Joseph Nathanial Harden, 41, was named in a formal accusation from the state, charging him with racketeering, late last year. The Carrollton resident turned himself in at the Carroll County jail last May.
Harden’s legal representation, Carrollton attorney Jason Swindle, said his goal from the start has been to make all those affected by the issue “whole again.”
“We are making every effort from my end, and we have from the start, to make people who’ve been hurt by these circumstances whole again,” Swindle said. “And that takes a lot of time, but we’re making every effort we can.”
Harden’s case was originally assigned to Judge Dennis Blackmon, who recused himself because of a personal conflict. It was reassigned to Judge Jack Kirby, who also passed on the case. Tuesday afternoon, the case was permanently reassigned to Judge Emory Palmer.
Harden was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in front of Kirby, but with the reassignment, the arraignment was postponed.
Swindle said the case will most likely be resolved sometime this spring.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Jeff Hunt said that, although Harden is charged with only one offense, there are many alleged victims. Hunt said there are between 25-28 victims named in the accusation.
The dollar amounts allegedly taken from the victims vary, with some of them in the tens of thousands of dollars and some in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total amount of money allegedly taken is not fully known, Hunt said, since there have been new potential victims arising periodically since Harden turned himself in.
Since turning himself in, and voluntarily surrendering his state bar license, Harden has asked local attorneys to assist in getting the clients their files so they can choose new attorneys, Swindle said.
“We’ve heard from many attorneys who have picked up files for their clients,” Swindle said. “That was our initial response when this happened.”
John Bankhead, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Public Affairs office, said the GBI began the investigation in April at the request of District Attorney Pete 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. He 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.”