When a Georgia teenager was found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat, his parents’ attorney was ordered to pay more than $292,000 in legal fees to dozens of people accused of foul play in a lawsuit that was later dropped, a judge ruled.
When the body of Kendrick Johnson, 17, of Valdosta was found in 2013 by classmates at Lowndes High School, sheriff’s investigators concluded Johnson died in a freak accident. Kendrick was stuck upside down and unable to breathe while trying to retrieve a shoe that fell inside the upright mat.
Johnson’s parents have long insisted he was murdered and filed a 2015 lawsuit accusing two brothers of killing their son. They said law enforcement and school officials covered up the crime.
The Johnsons later dropped the suit and the 39 defendants they had sued, asked the judge to order the family to pay their attorney fees and related court costs. Initially, they insisted they were owed about $850,000.
Superior Court Judge Richard Porter made the lawyers take a closer look at their billings. His latest ruling ordered the Johnsons and their attorney, Chevene King, to pay $292,105. He cited sworn depositions in which attorneys questioned Johnson’s parents in October 2015.
“Their testimony shows that they had no evidence to support their claims that the (brothers) killed Johnson or that any of the other defendants engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the cause or manner of Johnson’s death,” Porter wrote.
The judge’s order also holds the Johnsons’ attorney responsible for filing a “groundless” lawsuit and taking actions to delay rulings in the case. The Justice Department spent over 2 ½ years investigating Johnson’s strange death and ultimately provided no answers, just a statement saying federal investigators “found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges.”
It may be tough for the people sued by the Johnsons to recoup their money. At the time of his son’s death, Kenneth Johnson worked as a truck driver and his wife drove a school bus.
Georgia allows parties owed money in legal judgments to seek garnishment of wages and bank accounts or to go after a debtor’s property.
Jim Elliott, the attorney who represented Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine and several of his deputies, said he plans to pursue collection “through appropriate legal channels.”
“The judge’s order vindicated my clients in this case and shows that they have been falsely accused of covering up the death of Kendrick Johnson,” Elliott said.
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