Local News

Ex-Fugitive Lawyer Makes First Court Appearance

Posted September 24, 2007 10:15 a.m. EDT
Updated September 24, 2007 9:40 p.m. EDT

— A Chapel Hill lawyer suspected of stealing more than $1 million from clients returned to Orange County early Monday and made his first court appearance on charges of embezzlement.

Wearing a red jail uniform and glasses with his hair neatly trimmed, John Gregory McCormick politely and appropriately answered the presiding judge's questions, saying he had retained his own attorneys.

Bond remained at $803,186 – the amount authorities have charged him with embezzling. They believe however, he might have stolen more than $1 million.

McCormick, 59, was the target of an international search that included checks of airline passenger lists, credit card records and other databases. He reportedly was seen in Central or South America at one point.

Three weeks ago, he was arrested in Phoenix, Ariz., more than a year after he disappeared. Authorities found him on a park bench in a public park, his appearance disheveled.

Last Tuesday, McCormick was indicted on five additional counts of embezzlement. He previously had faced a single state embezzlement charge. Each count in the indictment handed up by the grand jury refers to a theft of more than $100,000.

McCormick went missing on July 13, 2006, when his car was found abandoned at an Orange County entrance to Duke Forest. At about the same time, authorities began looking into allegations that money was missing from the accounts of McCormick's clients.

Some who know and worked with McCormick say they cannot understand what happened to cause him to go missing.

"I don't know if it was a mid-life crisis," said Durham attorney John Bourlon, who knew McCormick as a colleague and friend for 28 years. "Some have suspected that possibly it was a medical issue."

"If he is, in fact, guilty of this, then I think he should be punished accordingly," Bourlon added.

The North Carolina State Bar disbarred McCormick in March, ruling that he had violated ethics rules. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools terminated its contract with him last year after he had represented the school district for 20 years.

The State Bar has paid out almost $20,000 to some of McCormick's clients, using its Client Security Fund.

"The rest of us will bear that burden for a long time," Bourlon said. "Not just financial, but as far as the profession is concerned. Just like the taint that Mike Nifong has created for the Bar."