Alum of the Month

Hotchkiss Alum of the Month | March 2021 | John E. Floyd '76

John E. Floyd '76 is an attorney and partner at Bondurant Mixson & Elmore of Atlanta, GA, who periodically works on various cases as a special prosecutor. He is a skilled litigator and has been described as a leading authority on racketeering in the U.S.

"My family was moving around quite a bit, so my father, a graduate of Blair Academy, suggested boarding school," recalls Floyd. "I applied to four schools, was admitted to each, but chose Hotchkiss. Starting as an upper mid, I particularly enjoyed history courses with Robert Barker and Jim Marks. They were enthusiastic and held us to high standards." Floyd received the history prize senior year.

This interest ultimately led to his decision to major in history at Brown. "I never seriously considered a different major. I was in the history honors program and had Professor Gordon Wood as my thesis advisor." Deciding on law school at Emory, Floyd served as Notes and Comments Editor of the Emory Law Journal, drawing on the discipline in analysis and expression he learned at Hotchkiss. "Writing a thesis at Brown helped me further develop those skills, though nothing really prepares you for legal writing except law school and the actual practice of law."

Following law school, Floyd took a two-year clerkship with Judge William C. O'Kelley in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. In describing Judge O'Kelley, Floyd cites the biography, The Gift of His Example, by Fay Vincent '56, about Hotchkiss's legendary headmaster George Van Santvoord '08. "That title would just as well apply to Judge O'Kelley. In the course of his judicial career, he taught every one of his 54 law clerks by his example. When I have to make a difficult decision as a lawyer, I still ask myself whether I would be comfortable explaining that decision to him.

"Just as I was fortunate in working for Judge O'Kelley, I had a great opportunity to join the firm of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, LLP. They have a tradition of excellence in litigation and dedication to public service. Emmet Bondurant, our senior partner, has argued three voting rights cases in front of the U. S. Supreme Court, and he loves to represent the underdog. He has always set a tremendous example of hard work, creativity, and fearlessness. Those attributes are woven into the character of our firm. We are encouraged to push ourselves and take chances."

Aside from his work in private practice, he served as a Special Assistant Attorney General in a case involving the theft of money paid for clinical drug trials by pharmaceutical companies to what was then the Medical College of Georgia. "Two faculty members who ran the trials stole over $10 million, diverting the money to various shell companies. We simultaneously brought a criminal prosecution and a civil forfeiture action. Both defendants pleaded guilty, and we recovered all of the stolen money, much of it by auctioning off the luxury cars and antiques they purchased."

Floyd has also worked as a Special Assistant District Attorney in several jurisdictions in Georgia, mostly in cases involving public corruption and gang crime. "In one case an incumbent sheriff didn't want to leave office after an electoral defeat and had the newly elected sheriff murdered. His hit team also planned to kill the District Attorney, several law enforcement officers, and a reporter. The defendant had been in charge of the Atlanta Police Department's Homicide Squad for years and took elaborate efforts to avoid getting caught. I helped write the indictment, argued many of the pre-trial motions, and after the defendant was convicted of murder, racketeering, and racketeering conspiracy, defended the conviction before the Supreme Court of Georgia. The conviction was unanimously affirmed."

Other cases have included the prosecution of an armed robbery ring from inside a Georgia prison, prosecution of school administrators who stole construction funds, and the case that upheld the constitutionality of Georgia's Gang Act. Floyd is an expert in racketeering. "Most of my practice involves cases under what are called RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statutes. People associate RICO with 'The Godfather.' But the scope of these statutes goes far beyond traditional organized crime. Today they are often used to prosecute public corruption, complex financial frauds, drug trafficking organizations, terrorism, and emerging criminal groups such as gangs.

"The federal RICO statute and many of the state RICO statutes have three basic components: they define a criminal offense, provide for forfeiture, and authorize individuals and entities injured by violations of the statute to sue for damages. My civil practice involves bringing and defending those damages cases. In the criminal arena, RICO's basic statutory requirements are mostly the same as those that apply in civil cases, so my experience is directly applicable to prosecutions."

In his book, RICO State By State: A Guide to Litigation Under the State Racketeering Statutes, Floyd notes that almost all the scholarly and professional attention was directed toward analysis of the federal RICO statute, but once this prototype was enacted, 36 state and territorial statues followed, and are the more evolved subsequent versions. A number of these statutes are significantly broader and more powerful than the federal statute. "I wrote the book so that they could be better understood by judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and civil litigators. The third edition will be published by the American Bar Association later this year."

