ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Despicable, deplorable, and reprehensible.
That is how a Cobb County judge described a prominent attorney as he sentenced that lawyer to prison
Cobb County Judge Robert Flournoy sentenced attorney Richard Merritt to serve 15 years of a 30-year sentence for stealing nearly $500,000 in legal settlements from his clients.
The judge also ordered Merritt to repay his victims $454,706.
“I am indescribably sorry for all that I have done,” Merritt told the judge and victims.
It was the closing argument Cobb county attorney Richard Merritt never wanted to make. He summed it up for a Telling a courtroom full of his victims.
“There is no excuse for my behavior. It shouldn't have happened,” said Merritt.
But to a man and woman, who collectively had more than $450,000 in settlement checks stolen by Merritt, it was too little, too late.
“We've all written off the money. We'd rather he be in jail,” said Tina Sailer.
Merrit has now admitted he kept it for himself.
For two years Merrit appeared to live high on the hog, while two of his victims begged for a police investigation. He drove a Porshe, and posted trips on his Facebook page that included deep sea fishing, Braves baseball, and beach resort getaways.
Finally, Cobb County police investigated, and arrested Merritt on theft, forgery, and elderly abuse charges. He plead guilty and faced the wrath of 13 victims. Each one came to court to tell Merritt and the judge what he had done to their lives.
“He has no remorse. He's not sorry. He's been doing this for eight years.” said Merritt.
One by one they told their stories...
“I hope when Mr. Merritt is in prison he has a lot of memories of spending all that money to keep him sane while he's in jail,” said Janet Meeler.
Stories of betrayal, pain, health problems, money problems, and lack of faith in a slow-moving criminal justice system that let Merritt run wild on everyone else's dime.
“I understand what I had done was morally reprehensible, It was very criminal,” Merritt told his victims.
Judge Robert Flournoy apparently heard enough. Calling Richard Merritt's behavior deplorable, reprehensible, and despicable, he sentenced Merritt to serve 15 years of a 30-year sentence and ordered him to repay victims a collective $454,706.
“There were so many judgements, no way he will repay all the money. The only way to feel better is if he's sitting in jail,” said Sailer.
And prosecutor Jason Marbutt told us after the sentencing, he hopes the strong voice of the collective choir of victims will send a message to any other lawyer contemplating stealing a client's money.
“Our system of justice depends on truth. It is fundamental to what we do. If you are a lawyer and can't get on board with that find another profession. We'll send you to prison if we catch you doing it,” said Marbutt.