Attorneys for golfer and Coastal Carolina University alum Dustin Johnson resubmitted his lawsuit against a law firm and three of its partners Monday with information regarding bank account numbers and personal addresses redacted, allowing the court to lift its defense-requested seal on the contents of the suit.
Johnson is claiming in the lawsuit filed last week in Georgia that he was scammed out of $3 million by attorney Nathan “Nat” Hardwick, who Johnson says was an officer in his professional corporation, as well as Hardwick’s law partners Mark Wittstadt and Gerard Wittstadt.
The lawsuit alleges that the lawyers used Johnson’s money to cover shortages created when Hardwick allegedly embezzled more than $30 million from the accounts and trust accounts of the Atlanta real estate and title law firm Morris Hardwick Schneider.
According to an Atlanta Journal Constitution report, his own law firm sued Hardwick in late August, claiming he created an elaborate scheme to take money from accounts held by the firm and a related title company for personal expenses that included private jet service, gambling debts and the purchase of a multi-million dollar Atlanta condo.
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The Journal Constitution cited a statement from an attorney representing Hardwick stating Hardwick believed any money he received was properly allocated to him as a share of the firm’s profits.
Allegations of Hardwick’s misconduct had not been made public when Johnson claims in his lawsuit that Hardwick approached him in late July or early August with a $3 million “really good investment” opportunity.
Hardwick, a University of South Carolina graduate, is the former managing partner of the law firm and Mark Wittstadt is the current managing partner.
The practice is now called Morris Schneider Wittstadt, as Hardwick resigned his positions as managing partner of Morris Hardwick Schneider and its affiliated company, LandCastle Title, in late August after news broke of his alleged misconduct.
Johnson says in his suit the men, collectively and individually, were trusted advisers as well as his lawyers for several years in personal matters and a broad range of issues relating to his pro golf career. Hardwick was a “trusted adviser and confidante” who “played a particularly unique and significant role of trust and confidence” in Johnson’s life.
The Coastal Carolina alum and PGA Tour member says in the suit that the Wittstadts have claimed they were not his attorneys.
The Wittstadts also filed on Monday a Motion to Dismiss each of the 17 claims asserted against them in Johnson’s suit, contending they should not and cannot be held responsible for Hardwick’s alleged wrongdoing and that the claims “lack any factual support and are contrary to controlling law.”
Johnson’s agent, David Winkle of Hambric Sports Management, said in a text message Sunday night that Johnson does not intend to address the lawsuit through a press release or other formal statement.
Johnson hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since announcing on July 31 that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the game “to seek professional help for personal challenges.” He isn’t expected to return to the tour until sometime in 2015 after the birth of his first child with fiancee Paulina Gretzky.
Johnson’s lawsuit alleges:
Hardwick promised to repay Johnson’s $3 million plus an additional $1 million in equal payments over a 30-month term.
Hardwick told Johnson he was making a similar investment under identical terms, and a third person was also committed to a comparable investment. Johnson has identified James Pritchard as a similarly-duped victim and provided the court with a Promissory Note dated Aug. 4 for repayment of $2 million to Pritchard as evidence.
Johnson’s repayment was to be secured through a Promissory Note and further protected by a written guarantee from the law firm’s parent company and its owners – Hardwick and the Wittstadts. Both documents were to be forwarded to Johnson’s financial advisor, Roy Adams.
Hardwick concealed that he was being accused of misappropriating the firm’s funds and concealed he had told Mark and Gerard Wittstadt that he would obtain a loan from Johnson to replace a portion of the firm’s depleted funds and fund the firm’s ongoing operations.
“M. Wittstadt and G. Wittstadt knew that Hardwick was going to do anything he could to obtain as much money as possible from Mr. Johnson and their other targets,” the lawsuit states.
Johnson wired $3 million into the firm’s “Equity Partners Account” on Aug. 6, and the firm failed to make the required monthly payments in September and October.
Johnson gave Hardwick and other firm partners a notice of default and demanded payment. In response, the Wittstadts admitted the money was to “fund firm operations.”
Rather than adhere to Johnson’s demand for payment, Mark and Gerard Wittstadt and the firm threatened to disclose private and confidential information about Johnson they had obtained as his attorneys if he took further action to seek repayment.
Johnson has requested the court order Morris Schneider Wittstadt to establish an escrow account for his $3 million pending the suit’s outcome for fear the firm is or will soon be insolvent. Johnson is also requesting punitive damages and attorney fees.