Floyd lectures frequently to prosecutors and law enforcement organizations on RICO, gang prosecutions, and white-collar crime topics. "RICO is a complex subject that leaves many lawyers frustrated. I enjoy the opportunity to explain it, and to train prosecutors in this specialized area. While a federal prosecutor can request assistance from the Department of Justice's Organized Crime and Gang Section, state attorneys general and district attorneys can't, so they sometimes come to me.

"While a typical crime involves a victim, a perpetrator, a specific place, and a specific time, RICO cases often involve patterns of conduct that unfold over time, usually with multiple perpetrators and victims. RICO cases require detailed and patient investigation with organized and disciplined presentation in motions, trials, and appeals. While demanding, these cases are the best tool to address sophisticated fraud and disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations. It's satisfying when a prosecutor or an agent realizes what these statutes can accomplish."

One case of note was his service as special prosecutor in the Atlanta School System standardized tests cheating scandal that was first identified in 2009. "It was heartbreaking. For years this cheating took place on a massive scale in many public elementary and middle schools. Teachers and administrators stole tests so that they could determine the answers and give them to students before the tests were administered. They also changed test answers after the tests were administered, retaliated against those who suggested that cheating was taking place, and destroyed records to cover up the misconduct. By falsely elevating test scores, teachers and administrators claimed credit for progress that didn't actually happen. Even worse, these fraudulent test scores kept children with real learning challenges from being identified and assisted. Time and time again, we interviewed parents who had begged for help because their child could not read, only to have an administrator wave a test score at them that said the child exceeded expectations in reading.

"The situation was so bad that the Governor appointed three special investigators to look into cheating. After their report was issued, the Fulton County District Attorney conducted a further investigation, and ultimately dozens of teachers and administrators were charged with, among other things, conspiracy to violate the Georgia RICO statute. I helped draft the indictment and was on the trial team. Although many of the defendants pleaded guilty and cooperated, ultimately 12 went to trial. After the longest criminal trial in Georgia history, the jury convicted 11 of the defendants of RICO conspiracy.

"The most disappointing thing was that so many teachers and administrators disregarded their responsibilities to the children they were supposed to educate. But because of the dedication and persistence of two governors, the investigators, a district attorney, and the prosecutors who worked under him, Atlanta and Georgia made a statement that this dishonesty and exploitation would not be tolerated. Because district attorneys in Georgia do not have a budget to hire outside counsel, my work on the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) case and other cases for district attorneys was pro bono. In the APS case, that commitment ultimately amounted to well over a year of full-time work."

He explains the importance of the civil remedy component of RICO cases, which allows people injured by criminal violations of those statutes to bring an action for damages and seek injunctive relief to prevent the misconduct from recurring. "Criminal prosecutions rarely provide much compensation to victims, but civil actions can give them resources to rebuild their lives. We are currently representing the children of persons who became addicted to prescription opioids, and we have several cases pending on behalf of women who were forced into commercial sex trafficking at hotels in the Atlanta area."

Floyd was honored to be selected as a Fellow in the Litigation Counsel of America, an invitation-only trial lawyer honorary society which represents less than one-half of one percent of American lawyers. He was (along with other members of the team) also recognized after the conviction in the case involving the murder of the DeKalb County Sheriff-Elect, with the esteemed National District Attorneys Association's Heavy Hitter Award.

Perhaps his biggest honor came when after the case he received a shoebox from the victim's mother, who was in her 80s and known to everyone as Mama Brown. She attended every moment of the trial before the Supreme Court of Georgia. In the box was a handwritten note that said: 'Thank you for what you did for my son,' and two lemon cakes. I went back to my office and thought that I never dreamt of a moment like that when I started law school."

Floyd is proud that Bondurant Mixson & Elmore provides great opportunities and examples for young lawyers. "I have learned a lot from our senior partner, Emmet Bondurant, who is selfless. Pro bono work is not required, but it is certainly encouraged and valued. The firm has successfully represented persons on death row or serving life sentences, overturning convictions obtained through perjured or falsified evidence; fought to protect voting rights; and represented foster children neglected by the state."

One particular lesson learned in Lakeville has stayed with Floyd. "Headmaster William Olsen called all students to assemble. I don't remember what misconduct occasioned this, but I do remember that he was coldly furious. The gist of his message was that many others wanted to sit in the seat that each of us occupied. He made it clear that if we did not appreciate the significance of that opportunity, the School had made a mistake that could be remedied by giving the seat to someone more appreciative. He said that the opportunity was not just for our individual benefit; it carried with it a larger obligation.

"That day made a big impression on me. I understood and accepted that my opportunity carried with it an obligation to benefit others. That is why I continue to support Hotchkiss. I want the School to maintain its high standards, and to be able to provide the same opportunities I had to a broad range of students."

 


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