State Bar confirms investigation into New Hanover Chairwoman continues regardless of offer to pay client back

Despite Holyfield writing a check for $20,000, Boseman did not file a lawsuit and, according to Holyfield, stopped returning his messages
Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 4:31 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The N.C State Bar’s (NCSB) investigation into New Hanover County Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman will continue regardless of her offer to pay her client back $20,000 for services she ultimately didn’t provide, emails provided to WECT confirm.

The NCSB investigation was prompted by a complaint filed by Gary Holyfield earlier this year. Holyfield hired Boseman to file a lawsuit against the state in the death of his daughter and another child, who were killed in a car crash on I-140. Despite Holyfield writing a check for $20,000, Boseman did not file a lawsuit and, according to Holyfield, stopped returning his messages.

Complicating matters, Boseman previously told WECT she had retired from law in January of this year — unbeknownst to Holyfield. Seeking comment about her offer last month to repay Holyfield his $20,000, Boseman said in an email to WECT last month that while she believes she acted appropriately in the matter, she offered the money as a “sign of good faith.” She also clarified that she is “no longer actively practicing law,” though it’s worth noting her license is still active.

Uncertainty, without guidance

Boseman’s offer to repay Holyfield came through an attorney based in Raleigh.

“I attempted to contact you by phone again, but it appears your voicemail is full. As we discussed on the phone, Julia Boseman would like to return your $20,000 fee. I have the money in my law firm’s trust account to send to you. Can you please either send me wiring instructions to your bank account or provide me with an address for where I can mail a check?” that email read in part.

Holyfield sent that email to the State Bar, seeking guidance on whether he should accept the money or not. NCSB Deputy Counsel Robert Weston responded, advising Holyfield that he could not advise him on whether to accept the payment or not.

“I can, however, also clarify that you will not prejudice or change the State Bar’s investigation of your grievance in any way either by accepting the return of funds or refusing them,” Weston added. “That is, our investigation will continue regardless of what you choose to do on that issue. I hope that clarification can be of use to you as you consider that issue.”

Weston also confirmed the investigation had progressed and he had additional questions for Holyfield regarding the events.

The secrecy of the state

Providing updates on its investigations is not something the NCSB does often. And when it comes to outside parties, often becomes never.

Responded to several inquiries regarding the status of the investigation, NCSB Counsel Katherine Jean said she is unable to even acknowledge the fact that a grievance has been filed.

“As I have indicated previously, the State Bar cannot discuss with you a grievance that a complainant might have told you he filed,” she said.

As it turns out, the NCSB is not required to provide Holyfield with updates into the investigation — and Jean said that the Grievance Committee might decide not to provide any updates if they fear that information could be disseminated to others.

“The State Bar can, but is not required to, provide status updates to a complainant. When the Grievance Committee has reason to believe that a complainant already has provided and/or intends to provide information to a third party about the confidential grievance process, the committee will not provide a status update to a complainant,” Jean said.

This means if the State Bar was to decide to keep information confidential from the complainant, the results of an investigation would never be known.

However, while the state bar and attorneys might be under obligation to not discuss an ongoing investigation, those restrictions do not apply to Holyfield and anyone else who has filed a grievance with the state.

WECT reached out to Attorney General Josh Stein’s office to see if he would be willing to shed some light on the NCSB and whether or not his office has any oversight in holding attorneys in the state accountable. So far, he has not responded to requests.

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