Judge in Augusta lawyer's rape trial calls Neal's conduct 'reprehensible'

Joe Neal Jr.

Joe Neal Jr. pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors, including possession of marijuana, on Wednesday. (WRDW-TV / June 7, 2012)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, June 7, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A string of text messages, or what some call "sexting," seemed to seal the plea deal in the Joe Neal Jr. rape trial on Wednesday.

He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors, and the big question now is if it will it cost him his law license.

"I hold you to a higher standard, Mr. Neal," said Judge James Blanchard. "I want you to know that."

Blanchard issued a tongue lashing before approving a plea deal in Neal's rape trial.

"The court ... in considering," Blanchard said, "I guess what you could call the decadent conduct as outlined by the tapes in this case finds it reprehensible."

The Augusta Bar Association is talking only to News 12 one day after the disgraced attorney learned his fate.

"I would hope and ask the people of this area not to consider whatever he did, and whatever judgements they make about it, to be a reflection on the entire bar association or lawyers in general," said Sam Nicholson, who was president of the Augusta Bar when the alleged rape happened.

"This was a private matter that someone used with ulterior motives to destroy my reputation," Neal said. "And you know what? I'm still standing, and I'm still a lawyer."

But will the Augusta Bar Association take action?

"The Augusta Bar Association does not have the authority to discipline a lawyer," Nicholson said.

A member of the Augusta Bar Association could file a complaint with the state bar association.

"I've never seen it done," Nicholson said. "I have not ever seen that done before."

Neal pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors, including possession of marijuana.

"I'm just saying, generally speaking, misdemeanors don't rise to the level of an automatic disciplinary action by the state bar," Nicholson said.

The judge is also demanding that Neal be screened by probation to determine if there is a need for alcohol or drug treatment.

"We are proud that the system worked as it is supposed to," said Jase Ingram, current president of the Augusta Ba Association. "The actions that we take are confidential, and we have no power to suspend anyone from the practice of law."

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