Board. Under State Bar rules, the Review Board can “overrule determinations made by the Special Master if they are clearly wrong or manifestly wrong.”

Attorney Van Hearburg alleges that Paine “lied twice during the disciplinary hearing. The brief specifically states that Paine knew the rooms were being taped because, by her own admission, she was in the sheriff’s office’s CID unit almost daily and had observed “thousands of hours” of interrogations.

In addition, Paine repeatedly stated that she personally copied the videos to distribute to other parties in the case, the brief said. Van Hearnburg alleges that without Paine’s participation, the counsel-client meetings would not have taken place, would not have been recorded, copied, or distributed.

He demanded that Paine be publicly reprimanded for her actions.

May 5, 2022 – Paine’s attorney files a brief challenging the appeal of the Special Master’s decision. He claims Paine was not the one who made copies of the videos. He argued that the Special Master’s decision “must stand”.

Read the request for review by the State Bar of GA + Steel’s response

August 5, 2022 – State Disciplinary Review Board submits report with recommendations contrary to those of Special Master Patrick Head by issuing an outright denial.

The report results

Rule 3.4(g) — The lawyer must not use methods of gathering evidence that violate the rights of the opposing party or the lawyer

  • The Review Board wrote that it refused to adopt the Special Master’s finding because it was “clearly incorrect.”
  • They also wrote: “If the district attorney decides to rely on the sheriff’s office to edit it [unconstitutional communication]and other similar conversations, it was her duty to confirm that they had complied or, as here, to be held accountable for their failure.”

State Board recommends Fmr.  District Attorney Suspended From Law Practice • The Georgia Virtue

Rule 4.2 — The lawyer may not communicate with the represented person without the consent of the other lawyer

  • The review board agreed that prosecutors did not prove any violation.

Rule 8.1 — The lawyer may not make false statements in connection with a disciplinary matter

  • The Review Board again found that the Special Master’s finding was clearly incorrect, as Paine made several conflicting statements.

Rule 8.4(a)(l) — The Attorney shall not attempt to break a Rule, assist another in breaking a Rule, induce another to break a Rule, or violate a Rule through the actions of another.

  • The review board agreed that prosecutors did not prove any violation.

The board then recommended a six-month suspension of admission to Paine’s law. The vote was unanimous with one abstention.

Read the full report here

The board does not have a final say, however, and the matter is now before the Georgia Supreme Court for consideration.

pain political ties

Paine received approval from Governor Brian Kemp weeks before the election two years ago. Following Paine’s defeat in November 2020, the Georgia legislature created a new judicial district for Columbia County. The measure passed overwhelmingly, despite allegations of fiscal irresponsibility, community opposition and the late introduction of the legislative bill.

In April 2021, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Bobby Christine, a Republican and former US Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, as district attorney for the new district. Paine was immediately hired to work for Christine and serves as his Chief ADA. Kemp named Paine a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission in October 2021.

Formal complaint from the State Bar of Georgia
Special master report and recommendations
Request for Review (Master’s Special Report Appeal) + Paine’s response
Report and Recommendation of the State Review Board