An Aiken attorney has been disbarred from practicing law in Georgia after he pleaded guilty to 11 misdemeanors, stemming from smuggling contraband into the Richmond County detention center.
Sidney Joe Jones, 59, of Graniteville, pleaded guilty in 2011 to 11 misdemeanors, including 10 violations of statute 42-4-13, which prohibits, among other things, “the carrying of items for an inmate across the guard line at a jail without the knowledge and consent of the jailer,” according to a ruling filed June 3 by the Georgia Supreme Court. Jones was sentenced to 11 years of probation.
A special master found several mitigating circumstances and recommended that Jones not be disbarred, but rather suspended from practicing law for six months, according to the ruling.
The Supreme Court sided with the special master, who concluded that Jones’ violations involved “moral turpitude” and related to his “fitness to practice law,” according to the ruling.
“Apparently motivated by a misguided sense of sympathy for his client, Jones smuggled tobacco or tobacco-related items to his client on several occasions, and on at least one occasion, Jones smuggled packages with unknown content, although Jones believed that these packages contained tobacco as well,” the ruling stated. “… When Jones was caught passing contraband to his client under a table in a holding cell, he was dishonest when confronted by law enforcement officers, claiming that he ‘did not know where it came from, did not know what it was [and did not know] how [the contraband] got in there.’”
The court ruled that Jones’ actions were a breach of public trust in his office as an attorney. Additionally, they reflected a “disregard for the security of the jail and safety of those who work or are incarcerated in it,” the ruling stated.
Among mitigating circumstances, the special master found that Jones has no prior disciplinary record and no other criminal history and has expressed remorse for his crimes, according to the ruling.
“As additional mitigating circumstances, Jones urges that he acted without a selfish motive, that he has taken responsibility for his wrongdoing since initially lying to law enforcement officers, and that he already has been punished at the bar by his interim suspension from practice of law in South Carolina,” the justices wrote. “We acknowledge these circumstances, but they are simply insufficient, in our view, to mitigate the repeated deceit, dishonesty, breaches of trust and disregard for safety and security of the jail that are reflected in these crimes.”
Shortly after Jones was arrested, the S.C. Supreme Court issued an order suspending Jones’ license to practice law “until further order of the Court.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.