Court upholds lawyer's suspension

Staff WriterApril 25, 2007 

— Mark A. Key, a Holly Springs attorney, was told for the second time to stay out of Wake County courtrooms when a one-year suspension for cursing at a court clerk was recently reinstated.

"You can't practice law in Wake County," Visiting Superior Court Judge J.B. Allen Jr. told Key Tuesday.

Key was in Allen's courtroom to represent George Damel Young, 23, a client facing a murder charge in connection with a June 4 shooting in Holly Springs. The shooting took the life of Douglas Jamal Mangum, 19. Police believe Young, a Crips gang member, mistook Mangum for a member of the rival Bloods gang because of a red shirt Mangum was wearing.

The murder case was scheduled to go to trial May 24, but may be delayed since Key, who was hired by Young, was removed from the case.

Key was banned from District and Superior courts in Wake County when Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens held him in contempt for cussing at a court clerk in October 2005 and walking away from a client before a court hearing. The client owed Key $200, and Key left without informing the judge in the case or asking whether he could withdraw.

The year-long ban ordered in November 2005 was suspended when Key appealed Stephens' decision. But on April 17, a three-judge panel from the N.C. Court of Appeals unanimously found that Stephens acted properly and that Key could be held in contempt of court proceedings. The yearlong ban from practicing was put back in place.

Key said he will ask the N.C. Supreme Court to consider overturning his contempt conviction.

In court Tuesday, he tried to tell Allen that he could still practice for 20 days after the appeals court ruling.

"I have the authority to practice law here in Wake County," Key said. But Allen didn't continue the hearing.

Key said after the hearing that he'll pass his Wake County cases off to other attorneys.

Key, who also has a Harnett County office, had his law license suspended by the N.C. Bar, the state licensing agency for lawyers, for 90 days last summer as a result of the contempt proceedings, according to disciplinary information from the N.C. Bar. Key was disciplined in 2003 for assaulting a female client whom he directed sexual advances toward and kissed while meeting about a case.

Staff writer Sarah Ovaska can be reached at 829-4622 or sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com.

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