A lawyer hit with a contempt order—upheld this year by the Georgia Supreme Court—has sued DeKalb County Superior Court Judge J.P. Boulee for claims including racial discrimination and being forced into “involuntary servitude” after the judge refused to allow the lawyer to withdraw from the underlying litigation.
The complaint, filed Tuesday by Atlanta solo Michael Mondy, said he attempted to withdraw from the case in July. Instead, Boulee ordered Mondy to continue representing his client, Moses Langford, at least through what was to have been a Dec. 7 trial date.
Mondy “was concerned that withdrawing from the case after Mr. Boulee informs him that Mr. Langford needed to be ready for trial would subject him to disciplinary sanctions from the Georgia Bar, which could lead to disbarment,” the complaint said.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where Boulee presumably will soon take up the duties of a judge. He was nominated to the post by President Donald Trump in August.
On Wednesday, Boulee recused from the underlying litigation and a related case he dismissed earlier this year.
Mondy said he wasn’t certain where he stood legally after Boulee’s recusal, but he still intends to seek a restraining order declaring he is not required to represent Langford without being paid.
Mondy and Langford are black, and Mondy’s complaint alleges that racial bias was a motivating factor in Boulee granting opposing counsel’s motion requiring him to stay on the case. Boulee and opposing counsel are white.
“Mr. Langford doesn’t have a problem with me withdrawing, and there is no law backing up opposing counsel’s motion opposing my withdrawal,” Mondy said Thursday.
“The problem is that, when a Caucasian attorney says something, Judge Boulee is just believing it,” Mondy said.
The underlying case is one of several involving disputes between Langford and his former employer, Magnolia Advanced Materials.
Langford retained Mondy in 2015 to sue Magnolia in the Northern District on claims for employment discrimination. Shortly thereafter, Magnolia sued Langford for breach of contract and theft of trade secrets in DeKalb County Superior Court.
Magnolia’s CEO also wrote a letter to the Chamblee Police Department leveling similar accusations against Langford. Those accusations were the basis of a libel and slander suit Langford filed against his ex-employer, also in DeKalb County and also handled by Mondy.
The federal action was dismissed on summary judgment in 2017, in a ruling later upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Magnolia’s case against Langford quickly got bogged down in discovery disputes, and in late 2015 it asked Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams, then handling the litigation, to find Mondy in contempt for violating his order compelling discovery.
As detailed in subsequent appellate opinions, Adams orally granted the motion and gave Magnolia 10 days to craft a proposed order and said he would schedule a hearing on Magnolia’s entitlement to fees for Mondy’s violation of the order.
Mondy filed a motion a week later seeking to recuse Adams—who is black—arguing that “the judge was biased or prejudiced against him,” asserting in his affidavit that “based on the judge’s comments, facial expressions, and actions during the hearing, ‘It was clear that he wanted to put me in jail.’”
Adams signed the written contempt order days later and recused from the case a half-hour afterward.
Mondy appealed, arguing his recusal motion should have stopped Adams from ruling on the contempt motion, but the Georgia Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court upheld the judge’s ruling.
Last May, according to Mondy’s complaint, he told Langford in writing that he wanted to withdraw from the litigation, to which Langford agreed.
Boulee dismissed Langford’s libel action against Magnolia in July, and a few days later Mondy filed a motion to withdraw from Magnolia v. Langford.
Magnolia’s counsel, Nelson Mullins partner Erika Birg and associate Peter Munk, filed a motion opposing Mondy’s bid to withdraw, writing there were still pending motions for attorney fees and to compel discovery.
“Allowing Mondy to withdraw as counsel while these motions are pending against him and his client would delay trial and interfere with the efficient operation of the court,” the lawyers wrote.
“Mondy must ‘face the music’ for his contemptuous conduct before he is allowed to withdraw,” they added.
In a series of emails and at a hearing last month, Mondy argued “the Georgia Constitution gives Mr. Langford the right to represent himself,” and that Magnolia has no standing to oppose his withdrawal.
Mondy’s complaint said, Boulee ordered him and Langford to be ready for trial on Oct. 29. Mondy emailed Langford a couple of days later that he would need $300 an hour and a $12,000 retainer to stay on the case.
Langford replied he could not pay the fees, which were “an undue hardship that I cannot afford.”
Boulee did not call the case for trial, instead issuing a discovery order on Oct. 29 instructing Mondy to help Langford prepare for trial in December.
Mondy filed suit the next day, asserting that Boulee’s order “requiring Mr. Mondy to work for free is insulting, humiliating, and against the very principals of human rights” and “takes away Mr. Mondy’s liberty endowed by his Creator.”
“Mr. Mondy doesn’t take allegations of racism or discrimination lightly,” his complaint said. “However, the facts in this case clearly show Mr. Boulee is only forcing Mr. Mondy to represent Mr. Langford because Mr. Mondy is African-American.”
In addition to injunctive relief, the complaint asserts claims under the Georgia Constitution and U.S. Civil Rights Acts.
Birg and Munk are not named parties to the action and did not respond to requests for comment.
Mondy said Boulee’s recusal on Wednesday leaves him with unanswered questions.
“I don’t understand why Judge Boulee is withdrawing if he didn’t do anything wrong,” Mondy said. “Legally, I am still Mr. Langford’s attorney until a judge signs an order allowing my withdrawal.”
Asked whether he will pursue his complaint if the judge appointed to hear the case in Boulee’s stead grants his withdrawal, Mondy said “absolutely.”
“This is a serious lawsuit, not a publicity stunt,” he said. “My rights have been violated.”