A Circuit Court lawsuit charges that one of the Woodmore Elementary bus wreck cases was stolen from a Chattanooga law firm by Georgia attorneys just shortly after the Nov. 21 tragic crash that killed six students and injured others.
It is illegal in Tennessee for attorneys to contact victims of a tragedy for 30 days after the incident.
The lawsuit brought by Carl Lewis, father of Karrie'un McGuire, says he and the mother of the child, Shanquatta Byrd, at first were using the local firm of Warren and Griffin.
It says Lewis was approached by a man while he was in jail about using a black firm in Savannah instead.
The suit says Ms. Byrd did switch to a Georgia firm. Attorneys Joseph Fried and Michael Goldberg of Fried Rogers Goldberg LLC filed a lawsuit in early December on behalf of the minor daughter of Shanquatta Byrd. It said she suffered a traumatic brain injury in the wreck.
Attorneys Fried and Goldberg are white.
Their firm released the following statement:
"Fried, Rogers Goldberg LLC has never represented Mr. Lewis nor have we sought to represent Mr. Lewis. No one in any way associated with Fried Rogers Goldberg LLC ever visited Mr. Lewis in prison or elsewhere or ever spoke to Mr. Lewis. No one by the name of Coffman or Kaufman is employed by or associated in any way with our firm and we have no idea who that individual is or where he works.
"Our firm was retained by the biological mother of a seriously injured minor in this matter. We filed suit in a proper manner to best protect the rights and claims of that minor child. Our actions at all times have been highly ethical and done in furtherance of the best interests of the minor child. Any suggestions in Mr. Lewis’ complaint that my firm or that the biological mother of the minor acted inappropriately are simply untrue and appear to be some effort to try to take control of the lawsuit away from the mother.
"Our firm is known locally and nationally for our leadership and our work in handling serious truck and bus crash cases while adhering to the highest ethical standards."
Lewis said he was left off of the lawsuit filed by the Georgia firm, though he said he is the natural father of the child and has lived with her, her siblings and Ms. Byrd since the child was one years old.
Lewis said he was arrested on unrelated federal charges two days after the bus wreck. He said he was at the county jail when he had a visit from a man who gave his name as Coffman. He said he was a black male, tall and slim, about 50-55.
He identified himself as an investigator for a black female attorney in Savannah, the Lewis suit says.
It says jail records list a visitor to Lewis as Paul Coffman.
The suit says Coffman told Lewis that he was "entitled to money too" as the father. It says he was told that if he signed with the attorney that the lawyer would help get him out of jail and get him an attorney for the federal case.
The suit says a short time later Ms. Byrd told Lewis she was changing from Warren and Griffin to the firm represented by Coffman partly because it was a black firm.
It says Ms. Byrd has told Lewis that attorneys were paying for her car maintenance and for motel rooms in Atlanta so she and the siblings could visit the child during treatment at Emory Hospital.
Attorney Robin Flores filed the suit that asks $10 million compensatory damages and $20 million punitive damages against Durham School Services, driver Johnthony Walker, the county schools and its transportation director, Ben Coulter.
Attorney Mark Warren of Warren and Griffin said, "We agree with the allegations regarding our firm as represented by Mr. Flores in his complaint."