Atty out: Latest Garrett lawyer departs defamation suit
Daleville attorney James Creekmore is no longer representing the Buckingham publicist/author/chicken farmer who's suing the Hook and two of its reporters for $10.7 million. A Buckingham judge signed an April 14 order that allows Creekmore to withdraw as Tommy Lightfoot Garrett's legal counsel.
Garrett filed a defamation suit December 22 that contends Hook parent company Better Publications and reporters Lindsay Barnes and Courteney Stuart defamed and "lampooned" him in coverage of Garrett's now-dismissed 15 felony forgery and uttering charges.
In a plea deal, the publicist pleaded guilty in April 2008 to a Class 1 misdemeanor of entering the property of another with the intention of damaging it. He received a 12-month suspended jail sentence, two years unsupervised probation, and was ordered to pay $3,500 to David Kimbell, the man who accused Garrett of stealing and forging credit card balance transfer checks.
There are a million reasons why a lawyer and client part ways, says legal expert Matt Murray at Allen, Allen, Allen and Allen–- particularly in a civil case, which is a voluntary contract.
"It can be fee disputes, incompatibility over case strategy, personality disagreements..." lists Murray, who notes he has no first-hand knowledge of this case. "What usually happens is when one lawyer is exiting, another is stepping in."
Garrett Smith, who represents the Hook, declined comment other than to say, "I believe Mr. Garrett will require capable counsel in order to advance this case, and at this point he does not have that."
Creekmore, who did not respond to a phone call from the Hook, is one of several lawyers, over the years, to represent Garrett, at least nine, according to published accounts.
Tommy Garrett's first major lawsuit was in 1995 when he was suing his former funeral home employer for back pay, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress by allegedly fondling the corpses and using racial epithets.
His attorney, John P. Cattano, abruptly withdrew the suit the day before the jury trial was to begin and refused to say why, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Cattano did not return a phone call from the Hook.
Garrett acquired a new lawyer, Richard R. Ryder (and a publicist), and in March 1996, a jury awarded him $41,000 for back pay and defamation, but apparently didn't buy the fondling corpses allegation, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Charlottesville criminal attorney Dana Slater initially defended Garrett on the forgery charges in 2007, but by the time he accepted a plea in April 2008, famed Farmville civil rights attorney James Ghee was Garrett's lawyer.
In August 2008, Richmond attorney Irving Blank contacted the Hook to demand that all stories about Garrett be removed from the newspaper's website. Hook editor Hawes Spencer informed Blank of the paper's policy of correcting errors and asked what was incorrect in the articles. He heard nothing further from Blank.
Not all of Garrett's attorneys have been based in Virginia.
Los Angeles attorney Emelike I. Kalu sent a letter to David Kimbell's father, Wayne Kimbell, in 2005 ordering him to "cease and desist" from defaming Garrett and to send a letter of apology to Garrett.
A mysterious attorney "D. Salters" allegedly was ordered by Garrett to begin legal action December 31 against Australian blogger Neil Walker for– you guessed it–- defamation and harassment. However, the Melbourne law firm to which Garrett allegedly addressed the "D. Salters" email– Kempsons Lawyers–- has no such person on its staff, according to partner Peter Kempson. Kempson subsequently told the Hook that he represented Garrett.
The Buckingham publicist has also attracted heavy-duty legal opponents to his recent litigation. After Garrett subpoenaed cvillenews.com founder and Richmond Sunlight creator Waldo Jaquith and demanded the identities of everyone who commented about the Hook lawsuit on cvillenews.com, the ACLU, Public Citizen, and Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression signed on to represent Jaquith and his motion to quash. That March 12 hearing was postponed by Creekmore and has not been rescheduled.
Garrett, who did not return a phone call from the Hook, has 90 days to find a new lawyer.